In 2010 Bob Lark, director of jazz studies, School of Music, received the Jazz Education Achievement Award from "Down Beat" magazine, the leading American publication devoted to "jazz, blues and beyond" since its first issue in 1934. The award puts Lark among the nation’s elite jazz educators. Recipients are chosen for their ability as jazz instructors, for contributions to the advancement of future jazz artists, and for their positive impact on their schools’ jazz programs.
Here's what Lark has to say about his passion.
"Some of what I love about teaching is selfish: I love music, specifically jazz music. I want to be around other jazz heads, other people with a passion and talent for this music. I wanted to teach at the college level because the students are good enough to play sophisticated, complex pieces and because performing is a big part of the educational experience. I’ve been lucky to rub elbows with great musicians over the years — some already great, some on their way to greatness — many of them my students or colleagues.
"Another nice thing about teaching is that I can share with students everything I’ve learned since I was their age — and I’m still figuring some things out, what works for me and what doesn’t. A musician can spend a lifetime learning how to practice!
"I came to DePaul in 1990 as the director of jazz studies, and I’ve never looked back. I’m from the Midwest and always thought that Chicago would be a great place to land because of the city’s size and culture. Remarkably, at that time, none of the local universities had a strong jazz program. With Chicago’s amazing jazz and blues tradition, the metropolitan area was begging for someone to come along! Why not me? And why not DePaul? As soon as I started, I began a push to attract undergrads from all over the country and to recruit outstanding musicians as graduate students and teachers.
"From the beginning, the jazz program used the city — and we still do. In the ‘90s, we didn’t have much in terms of facilities for performing jazz; necessity being the mother of invention, I started soliciting area high schools, offering my services t0 work with their musicians free-of-charge in exchange for the use of their facilities. Our jazz ensemble would be a “guest band” — we still do about a dozen of those kinds of appearances each year — and after presenting a workshop, we’d share a concert with the high school group.
"I also contacted Joe Segal who owns the Jazz Showcase, widely regarded as the premier jazz club in Chicago. For years, Joe had been bringing in Northern Illinois University’s jazz band the week before Christmas; so, I suggested DePaul’s band. Joe said, “It has to be a really good band,” and I said, “I’ll guarantee that.” We’ve had a 20 year relationship now; a few times a year, the DePaul Jazz Ensemble plays original compositions and arrangements by our faculty, students, and alumni at the Jazz Showcase.
"Today, the jazz program has 11 student chamber groups ranging in size from quartets to septets; each group presents a concert each term and cuts a CD of 3-5 songs in a professional recording studio. Every student combo does its own arrangements, whether jazz classics or their own original music. We have three student Big Bands of 20 students each — five trumpets, five saxophones, four trombones, a few drummers, a bassist, a pianist, and a guitarist. The top band plays the Jazz Showcase for four nights each term.
"Fast forward 20 years, and DePaul’s jazz program has a robust group of alumni, teaching and working all over the U.S. and the world, spreading our reputation and creating a pipeline of contacts. Last year, I started Bob’s Alumni Big Band just for fun; I wrote 11 tunes, then brought together my favorite alums to write arrangements, play and record the music, then play the Jazz Showcase the week before Christmas. I’m going to put together a new alumni band every year: I’ve got hundreds of great musicians to choose from.
"I started subscribing to 'Down Beat' magazine in 9th grade, so I was thrilled — and surprised and honored! — to receive the achievement award."
Under Lark’s direction, the DePaul Jazz Ensemble has won several Outstanding Performance Awards from Down Beat magazine and has recorded albums with legendary jazz artists Phil Woods, Slide Hampton, Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, Bob Brookmeyer, Tom Harrell, Frank Wess, Jim McNeely, and Bobby Shew.