DB Lifetime Achievement Award for Jazz Education: Miles Osland, Documenting Jazz Ed

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Miles Osland

(Photo: Neal Grindstaff)

Miles Osland, DownBeat’s 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award for Jazz Education honoree at the collegiate level, had a simple answer when asked about one of the key factors in building his distinguished career.

“This school year marks the beginning of my 36th year teaching jazz,” Osland said. “And it also marks my 34th year here at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. And that longevity is one of the keys to success.”

Make no mistake, it’s what Osland has done done during that time — first as a professor of saxophone and then as director of the University of Kentucky’s Jazz Studies program.

He applied for a position at the University of Kentucky in 1987, after he graduated from the Eastman School of Music with his master’s degree in jazz and contemporary media.

“I met Vince DiMartino, a great trumpet player who was teaching at the University of Kentucky, when he came to Eastman in the summers to work with the Arranger’s Orchestra program,” Osland explained. “Vince had a great jazz band at UK, and he attracted world-class trumpet students. He was working hard to expand the jazz program, and when a teaching position at UK opened up, I decided to apply. I was interviewed and was one of the finalists for the job, but funding for the position was cut.

“I began scrambling around trying to find a teaching gig. I filled in for Dave Demsey [the current coordinator of jazz studies at William Paterson University] at the University of Maine Augusta for the 1987-88 school year while he came back to Eastman for his doctorate, then went out to Western Wyoming Community College the next year. I was the only music faculty member there, so I had the jazz band and also conducted a 60-piece community orchestra. Then the UK job got funded again, and I was hired. When I came to Kentucky, I knew the potential of what this program could be. But when I first started, there was no combo program, and no arranging or improv classes.”

Osland began teaching a class in jazz arranging and focused on establishing a jazz combo program, hiring additional faculty and creating more ensemble opportunities for students.

“It’s been an ongoing effort, and now we have good combos going on every year,” Osland said. “We have at least two, and up to four, combos each semester — depending on the number of bass players and piano players available. In addition to our Jazz Ensemble, we now have the Lab Band happening each semester, and we’ve also started a third band — our Repertory Orchestra.

“One of the real keys to make all this happen was gaining another jazz faculty position. We hired Raleigh Dailey as our jazz piano professor, and he supervises the combos, conducts the Lab Band and teaches jazz improvisation.”

Osland was also able to add more instructors to teach drums and bass, and has also established an innovative saxophone combo program: Mega-Sax.

“I saw there were lots of sax quartets out there, but not much in terms of saxophone quintets,” he said. “So I established the Mega-Sax program here when I started. When I was at Eastman, Ramon Richter, the saxophone professor there, directed a group called Saxology, that was inspired by the band Supersax, so that was my starting point. Now we have Mega-Sax groups that play as quintets and quartets — with and without rhythm sections.”

Mega-Sax recorded its first album, We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Rhythm Section, in 1995 on the Sea Breeze label, and various Mega-Sax ensembles at UK over the years have continued to record and win awards.

For Osland, recording his students as well as himself and other faculty members, has been a strong focus over the past three-plus decades.

“I’m a documenter, he explained. “I’m very research oriented, which you have to be in a university setting. Universities value research and reward it. So we have to convince academicians that as a music school, we showcase our research through live performances — and also documentation through live and studio recordings. The recordings serve as documentation of the research we’ve done as faculty members at the University.

“Recording is also a great learning experience for our students. And the recordings also become a great recruiting tool for potential students. We’ve also been very lucky to have the same recording engineer, David Henderson, for almost all of those 42 recordings.”

In addition, Osland has written articles for Saxophone Journal, published transcription books and commissioned compositions and arrangements from saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Derek Brown.

Osland also wanted to thank some who have had a major influence on his career.

“I’ve already mentioned Vince DiMartino, and I have to give a shoutout to Raleigh Dailey — we’ve worked together for more than 20 years at UK, and he’s written pieces for many of my projects. And my wife, Lisa, teaches saxophone here as well as serving as director of the saxophone ensembles.

“When I went to Cal State Northridge for my undergraduate degree, I started as a classical clarinet major,” he added. “They had a great jazz band directed by Joel Leach, and by the time I graduated I had a jazz degree. And Ramon Richter’s great saxophone books really attracted me to go to Eastman and study with him. Incidentally, I met my wife, Lisa, at Eastman, and that came about because Ray offered us both teaching assistantships at the same time. And Ray ended up being the best man at our wedding.”

It’s a family affair for this Lifetime Achievement honoree. DB



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