Northern Illinois University has become nationally known for its outstanding jazz studies program. Graduates from NIU list as the top musicians not only in the Chicago-area music scene but also all over the country.
For undergraduate students, the Jazz Studies program is a B.M. degree in Music Performance with a Jazz Studies Emphasis, and graduate students may design an individualized MM degree with a specialization in Jazz Studies. The curriculum includes courses in Jazz History, Jazz Theory, Introduction to Jazz Studies, Aural Foundations of Improvisation (I & II), Jazz Arranging (I & II), Jazz Pedagogy, Jazz Improvisation (I & II), Electronic and Computer Music, Recording Techniques, Survey of the Music Industry, World Music, and many large and small ensemble opportunities. Students have the opportunity to perform in one of the three big bands and also participate in one of the seven combos organized each semester. Many students play professionally and become a part of the Chicago area music scene while attending NIU.
The faculty includes some of the greatest performers and jazz educators in the country. Professor Ronald Carter coordinates the area and directs the internationally-known NIU Jazz Ensemble. Professor Carter performed in the St. Louis Area for over 17 years where he directed one of the most outstanding high school jazz programs in the country at East St. Louis Lincoln High School. He has performed regionally and nationally with Clark Terry, Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Temptations Orchestra , Lou Rawls Orchestra, George Hudson Jazz Orchestra and many others. Professor Carter performs with and presents clinics to bands all over the country and is a Conn artist and clinician for United Musical Instruments (UMI).
Willie Pickens, pianist with Elvin Jones for over 12 years, teaches advanced Jazz Piano. Kelly Sill, who teaches jazz bass, has been active on the Chicago jazz scene for over 30 years. Art Davis, one of the top jazz artists in Chicago, teaches jazz history, jazz trumpet, and coordinates the combo program. Professor Robert Chappell, renowned composer and arranger is head of the percussion area and teaches jazz piano and jazz theory. Tom Garling, who has composed and arranged for, and recorded with, such artists as Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Dianne Schuur, and Frank Mantooth, teaches jazz trombone. Professor Fareed Haque, an internationally-recognized artist with Blue Note Records, teaches advanced improvisation and guitar. Professor Rich Holly, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, is an artist/clinician for Yamaha and Sabian and teaches jazz and Latin percussion. Percussionist/composer/arranger Rodrigo Villanueva, has played with classical, jazz, and popular artists in Mexico, South America, the U.S., and Japan, and teaches jazz arranging and drumset.