Jazz Studies

We are a small comprehensive undergraduate university with an exceptional jazz faculty. You will never study with a graduate teaching assistant. For decades, the Millikin Jazz program has maintained a national reputation for excellence.

Our record

  • The Millikin Jazz Band, Jazz Combo, and One Voice are regularly cited as “outstanding” at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival.
  • The Millikin Jazz Band has performed at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival and IMEA State Convention on several occasions. They also accepted an invitation to perform at the 2013 J.E.N. National Conference in Atlanta.
  • One Voice has performed at the IAJE Conventions in San Diego and New York City, as well as the JEN Conference.
  • We proudly boast a graduate success rate of 98%.

Our facilities

  • A 1,900 seat fine arts center with a national touring acts series.
  • A newly renovated School of Music Facility featuring state of the art technological resources includes: 32 track fully automated digital recording studio; Video editing suite; MIDI lab; and Computer lab with 20+ iMacs, various software and keyboards.

Our Opportunities

  • Play in one of the big bands, combos, vocal jazz ensembles, or Latin Percussion ensemble.
  • Perform with traditional large ensembles, such as the wind ensemble, concert band, choirs, or orchestra, plus a variety of smaller chamber ensembles.
  • Study jazz improvisation, theory, arranging, history, and various courses in recording technology and music business.
  • Participate in a student-run record label.
  • Take part in a variety of other production, composition, and performance opportunities.


Frequently Asked Questions

Does Millikin offer a Jazz Studies degree?

No.  We believe that it is more reasonable to provide jazz training in conjunction with training in other areas of music such as music business, recording studio technology, or music education.  In today’s professional climate, musicians need to wear many different hats in order to survive.  Of course they must perform at a high level, but they must also have the training and flexibility to work in other areas of music.

What kinds of degrees are offered for Millikin jazz students?

Students enrolled for jazz courses and ensembles may apply these course credits toward the requirements for all music degrees.

  • Music Performance (B.M.)
  • Commercial Music (B.M.)
  • Music Business (B.M.)
  • Music Education (B.M.)
  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
  • Music Minor

Who can study jazz at Millikin?

Millikin jazz students are typically majoring in one of the degrees listed above, but students from outside the School of Music are encouraged to participate in any School of Music ensemble to enhance their college experience.

What kinds of  jazz-related courses are offered at Millikin?

Millikin offers a wide array of courses related to jazz performance and study.  These courses are open to all qualified music students regardless of major.  Here is a sampling of the jazz courses currently being taught:

  • Jazz Improvisational Styles
  • Jazz Improvisation Lab
  • Vocal Styles
  • Advanced Improvisation
  • Commercial Theory I
  • Commercial Theory II
  • Jazz Arranging
  • Songwriting
  • Jazz/Commercial History and Forms
  • Studio Ensembles (combos)
  • Jazz Bands I and II
  • Vocal jazz ensembles:  One Voice and Blue Bop
  • Applied lessons (most instrumentalists study jazz styles with their applied teacher)

Who are the jazz faculty at Millikin?

  • David Moore- trumpet
  • Perry Rask-Director of Jazz Activities, Jazz Band I & II
  • Mark Tonelli- arranging
  • Christopher Nolte- combos, commercial/jazz bass, improv styles
  • Benjamin Hawkinson-One Voice (vocal jazz), Blue Bop (vocal jazz)
  • Brian Justison-jazz drumming

What jazz ensembles are at Millikin?

Jazz Band I: The Millikin University Jazz Band I has performed at the Wichita Jazz Festival, Notre Dame Jazz Festival, Elmhurst Jazz Festival, University of Northern Colorado Jazz Festival, Central Illinois Jazz Festival, Western Illinois Jazz Festival, Illinois Collegiate Jazz Festival, and the J.E.N. National Conference.  On several occasions, the band has been selected as an “outstanding band” at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival which is one of the largest collegiate jazz festivals in the U.S.  The band’s four CDs, Easy to Love, Swingin’ Night and Day, Signal Fires and Vera Cruz are available from First Step Records.   The ensemble consists of undergraduate students majoring in performance, music education, commercial music, and music business.  The band regularly tours regionally and has toured the Dominican Republic on three different occasions.

