Herb Pomeroy was just 33 and already a nationally known soloist, bandleader and teacher when he was asked to direct MIT's jazz ensemble in the spring of 1963. He said he found the existing ensemble "very, very bad" and considered leaving. But instead, he said to the musicians, "Let's roll up our sleeves and get to work."
That decision proved a boon for the Institute. During Pomeroy's 22 years at MIT, he transformed MIT's Festival Jazz Ensemble (FJE) into a top-notch, award-winning group.
The celebration of Pomeroy's legacy will continue on Saturday, April 23, as he returns to MIT for a performance on the occasion of his 75th birthday, "Herb at 75: Celebrating Jazz at MIT." The concert, featuring the FJE under the direction of Lecturer Frederick Harris with alumni conductors and musicians begins at 8 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium. Admission is $5.
Conductors for this special evening include James O'Dell, an educator, conductor and tubist who served as music director of the FJE from 1993-99; composer, arranger and trumpeter Everett Longstreth, who directed the MIT Concert Jazz Band for 32 years; and musician and film composer Jamshied Sharifi (S.B. 1983), who led the ensemble from 1985 to 1993.
The concert will feature the world premiere of "The Quiet Words of the Wise" by Sharifi and performances by the MIT Alumni Jazz Band, led by Pomeroy and Longstreth, who will also guest conduct the FJE.
With Louis Armstrong as inspiration, Pomeroy chose the trumpet as his instrument. By age 25, he had performed with Charlie Parker, toured with Stan Kenton and Lionel Hampton and recorded with Serge Chaloff. Since that time, Pomeroy has become known as a "musician's musician," a leader in big band jazz and an improviser of uncommon stature. He was also on the faculty of the Berklee College of Music for 41 years.
"Talkin' Jazz at MIT," a discussion with MIT's past and present jazz directors, moderated by Mark Harvey, will precede the concert at 7 p.m.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 13, 2005 (download PDF).