Flutist and composer Nicole Mitchell has been named director of Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program. She’ll be the program’s third leader in its 50-year history.
Mitchell, 51, who currently is a professor of music at University of California, Irvine, will assume her new role on July 1. She was the 2018 recipient of the Champion of New Music award from the American Composers Forum, and is the founder of Black Earth Ensemble, a multi-generational group that celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2018. She also was the first woman president of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians and has been named Top Flutist of the Year several times by the Downbeat Magazine Critics Poll and Jazz Journalists Association.
Jazz Studies at Pitt — which the New York Times called one of the nation’s oldest and most robust jazz studies programs — includes the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert, outreach programs, the peer-reviewed journal Jazz and Culture, the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame, the William R. Robinson Recording Studio and the Pitt Jazz and Erroll Garner Archives. Mitchell also will fill the new position of William S. Dietrich II Endowed Chair in Jazz Studies and be a tenured professor in the music department.
“We’re thrilled to have an internationally renowned artist, composer and educator of Nicole’s caliber joining us to lead our jazz program,” said Kathleen Blee, dean of the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, in a news release. “Nicole’s innovative vision for the future of the program and the annual Pitt Jazz Seminar and Concert — particularly her ideas for collaborating with other institutions of higher education in music and with key community partners such as the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild and the Afro American Music Institute — is ambitious and exciting, and her passion for teaching and mentoring students is certain to attract a new generation of jazz scholars to the University of Pittsburgh.”
Pitt’s Jazz Studies Program was founded in 1969 by saxophonist Nathan Davis, who ran it until his retirement in 2013. Pianist Geri Allen took over the program until her untimely death in 2017.
“Coming to Pitt is a special moment, a sort of calling for me to bring my full self, where I feel a refreshing openness and enthusiasm from the Pitt community to share my vision,” Mitchell said in a news release. “I have big shoes to fill, following the incredible work Geri Allen accomplished, making connections between tradition and innovation. I’m excited to explore the full spectrum of creative possibilities for jazz at Pitt.”
Mitchell told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the new job was “an amazing opportunity of leadership. The program is unique. It’s the only program with a Ph.D. that exists (in jazz studies).”