In just two years, I created the University of Cambridge’s most active student-led jazz department at Homerton College. This is the story of how and why. When I arrived my college, I was very surprised that there was no modern music making or anything welcome under the wide jazz/funk/blues umbrella. The only organised music opportunities were the liturgical choir (a strong tradition in Cambridge) and a steel-pans band. I made the decision to build a new jazz programme from the ground up that would have a distinct identity within the University of Cambridge. Within two years, Homerton Jazz became the most active jazz programme within Cambridge and doubled the amount of musicians participating in regular music making in Homerton College. I have written elsewhere about the two musical branches that I helped shape: the Homerton Jazz Orchestra (HoJO) and our weekly Jazz in the Bar concerts. This is a reflection on the ending of my time at Homerton and the beginning of another.
In 2017, my partner in jazz, Chris Magazzeni, left Homerton for the European Space Agency (as you do) leaving me to manage both HoJO and Jazz in the Bar; a 15-20 hours-per-week job that I was doing in my spare time as a full-time PhD student. It was during that year that I decided to combine both entities under one umbrella: Homerton Jazz. I commissioned artwork from Irish-based artist (& jazz singer) Birgit Burhenne to reflect our new identity and rebranded everything to re-enforce our identity: Homerton Jazz in the Bar & Homerton Jazz Orchestra.
All good things…
Knowing that I would be finishing my PhD in the next year, I put together my last trick. A good Las Vegas magician ends his performance with a great disappearing act and I endeavoured to do the same. So I helped draft a constitution and elect a crew of Homerton Jazz officers (I also left 15 pages of instructions with a calendar). Homerton Jazz is now in new hands that are adapting it to so that it best suits the new generation of students. We have an official seat in the Homerton Music Society, access to funding and are routinely called upon when the College wants to show off to VIPs or just wants to have a good time after Tuesday-night formal dinners. We have also designed our own events, such as a Mardi Gras Dinner and our Big Band Bonanza and participate in the Cambridge Jazz Festival and Holiday Lighting Ceremony.
These accomplishments and the buzz generated from them have been noticed by Cambridge applicants and the 2017-2018 incoming class of music students had someone that chose Homerton College specifically because of Homerton Jazz. Our influence went from fighting for a space in the bar to influencing a new generation of undergraduate music applicants to choose Homerton over other Cambridge Colleges.
The truth is that I miss being the director/dictator with a vision for, but I love the fact that I helped shape an entirely student-run organisation that will carry on for years without me. I am grateful to those at Homerton that enabled me to do this, especially our college principal Professor Geoff Ward and our Head of Catering, Paul Coleman.
In a university that strongly values its traditions, what could be better than establishing a few special ones? I am very proud to say that all of the events in the photos below happened because of the work that I initiated.
Photos of ‘Homerton Jazz’ 2015-2017
Learn more about Homerton Jazz at the following links:
- Homerton Jazz Orchestra Year 1
- Homerton Jazz Orchestra Year 2
- Homerton Jazz in the Bar
- Homerton Jazz ‘Mardi Gras’ Formal Dinner