Jazz Band II: Millikin University Jazz Band II is primarily a training group for jazz students with limited experience. The ensemble performs regularly on campus throughout the year, and occasionally performs at the Central Illinois Jazz Festival.

Advanced Combo: The Advanced Combo is comprised of the top instrumental jazz students in our program. The focus of their work is on real-life gigging experiences. The group regularly performs at a local jazz club, and also makes itself available for professional jobs around the community.  Their repertoire consists of standards, contemporary works, as well as originals.

Combo Program: The real strength of the jazz program at Millikin is the combo program.  In addition to the Advanced Combo, two other combos actively rehearse and perform at jam sessions.  The focus in this combo class is on learning tunes, playing over changes, interacting musically within the ensemble, and learning about real-world requirements of jazz musicians.  Clinicians are often brought to campus to work with the combo students.

Pop/Rock Ensemble: This ensemble satisfies the needs and interests of those students who want to immerse themselves in the genre of pop and rock.  The ensemble performs each semester on campus.

Vocal Jazz: OneVoice is the flagship ensemble of the vocal jazz program at Millikin University. Begun in 1986 by the group's musical director and keyboardist, Stephen Widenhofer, the program has grown to include a second group, Blue Bop. MU vocal jazz ensembles perform regularly both on and off campus throughout the year.  The vocal jazz program annually hosts an educational Vocal Jazz Festival on campus for high school and collegiate ensembles. OneVoice has been specially recognized by DOWN BEAT magazine several times and has been invited to perform at various educational conferences and collegiate jazz festivals in the United States including the IAJE international convention in New York City (2001) and San Diego (1989), the UNC/Greeley Jazz Festival in Colorado and four times at the Illinois State Music Educator's Association state conference in Peoria. Over the years, OneVoice has been recognized numerous times as one of the outstanding groups at both the Elmhurst Jazz Festival and Gold Company Invitational Jazz Festival. OneVoice regularly tours regionally and has toured the Dominican Republic on three different occasions.  The ensemble is featured on two compact discs, Beautiful Friendship and Small Talk, both available from First Step Records.

Faculty Jazz Ensemble: The Faculty Jazz Ensemble is comprised of the performing jazz faculty in the School of Music.  This groups performs about twice a year at a jazz club near campus where Millikin students can come and listen to their teachers perform. The ensemble has also made appearances as part of the Kirkland Fine Arts Center Chamber Series and Holiday Jazz Concerts.

Audition Information

The auditions for winds in the jazz bands and/or combos will be held in K136 on Tuesday, August 25th and Thursday, August 27th.  The auditions will be held between the hours of 6:00 and 10:00pm.  Due to the need for 30 minute spaces to allow for adequate air exchange after 60 minute intervals, a sign up sheet will be posted in the lobby of the School of Music for specific instruments.

Rhythm section auditions will be held on Tuesday, August 25th.  Sign up for this will  be by instrument...Drums, Bass, Guitar, and Piano.

Auditions for Sax, Trumpets, and Trombones will be Thursday, August 27th.

Auditions consist of the following:

• A "24 hour" prepared piece.  This will be made available starting on Sunday, August 23rd.  Everyone plays this no matter the instrument.  I will provide treble and bass clef versions.

• There will be 2-3 sight-reading excerpts from typical big band charts (more than likely from the music selected for the fall).

• Improvisation.  Optional (some kids have no desire to improvise.). Typically, they can play a blues (2-3 choruses) in the key of their choice.  However, if they have a specific tune they would rather play (by memory) that is acceptable.  Either way, I'm the accompanist on piano.