The University of Iowa

Collaboration provides global exchange opportunities for jazz students

August 2nd, 2021
Damani Phillips

Damani Phillips

On the heels of a sabbatical in which he wrote and recorded an album involving eight string players and a jazz quartet, University of Iowa Associate Professor Damani Phillips is preparing for a master class with students at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (JAMD).

The UI’s relationship with JAMD began last year when long-time colleagues UI Professor Volkan Orhon and JAMD Professor Michael Klinghoffer discussed ways to make the most of virtual educational platforms necessitated by COVID. That conversation spurred an innovative collaboration which created an opportunity for global exchange for bass students at both schools.

That collaboration continues—this time for jazz students—with another round of master classes. Phillips will lead a master class for ten JAMD students on August 11, 2021, followed by a similar experience for UI students in October led by a JAMD professor.

Master classes typically start with students playing their selections, followed by immediate feedback from the professor. Phillips hopes to share meaningful feedback with the students that goes beyond technical knowledge. “Most African-American derived styles of music such as jazz, gospel, blues, and funk, are meant to be expressed in a compelling way in that moment,” says Phillips. “That is a marker of whether or not the performer has been successful in getting the audience to feel a certain way.”

Phillips describes jazz as music that is attached to the moment of performance rather than to the moment of composition. “My hope is that I can convey how technical knowledge—the nuts and bolts of the music we play—serve the aesthetic side of the music,” says Phillips. “I want to challenge the thinking of the students in terms of how they conceptualize the music, the goals they have for their performance, and how they emote and convey feeling to the audience.”

While Phillips is pleased that this type of global exchange is happening, albeit virtually, he feels there is some fidelity that is lost when music is processed through a microphone via Zoom. “Music should travel through air and be ingested the old-fashioned way. When you hear music in person, you experience its nuances,” comments Phillips.

Sarah Meltzer Golan

Sarah Meltzer Golan
Tammie Walker

Tammie Walker

On the other hand, Phillips recognizes the value of connecting virtually, noting the opportunities for connections globally increase exponentially when travel costs aren’t a factor. “I get to speak to a class full of jazz musicians in Jerusalem,” says Phillips. “It may not be ideal via Zoom, but at least it’s happening! The only thing worse than that would be it not happening at all.”

Leaders at both institutions are pleased with these early collaborations. “We believe that students being under guidance of different teachers and masters of all artistic fields from prestigious institutions like the UI from the beginning of their path will achieve better techniques, greater flexibility, and deeper understanding of their artistic visions in their future careers,” says JAMD’s Sarah Meltzer Golan, head of the president and director general’s office and head of the international relations office (Erasmus+).

Tammie Walker, professor and director of the UI School of Music, noted, “The UI School of Music is pleased to collaborate with JAMD, an institution of considerable depth, breadth, and esteem. Music transcends every barrier—including spoken language—and this collaborative relationship is another example of music’s power.”

Learn more about the master class: