When the URI Big Band took the stage at the Newport Jazz Festival in August, it was an especially proud moment for Joe Parillo, chair of the University’s Department of Music. A Grammy nominated composer who has performed with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and many prominent jazz musicians, he has been the face behind the URI jazz program almost since its inception.
With about 45 students enrolled to earn either a B.A. in jazz studies or B.M. in jazz performance, the program boasts two big bands, four jazz combos and many other opportunities for students to gain experience. Professor Parillo said that, compared to large music programs in big city schools, the URI program provides a personal approach and a nurturing environment that is difficult to find elsewhere.
“Now that we’ve been on the map for a while, our students are releasing CDs, they’re going on tour, they’re gigging around Providence regularly, and our graduates are creating a network that is giving our younger students more opportunities to perform,” said Professor Parillo.
With the jazz program developing a national reputation, he is looking to raise the music department’s profile even further by establishing the nation’s first doctoral program in the study and performance of American music.
“Every other music program is very genre specific,” he said, “but American music includes a wide spectrum – jazz, American classical, blues of the bayou, urban jazz, traditional fiddle music, country western. There’s an overwhelming variety of styles, and no one is really doing it justice yet.
“I want to take in the immensity of American music and show how it has influenced the entire world,” Professor Parillo added. “There are so many musical art forms in America. It’s a language; it’s how we communicate; and it teaches us to listen.”