The Peabody Conservatory has hired three musicians with Baltimore ties to join the jazz department faculty next school year — the most recent step in administrators’ plan to remake the program from top to bottom.
The appointments of bassist Kristopher Funn, saxophonist Tim Green, and vibraphone specialist Warren Wolf, all of whom are African-American, come a few months after public allegations of racial disparities and discrimination have riven the department.
The new hires will bring the total number of African-American faculty members in Peabody Jazz in the 2018-2019 school year to five, along with the department’s new chairman (the trumpeter Sean Jones), and drummer and composer Nasar Abadey.
Of the seven faculty members on the jazz department staff this year, just Abadey is African-American.
“The Peabody Conservatory continues to reinvigorate its Jazz program, inspired by the great tradition of jazz in Baltimore and consistent with the Conservatory’s innovative approach to 21st-century training in the arts,” the conservatory announced in an article appearing in The Peabody Post.
Current and former faculty members and students raised a ruckus last year when Gary Thomas, the Baltimore-born African-American superstar saxophone player who had performed and recorded with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, was forced to resign as the chairman of the department that he founded in 2001.
The ouster came after Thomas’ attorney sent a 38-page letter to Peabody that raised serious allegations of discriminatory treatment of Thomas by other faculty members and administrators.
Peabody’s dean told The Sun in December that he couldn’t comment on a personnel issue.
Thomas was just one of three longtime Peabody Jazz faculty members to leave in the past 20 months. (The other two faculty members, who were white, had also been with the department since it was founded .)
Some current and former students and former faculty members wondered publicly why, since jazz is an art form founded by African-Americans, so few black faces could be found in the the Peabody jazz department hallways and classrooms. Peabody is part of Johns Hopkins University, and these same critics also questioned the college’s commitment to promoting local talent.
The appointment of Jones as the new department chairman, however was widely praised and relieved some inter-departmental tensions. Not only does Jones possess an impressive resume, but graduate student Julian Brezon identified him as the favorite candidate of the student members of the interviewing committee.
Wolf, the former chair of jazz studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts, was one of four finalists for jazz department chairman, according to Brezon. Wolf has performed and recorded with such artists as Wynton Marsalis and such groups as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and has recorded seven records.
The Baltimore-born Funn went to Howard University and graduated with a degree in computer science, according to his website, funndamentals.com. But after spending two years performing with the university’s jazz ensemble, he decided to pursue a career as a musician. At age 23, he began touring internationally with alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett, and recently released his debut album, “Cornerstore.”
Green is also a Baltimore native and an alumnus of the Baltimore School for the Arts. As a graduate student at the University of Southern California, he studied with Hancock. Green has performed at Carnegie Hall and the White House and with Queen Latifah and Mariah Carey and has served as a faculty member and/or guest artist in residence at Morgan State and Temple universities, according to his biography on Peabody's faculty webpage.
A department spokeswoman didn’t respond to a question whether Peabody is increasing the size of its jazz department, or whether it anticipates that some existing faculty members will depart.