Jul 9, 2013
America’s college campuses increasingly include students filling Jazz Studies programs. There are dedicated schools well-known for producing jazz musicians – from Boston’s New England Conservatory and Berklee School of Music to Los Angeles’ Thelonious Monk Institute – but increasingly the most sought after places are mainstream schools with top programs. These range from traditional “heavies” like the Rutgers, University of Miami, USC and North Texas State to up and comers like SUNY Purchase, University of North Florida, and the home of Ira Wiggins, North Carolina Central University.
Wiggins is the Director of Jazz Studies at the school, and his students have received Downbeat Magazine Awards, IAJE Sisters In Jazz Recognition, and Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead Selections. Among their r notable performances include two performances at the Montreux, Switzerland and Vienne, France jazz festivals, two performances at the White House, a tribute to Dr. Billy Taylor in Kansas City, Missouri, the 55th Annual Newport Jazz festival and the 30th Annual Detroit Jazz festival. Wiggins is the recipient of the Walter J. Norfleet Award for Outstanding Service to the Arts by an Artist, the UNC-Greensboro Jazz Education Service Award and the 2012 UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award.
Amid all of those duties, he finally has taken the time to release his first CD as a leader, When Freedom Swings is a two-CD release that presents Wiggins on sax and flute, and features a collection of originals and covers in a universally positive and pleasing way. This is jazz for tapping your feet and shouting for joy; it eschews pure academia for a good time. That doesn’t mean that Wiggins and his players don’t have the chops. Rather, they are out to play melodies and grooves that don’t require a textbook to enjoy.
I spoke with Ira Wiggins about the CD, which includes his friend Cyrus Chestnut on eight tracks; about his path to education and got some tips on some students to watch for in the future on the world’s bandstands. Podcast 362 features that conversation with musical selections including:
Ira Wiggins – Title Track, “Killer Joe” and “Red Top” from When Freedom Swings. An original and two covers are includes, the second of which features Cyrus Chestnut on piano. The players include Wiggins on sax and flute; Baron Tymas: Cyrus Chestnut and Ed Paolantonio, Alvester Garnett and Thomas Taylor, drums; and Herman Burney: bass; Mavis "Swan" Poole adds vocals to “When Freedom Swings”.