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Students play their instruments during an Acromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony class taught by Michael Zilber, left, at the former The Jazzschool Institute now called California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Berkeley -- The Jazzschool Institute has earned accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music, becoming a four-year conservatory that can grant a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies. school officials announced Thursday.

In this new incarnation the Jazzschool will be renamed the California Jazz Conservatory, with the nondegree program called the Jazzschool Community Music School at CJC. The conservatory is now the only free-standing accredited university in the nation devoted solely to the study and performance of jazz music.

Jazzschool founding President Susan Muscarella made the announcement after a four-year application process that required the Jazzschool faculty to educate and graduate three bachelor's students.

Students play their instruments during an Acromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony class taught by Michael Zilber, left, at the former The Jazzschool Institute
Students play their instruments during an Acromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony class taught by Michael Zilber, left, at the former The Jazzschool Institute now called California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

"NASM evaluated our application by evaluating the progress our graduates had made," Muscarella said. "You can't just fill out an application and say, 'You know, I'd like to be accredited today.' You have to take a minimum of three students through your proposed course of study."

The original CJC graduates have now received official degrees retroactively in light of the finalized accreditation. The institution now has 60 students enrolled in the degree program for the fall, though Muscarella projects higher numbers. The maximum number of students it can enroll is 120, "with 30 to 35 in each grade level," she said.

"I'm interested in a small, specialized program. That is, I want to be the Julliard of jazz on the West Coast," Muscarella said.

The Jazzschool opened in 1997 as a community music school on Shattuck Avenue. But as enrollment grew and the school moved to its current, much larger location in downtown Berkeley on Addison Street, accreditation became an achievable goal.

"The structure of the first jazz school was very different." Muscarella said. "We catered to all ages and all levels, but that model became more for the aficionado, or nonprofessional. There was a depth missing."

Instructor Jeff Denson, left, works with student Colin McCuen during a private bass lesson at the formerThe Jazzschool Institute now called California Jazz
Instructor Jeff Denson, left, works with student Colin McCuen during a private bass lesson at the former The Jazzschool Institute now called California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

But the pianist turned conservatory president is quickly making up for lost time.

"I think of a degree as more of a gestalt, a program in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Muscarella said. "This education is designed for the aspiring professional jazz musician, but it's a very broad-based degree."

As of now CJC is certified to grant a Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies, a purposefully more multifaceted course than traditional conservatory performance degree programs.

"Jazz Studies doesn't mean just composition, or just performance, or just musicology", Muscarella said. "It's broad-based on purpose so that when a student graduates they'll be equipped to be a professional musician or a professional in another related area."

Laurie Antonioli, left, vocal performance instructor, works with students Rose Cristman, right, and Kyra Gordon as drummer Bryan Bowman and bassist John
Laurie Antonioli, left, vocal performance instructor, works with students Rose Cristman, right, and Kyra Gordon as drummer Bryan Bowman and bassist John Wiitala accompany during private lessons at the former The Jazzschool Institute, now called California Jazz Conservatory, in Berkeley on Feb. 26, 2014. (Ray Chavez/Staff)

This more pragmatic approach to music education is surprisingly unusual in music schools, she said.

"The curriculum is like a wheel," Muscarella said. "Performance is at the center, and the other disciplines are the spokes. Our General Studies Department is very unique in that so many of the courses are particularly relevant to a jazz musician's life."

At CJC, classic college course requirements are reinterpreted with a jazz focus. Social science becomes jazz history, the math requirement becomes entrepreneurial skills for musicians, and physical science is reinvented as the physics and psychoacoustics of music. The average price per semester is $8,900 for a full-time student, with slight variations depending on a student's chosen instrument.

Susan Muscarella, founding President and Dean of Instruction California Jazz Conservatory, is photographed  at her jazz school in Berkeley, Calif., on
Susan Muscarella, founding President and Dean of Instruction California Jazz Conservatory, is photographed at her jazz school in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)

Master jazz pianist Benny Green, of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, will be the 2014-15 artist-in-residence at CJC, joined by well-known faculty members like Bay Area percussionist John Santos, bassist Jeff Denson of Lee Konitz New Quartet, singer Laurie Antonioli, and many more.

"I started out as a jazz pianist," Muscarella said. "I know firsthand what students need. I wish I had had the courses the students can take today, but now when I look back I don't see the things I missed out on, I see what I can give them."


Laurie Antonioli, vocal performance instructor, works with students Rose Cristman and Kyra Gordon, not pictured, during private lessons at the former The
Laurie Antonioli, vocal performance instructor, works with students Rose Cristman and Kyra Gordon, not pictured, during private lessons at the former The Jazzschool Institute now called California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)