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The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

The student newspaper of Clark University

The Scarlet

Geller Jazz Series to End After Funding Runs Out

After 10 years of Selma Geller’s financial gift funding jazz shows for the Clark community, the Geller Jazz concert series will end after this spring.
Razzo Hall at the Traina Center for the Arts, venue for the Geller Jazz Series. Photo courtesy of Clark University.

After the Randy Brecker Quintet’s jazz set in Atwood Hall on March 20, Joel Chriss, a long-time organizer of the Geller Jazz Series, announced that this season of shows would likely be the last. The crowd gasped disappointedly at the announcement. They had paid a cheap fare to see an hour-and-a-half-long concert showcasing two legendary jazz figures, Randy Brecker and Dafnis Prieto, and their talented ensembles.

The Geller Jazz Series started in 2013 after the Estate of Selma Geller, a New York City philanthropist who was “deeply concerned about the lack of musical educational opportunities available to the current generation of students,” donated a gift to the Visual and Performing Arts Department to be used for hosting jazz concerts on Clark’s campus. 

The Geller Jazz series typically hosts two concerts yearly, one in each semester.

In the fall semester, the show is typically held in the Grind and attendance is free. At this concert, a newer emerging artist is often featured. For example, in the fall of 2023 Mozambican-born Berklee alum Albino Mbie and his quintet were featured in “A Joyful Jazz Ode to Africa.”

In the spring semester, the show is typically held in Atwood with $5 tickets for Clarkies and $20 tickets for the general public. This show has featured jazz legends like Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Omar Sosa and others.

Additionally, these shows often come with meals, workshops, panel discussions, residencies and other opportunities for Clark students to connect with the performing artists more deeply.

The work that goes into these shows starts a year in advance. “There’s considerable advance work,” said Prof. Matt Malsky, a member of the Visual and Performing Arts faculty and primary coordinator of the concerts. “Transportation, accommodations, room bookings (and accommodating class schedules), marketing and promotion (including underwriting with the local jazz station, WICN), tech riders, and hospitality for the artists” are just some of the considerations for planning the events, said Malsky.

Along with Malsky, booking agent Joel Chriss, Visual and Performing Arts event coordinator Henry Brown, and many Clark and Worcester organizations including University Marketing and Communications, the Alumni Office, Advancement, Accounts Payable, JazzBoston and the Worcester Cultural Coalition collaborate to organize the events.

“We’ve had sold out audiences at every one of our events,” said Malsky. “It’s been extraordinarily successful, and for longer than we had planned.” The department initially believed that there would only be enough funding for 7 years of concerts, Malsky said. 

Unfortunately, after 10 years of free and low-cost jazz concerts for the Clark and Worcester communities, the Geller financial gift has run out. Unless another donor steps in to carry on the torch of Selma Geller’s legacy, the series is not likely to continue. 

Malsky and others are attempting to attract new donors to keep the series running, but have had no luck yet.

“Jazz is a quintessential American art form, and everyone involved in putting together this series has been deeply concerned that Clark students have access to opportunities to experience it as a living history,” said Malsky. “To sit in the same room as these storied musicians and hear them play, to sit down to a meal with them and talk… these are unique opportunities that are incredible for students, but also important to keeping the art form alive and viable.”

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