North Texas Daily

College of Music jazz program turns 75

College of Music jazz program turns 75

College of Music jazz program turns 75
November 03
12:00 2022

For many years, if a student wanted to study jazz they would not go to New York or Los Angeles — they would come to Denton, Texas, home of the first academic jazz program in the world.

Seventy-five years later, the university is still a leading force in jazz studies. The College of Music is ranked nationally by institutions such as Billboard Magazine and College Gazette.

The University of North Texas Jazz Singers perform in the Syndicate on Oct. 18, 2022 on Oct. 18, 2022. Photo by Matt Iaia

“Just like when we think of business at Harvard, or we think of acting at Juilliard or football at Notre Dame or Alabama, when we think of jazz, it’s the University of North Texas,” Steve Wiest, former One O’Clock Lab Band director and Grammy-nominated trombonist, said.

Jazz music was born in the early 20th century United States out of a combination of blues and ragtime music. The genre originated from the African American community in New Orleans and is characterized by musical traits such as swing and improvisation. Jazz has a rich history and is widely celebrated today, but at the time of its creation, the genre itself was controversial. 

“It’s been said that in the United States, jazz and baseball are the truest forms of art that we’ve given to other people,” Wiest said. “Jazz is the musical glue that holds together all the various traditions in this country.”

In the 1940s, a dance band music curriculum was written by graduate student M. E. Hall as his master’s thesis. This curriculum for dance band music — which is essentially jazz — eventually became the North Texas State University jazz program, which officially began during the fall of 1946. 

With the formation of an academic jazz program came the Two O’Clock Lab Band, named after its rehearsal time. As the program grew, more lab bands were introduced.

Today, there are seven lab bands – One O’Clock through Seven O’Clock – with the earlier times being more prestigious. In 1975, the One O’Clock Lab Band’s album, “Lab 75,” was the first student ensemble to be nominated for a Grammy award. 

Over the years, the university’s jazz program became well known among musicians and students across the country, largely due to performances by the ensembles that make up the program. Stockton Helbing, 2003 graduate of the jazz studies program and drum set instructor, heard an ensemble led by former faculty member and percussion jazz musician Ed Soph while attending a clinic in high school.

The University of North Texas Jazz Singers perform in the Syndicate on Oct. 18, 2022 on Oct. 18, 2022. Photo by Matt Iaia

“When I was a kid growing up in South Carolina and I was showing interest and a slight bit of aptitude to play drum set and play jazz at a young age, the one thing that was always said to me was, ‘If you want to be serious about studying jazz music, you need to go to North Texas,” Helbing said. “North Texas became this almost mythological place that I heard about all the time.” 

To celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first jazz studies program in the world, the program hosted a reunion weekend from Oct. 20-22, which featured performances from current students and alumni. Alan Baylock, director of the One O’Clock Lab Band and graduate of the jazz program, attended the reunion to direct his band and reconnect with former classmates and colleagues. 

“The nice thing to me about [the reunion] was there was social time, but there was music making also and so many reconnections and memories and stories,” Baylock said. “It wasn’t just about sitting around and talking about old times — we made music in the current moment with people that were here in the ’50s through people that just graduated last year. Everybody got to hear what’s going on now.”

Friday evening, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, a nine-time Grammy award winner, will perform at the Murchison Performing Arts Center to celebrate the jazz program’s 75th anniversary. The One O’Clock Lab Band will perform as the opening act. On Saturday, members of the orchestra will teach master classes to music students.

Jennifer Barnes, vocal jazz professor and director of jazz singers, said it is exciting to have a jazz program with a long history behind it that also allows students to adapt to the modern music business.

“Jazz has this great and rich history, but we’re also interested in our students writing music that reflects their experience today and mixing genres and styles of music,” Barnes said. “Most of our students don’t only do jazz — they’re blending jazz with their more contemporary styles and R&B. […] We’re not just looking back at a long history, but also looking forward to the future.”

Check out a Q&A with Marsalis at

Featured Image: The Jazz Singers perform in the Syndicate on Oct. 18, 2022. Photo by Matt Iaia

About Author

Kaitlynn Hutchins

Kaitlynn Hutchins

Related Articles


No Comments Yet!

There are no comments at the moment, do you want to add one?

Write a comment

Write a Comment

The Roundup

<script id="mcjs">!function(c,h,i,m,p){m=c.createElement(h),p=c.getElementsByTagName(h)[0],m.async=1,m.src=i,p.parentNode.insertBefore(m,p)}(document,"script","");</script>

Search Bar

Sidebar Thumbnails Ad

Sidebar Bottom Block Ad

Flytedesk Ad