New Faculty Spotlight: Colleen Clark – UofSC News & Events

Music teacher leads the way for women in jazz



When Colleen Clark was in elementary school in Colchester, Connecticut, she decided to play drums in the school orchestra. It was an easy choice, as she already played drums with her father in a family rock band.

But when the group director handed over instrument assignments, he was asked to play the flute instead.

“Just because I was a girl, I was assigned the flute,” she recalls. ” It’s not good. I had a real passion for playing the drums, so why would anyone try to change that? ”

In Clark’s case, it worked. His father knew the director of the group and pleaded his case; the director gave in. But experience points to a larger problem. “There is always an instrument attributed to sex situation, which is unfortunate,” says Clark. “Fortunately I had a defender at the start, but so many people don’t. ”

In 2019, Clark became the first woman – and the first drummer – to earn a doctorate in jazz performance from the University of North Texas, known for its jazz program. She has since taught at Borough Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and was a principal teacher for the ChiCa Power program at Jazz House Kids in Montclair, New Jersey. Starting this fall, she is an Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of South Carolina.

Attracting new students and making sure women in particular feel welcome is one of Clark’s priorities. Research shows that the number of girls who show an interest in music declines as they move from middle school to high school, and again between high school and college.

“And even more in jazz,” says Clark.

In South Carolina, Clark wants to connect with young women who are transitioning into college and say, “Hey, come be a part of this.

Although new to South Carolina, Clark wastes no time in implementing his vision. On October 25, she will perform with her brand new all-girl group CC and the Adelitas in a free concert at 7:30 p.m. at the Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Music. In addition to the performance, the band members will host masterclasses with music students.

Clark’s related field of study in North Texas was ethnomusicology and Mexican music in particular, while his main field of study was jazz and jazz history. The “Adelitas” were women who took up arms during the Mexican Revolution, and the term came to represent the strength and resilience of women in general. CC and the Adelitas perform jazz versions of works by Mexican singers and songwriters, exploring gender, race, identity and culture. The songs will be sung in Spanish.

In South Carolina, Clark wants to connect with young women who are transitioning into college and say, “Hey, come be a part of this.

“The music, the lyrics, the way it’s defined, it’s amazing,” Clark says of his love for Mexican music. “If you think about the history of the bolero, the ranchera, the Norteño music – everything, every type of music that comes out of Mexico is very distinct. And that really speaks to the story most of the time. ”

The story is close to Clark’s heart. In addition to being a drummer and conductor, she is a composer, researcher and jazz historian. In class, she wants to make sure that the students understand the tradition to which they adhere.

“I always do it through the lens of Louis Armstrong,” she said. “Louis Armstrong is the true American idol. You can still ask children these days who Louis Armstrong is, and some of them will know.

Armstrong becomes a starting point for Clark’s area of ​​interest, pre-bebop, which includes the swing era and earlier. Learning how jazz has evolved in composition and style helps prepare students for today, she says.

“My role here, I think, is to open the ears and the playing skills,” she said. “And listen, so that they can better understand the history of jazz, how they fit into the history of jazz, because we all create the history of jazz. The more knowledge you have, the better your playing decisions are. You’re going to be a much more knowledgeable musician, which puts you on a higher level than most. ”

Clark knows how difficult it is to be successful as a musician – and she wants her students to be ready for work.

“If you work hard, I’ll give you everything I’ve got,” she said. “But you know, you have to want it. You have to work for it.


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Subjects: Faculty, Diversity, School of Music

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About Mark A. Tomlin

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