Paul Tanner just passed away at the ripe old age of 95. Although he made a name for himself at a young age by being chosen by Glenn Miller to be in the trombone section of the famous WWII band, playing such classics as “In the Mood” and “String of Pearls”. Any WWII veteran still with us knows those songs well.
For me, however, Paul Tanner was the popular jazz history teacher at UCLA. Thousands took his classes and there were always waiting lines to get into the popular class. (Gerald Wilson, the great jazz orchestra leader, took over the class after him).
I wish I’d been able to take the class too, but I did my undergrad work at USC, then having to work my way through grad school at UCLA in Comparative Literature left no room to take his class. Tanner was one of the first to offer such a class, and UCLA students were lucky to have him. Today is so different: UCLA has a thriving jazz studies department, with Kenny Burrell and others jazz pros teaching. USC has Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, and Bob Mintzer. University of Massachusetts has, at its various campuses, jazz veterans like Yusef Lateef and Archie Shepp. University of Florida International University has the excellent bassist Jamie Ousley on the faculty.
And we must mention the outstanding work by Dan Morgenstern at the Jazz Studies Department at Rutgers University. And there are many jazz educators and schools that I’m failing to mention here. Cal State University Northridge, University of North Texas, Indiana State University are a few. I’m thinking more of Los Angeles, where I grew up and went to school. I lived in Paris for 3 years and like many schools in the U.S., there were only conservatories, classical music, no jazz curricula. That was back in the 1970s, so maybe things have changed since then.
I’m not mentioning the great Berkelee School of Music only because it has always had a great jazz curriculum. Ditto for New England Conservatory, with Ran Blake and others. There are many famous jazz alumni from those institutions. I’m focusing here on universities that didn’t always have jazz studies departments but do now.
At UCLA it was Paul Tanner who started it all. Jazz really has always been America’s only true artform, today you have to include hip hop in there as well. Jazz was always more appreciated abroad, in Europe, the Far East, even in Africa, always more than here in America. As they say, no man (or woman) is a hero in his/her home town. But Tanner started the ball rolling to help change all that. We should thank him for it.