Students involved in the Valparaiso University Jazz Program were informed last semester that Jeffrey C. Brown, director of Jazz and Percussion Ensembles and coordinator of Jazz Studies, is being let go at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
In response, Steven Mileusnich, a freshman in the Jazz Ensemble, has created a petition that advocates to save Brown and the jazz program. Mileusnich’s campaign “Save VU Jazz” has so far consisted of drafting a letter to the administration outlining the reasons he believes Brown’s position should be saved, as well as collecting signatures after performances.
Mileusnich explains the impact Brown has had on the jazz program in his letter.
“Prof. Brown is fully vested in his role and responsibilities to the university’s jazz program. The commitment of time that he brings to the program extends far beyond any conventional requirements. He is a motivated instructor, a competent and focused director, and an excellent role model for his students. Prof. Brown embodies the Valparaiso University Jazz Program and is the reason for its highly regarded reputation and success,” read the letter.
As a longstanding adjunct assistant Professor of Music, Brown has had a remarkable impact on making the Jazz Ensemble and their events what they are today. He has organized the Valparaiso University Union Jazz Festival for 25 years, an event that brings together jazz players of varying skill and includes local high school participation.
For Mileusnich, who participated in the Jazz Festival with his high school, it is the community aspect that makes VU Jazz something special and worth saving. The ensemble is tight knit and span a wide variety of interests, sharing a connection through their individual dedication to jazz. In addition to on campus events, the ensemble takes an annual trip to Chicago along with monthly visits to Duffy’s, a bar where Valpo’s Jazz Ensemble has been playing for decades.
The group visits Duffy’s on the first Tuesday of every month and according to Mileusnich, the event is typically well attended.“There’s kind of a mix of everybody… It’s a unique thing that’s [specific to] jazz, concert band doesn’t go out and do that kind of stuff. It’s kind of a way for the university to interact with the community in a positive sense. Duffy’s is a big contributor to the Jazz Fest and jazz in general,” Mileusnich said.
“The Save VU Jazz” campaign has gained support from other members of the ensemble who are helping Mileusnich spread the word around campus and the Valpo community. The petition itself has been signed by 200-300 people and aims to save Brown’s job and ensure continuation of jazz at VU.
“I know he’s just a guy, he’s just a professor, but basically, he is jazz and jazz is him because of how much time he’s put into it and how it’s grown. So hopefully, best case scenario retain him which would also retain jazz and then if that’s not feasible, then just the preservation of the jazz program as a whole,” Mileusnich said.