5 for Friday: 5 Old School Jazz Musicians with College Degrees

Among today’s successful jazz musicians, those who did not study music in college appear to be the exceptions. Of course, this mirrors society-at-large, with many more pursuing higher education today than in the past. This absolutely holds true when we examine the biographies of the players who rose to prominence in the ’50s and ’60s. It is rare enough to find big name players from that cohort who even attended college. But the five men in this list not only attended universities, but actually earned degrees before becoming famous. (Bonus: I’ve included a 6th person whose story is truly remarkable.)

1. Kenny BurrellWayne State UniversityBachelors in Music
2. Donald Byrd
Wayne State University
Manhattan School of Music
Bachelors in Music
Masters in Music
3. Ron Carter
Eastman School of Music
Manhattan School of Music
Bachelors in Music
Masters in Music
4. Herbie Hancock
Grinnell College
Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and Music
5. Wayne ShorterNew York UniversityBachelors in Music Education

One of the most impressive résumés in jazz history belongs to the great drummer Pete La Roca. Despite his status as a top sideman and having appeared on so many legendary Blue Note albums, La Roca left the music business in 1968 at just 30 years-old. During the next half decade or so, he drove a NYC cab in order to put 1) food on his table and 2) himself through NYU law school. By the late ’70s, he was working as a lawyer, under his given name, Pete Sims. He even represented himself (and won) in a lawsuit against a small record company for releasing an album — from a session he led, and without his permission — under the more marketable name of Chick Corea.

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