Composer in the Classroom

As a composer, pianist, and author, Rutgers–Newark Professor Henry Martin is able to bring a unique perspective to his teaching, both with graduate students in Rutgers’ master’s program in jazz history and research and with undergraduates taking classes in music history and appreciation. “Being a composer totally informs just about everything I do in the classroom,” he says.


An Experienced Ear

That perspective is particularly relevant when discussing the work of other composers and artists; Martin might not be able to intuit Charlie Parker’s precise thoughts, but as a composer, he notes, “I can extrapolate what that process might have felt like.”

Even as his own compositions draw on influences as diverse as ragtime and atonal 20th-century modern music, he isn’t afraid to tackle his students’ interests in performing—or composing—Broadway-style show tunes, hard-rock songs, or film scores. Martin’s students often seek his feedback on their music, emailing him MP3s, handing him CDs, or delivering envelopes with printouts of compositions.

“They know that I compose, they know that I’ve got an active life doing this, and they want to get a reaction from someone who’s had that experience,” Martin says.

“Dr. Martin impacted my life in a major way,” says Sherrian Crumbley, a graduate of the music program at Rutgers–Newark. “Taking his music theory class opened up a whole new world of music to me,” she notes, crediting Martin with her decision to pursue a graduate degree in musicology. “He’s so willing to help any student who shows an interest.”

Open to Ideas

Martin embraces musical forms and styles from a dizzying variety of eras, and his own work has been acclaimed for its seamless synthesis of a variety of influences. Of his Preludes and Fugues, one reviewer wrote, “I can’t think of a more impressive recent contemporary keyboard work.”

Martin, who is the coauthor of Jazz: The First 100 Years, finds it “exhilarating” to be around students and their ever-changing musical enthusiasms. “As a university professor, you keep getting older, but your students are constantly recycled and they’re at the same age,” he notes. “You can’t help but be kept up on what the trends are, what they’re thinking, what they’re doing.”

Unique Program

Master’s Degree in Jazz History and Research

Plenty of graduate programs focus on jazz performance, but Rutgers’ master’s degree in jazz history and research is unique in its focus on jazz scholarship, preparing students to research, publish, and teach jazz. The program makes extensive use of the renowned Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers–Newark, the largest public-access jazz library in the world, with sound recordings, music manuscripts, diaries, photos, and archival materials from the likes of Benny Carter and Mary Lou Williams. Learn more.