Jazz Studies Program
The Southern Miss Jazz Studies Program
The jazz studies program at The University of Southern Mississippi has been in existence for over 40 years. Its ensembles include two big bands, and four to five combos of various shapes and sizes including the award winning Southern Miss Jazz Jazztet and Hub Bones. Among the notable guest artists who have performed with the Jazz Lab Band I are Ellis Marsalis, Jeff Coffin, Jovino Santos Neto, and many more.
The program’s course offerings help students develop a foundation in improvisation, theory, arranging, and history. All of the jazz performing groups and most of the jazz core courses offered are open to non-jazz majors with the instructor’s permission.
Jazz at Southern Miss has had a long and illustrious history. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of faculty members and talented students, former and current, the jazz program at Southern Miss is among the best in the Southeast.
An Invitation from the Director,
Jazz is America’s own unique musical art form and reflects the image of our nation as a cultural melting pot where the indigenous expressions of various people groups meld together to form something new, and all the while retaining distinctive aspects of their cultural sources. As a jazz educator, I consider myself very fortunate to be part of passing on the traditions of this living breathing music, and to be introducing my students to its seemingly endless possibilities. Doing so near the birth place of jazz makes it an even more exciting endeavor. We welcome all participants, especially in Improvisation classes. We have had violinists, French horn players, vocalists, and cellists as well as the traditional brass, reeds, and rhythm players, and the curriculum is designed to take students new to improvising and start them on their own personal journey of musical exploration. We invite you to come join in the action and discover for yourself this great art form called jazz!
HISTORY OF JAZZ BANDS AT SOUTHERN MISS
The genesis of a jazz band at Southern Miss goes back to the early 1950’s. The newly appointed director of bands, Dr. Ray Mannoni recruited a number of musicians from the 313th Army Field Band to come to Mississippi Southern Teachers College to study music. Though not sanctioned by the school, a group of those students attending school on the G.I. Bill formed a band called the Golden Notes, later known as the Gold Notes, and they played performances around the region for a number of years. They were a working dance band and performed for events and functions all over the gulf south region.
One early incarnation of the group included Jimmy Peters on tenor sax and vocals. Peters went on to become a Grammy Award winning composer of country music hits such as, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” and “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin’.” Other members included Tommy Senter on trumpet who later went on to become a U.S. District judge, and guitarist Lloyd Wells who was a first call arranger in Nashville. Other members went on to notable careers as music educators and performers as well.
The fact that the group was not a school ensemble did not prevent some indirect involvement by members of the faculty. Some of the group’s arrangements included charts by faculty members such as Robert D. Hayes, composer of “Southern to the Top,” and Richard Prinshaw, both of whom were skilled jazz pianists.
In the mid 1950’s the band took on the name, The Southernaires and was led by a variety of people including Dr. Kent Sills (then a graduate student) who would later go on to a distinguished career as director of bands at Mississippi State University, and the Lions All State Band. Another student leader was army veteran and saxophonist Bill Lebergen. In the early 1960’s the band came under the direction of Dr. Norbert Carnovale, marking the first direct faculty involvement.
Carnovale was an accomplished classical and jazz trumpet performer and musicologist. He earned his undergraduate degree from Louisiana State University with some distinguished fellow classmates, jazz pianist and singer -Mose Alison, jazz trombonist - Carl Fontana, and jazz alto saxophonist - Al Belleto. He went on to earn his Master of Music at Columbia University in New York and performed with the Claude Thornehill Orchestra during that period. (Thornehill’s orchestra was not as widely known as some of the other groups from the Big Band Era, but his band was one of the most innovative. The band was populated with performers and arrangers such as Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan who later helped create the compositions on Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” album.) Carnovale finished his doctorate at the University of Iowa.
To be sure, jazz on campus was not something that was actively encouraged even into the 1960’s. The early versions of the band rehearsed after hours in an old metal building sandwiched between a former Army barracks (now the Math Zone) and a small power plant facility which is now the Powerhouse Restaurant. Later they met in the old band hall of the Fine Arts Building. Some former members tell stories of being threatened with being kicked out of school for practicing “jazz” in the building. Nonetheless, it did not stop the music and in 1963 the band even performed with jazz greats Carl Fontana, and Al Belletto as guests.
