MSU Mentorship at the Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Program

Jazz Studies Professor Xavier Davis selected as mentor for prestigious jazz residency program.

Xavier Davis, MSU associate professor of jazz piano, was selected to mentor at the 2017 Better Carter Jazz Ahead Program at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.
Davis is among eight musicians invited to serve as faculty at the international jazz residency project for outstanding, emerging jazz artists and composers.

Xavier Davis says he never considered himself a big city kid. He grew up in Grand Rapids, and then attended college in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor. But music changed that, taking him to epicenters of jazz and putting him in front of influential artists and teachers who transformed his life.

In late March, the associate professor of jazz piano in the MSU College of Music will have the opportunity to reverse roles and mentor a new generation of jazz musicians as a faculty member at the 2017 Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. It’s a role that carries special meaning to him, he says, given that it was the late Betty Carter herself who hired him as a pianist for her working trio that toured the globe after hearing him at the 1994 International Association of Jazz Educators convention in Boston.

“I was all of 20, and she was there to be an inspiration for me,” Davis says. “I had a lot of insecurity that I didn’t have what it took or anything important to say. But being with her, I felt like I had something to contribute. I’m looking forward to being that person now to someone else, like she was to me, and to be part of mentoring the next generation.”

Davis is among eight musicians invited to serve as faculty at the international jazz residency project for outstanding, emerging jazz artists and composers who range in age from mid-teens to 25. Along with the other experienced artists, Davis will mentor attendees in performance, composing and arranging skills, and provide insights in career development.

Founded by Carter in 1993, the two-week, Jazz Ahead residency was built on the legendary vocalist's devotion to jazz education. For more than two decades, the program has helped shape the art form while launching the careers of emerging jazz artists. Just 24 aspiring musicians are selected to participate annually through a competitive audition process, with two alumni from the MSU College of Music. Assistant Professor of Jazz Trombone Michael Dease attended twice in 2004 and 2005, and Jazz Studies Undergraduate and Bassist Adam Olszewski attended in 2015. A third Spartan—Jazz Studies Undergraduate and Saxophonist Markus Howell—recently received word that he was accepted for the 2017 cohort.

“Being selected to be part of a program that has nurtured so many gifted and talented jazz artists is an incredible honor,” says Rodney Whitaker, director of MSU Jazz Studies. “We’re exceptionally proud of Xavier for his invitation to serve on the project’s faculty, and of the increasing number of Jazz Ahead alumni who are among the best and the brightest shaping the future of jazz right here at MSU.”

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