In the later half of the 1960’s the Jazz Studies Program was developed as an official school sanctioned program under the leadership of Raoul Jerome and the period of operating as a volunteer “stage band” came to a close. While Carnovale was the first faculty member to lead the band, followed briefly by Dr. Alan Drake, Jerome’s tenure marks a turning point for the band both in terms of its recognition as an official school ensemble, and the start of the program as it continues today.
Jerome joined the faculty as a trombone and theory teacher and took over the ensemble successfully converting the band into an ensemble for credit. He subsequently developed the jazz studies degree modeled after the program at his alma mater, then North Texas State University (UNT), which has a longstanding reputation as one of the best jazz programs in the world.
The band grew and developed into a very formidable ensemble under Jerome’s leadership and won several awards in the process. Jerome developed and directed the program until 1995 while simultaneously carrying a full load of Theory courses for the ever-growing School of Music. Growth is always a good thing, but as a result that load became unsustainable and in 1995 a new position was created focused on the jazz studies and music industry programs. The baton was handed over to Larry Panella, another UNT alum, who took the program into its next phase of development, which expanded improvisation offerings and the combo portion of the program, including the award winning Southern Miss Jazztet. The tradition, which began under Raoul Jerome’s leadership continues today and involves 2 full big bands, 5 to 6 combos, and a faculty jazz group.
As the School of Music and the university grew, that growth required new spaces to accommodate the increased activities. The Mannoni Performing Arts Center named after Dr. Raymond Mannoni was opened in 1972 and all of the large ensemble activities were housed in that facility. Fire protection in the community and for the campus was housed in a Hattiesburg Fire Department Substation located adjacent to the Mannoni Performing Arts Center. In the years following, further westward campus expansion continued paralleling the city of Hattiesburg's westward growth resulting in the construction of a new firehouse off of 38th Avenue and the old fire department sub station was turned over to the university.
By the time Panella arrived in 1995, the Mannoni PAC was already over capacity in terms of available spaces and the fire station was offered to the School of Music to help alleviate the space issues. In October of 2000, the jazz studies program moved into the building after renovations and the facility was renamed, The Jazz Station. It included a 1200 sq. ft. rehearsal space and three offices along with space for an extensive jazz record library.
The building opened with a ceremony attended by university upper administrators, the Dean of the College or Arts, and the director of the School of Music and former “Southernaires” member, Dr. Charles Elliott as well as music faculty. The Jazz Lab Band 1 performed with Raoul Jerome taking a turn leading the band once again along with Panella. That facility has become a busy place allowing for more rehearsal times, jam sessions, master classes, clinics, and senior jazz recitals. It seems almost prophetic that Jerome had his ensemble’s photo taken on one of the fire engines some twenty years earlier!
The program continues to grow and many of our graduates have gone on to success as music professionals across the country.
As mentioned earlier, many distinguished alumni have come out of that band and the details of some are highlighted on the Jazz Alumni News Page (insert link), but here are a few of the names who participated in the band during its history:
Tom “Bones” Malone – Multi instrumentalist for the David Letterman Show, The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, The Cracker Jacks, and many more.
Jerome Gilmer – Denver based Composer and arranger for television, movies, commercials and more.
Steve Wiest – Grammy nominated composer/arranger/trombonist and newly appointed director of the UNT 1 O’Clock Jazz Lab Band as well as former distinguished member of Maynard Ferguson’s band.
Tom Brantley – Serves on the faculty of the University of South Florida and records and tours with the acclaimed group “Rhythm and Brass.”
Howie Joines – Broadway and touring company musical percussion specialist, conductor, and music coordinator who has worked with shows such as Ghost, Chaplin, Miss Saigon, and many more.
Ray Hair – Current American Federation of Musicians President and former head of Local #72, Dallas / Fort Worth, Hair did his Graduate studies at UNT and has worked as a professional drummer.
Jeff Myers – Bassist performer for popular artists such as Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, Laura Branigan, The Mama’s and the Papa’s, Sean Lennon, and more. While in New York he worked on Broadway shows and later moved to Los Angeles where he was active in television and film music.
Dr. Charles Elliott – Music Education professor at the University of South Carolina before joining the Southern Miss Faculty. He returned to Southern to bcome head the Music Education division and later became Director of the Southern Miss School of Music (retired).
Dr. Larry McWilliams – Director of the award winning Jazz Studies program at Ball State University (retired) and freelance professional trumpeter in both classical, commercial, and jazz settings including Henry Mancini, Frank Sinatra Jr., and many more.