The 10 Best Jazz Schools in the US

Jazz is a uniquely American form of music, and the country has no shortage of great jazz schools. 

Spread across the country, many of the top-ranked programs have been around for decades and offer a range of degrees in all aspects of jazz. 

These programs are led by faculty who include some of the most renowned jazz performers around, and students have many opportunities to perform in campus ensembles as well as at venues near their schools.

As the jazz programs have evolved, they’ve also grown, with many schools now offering master’s and doctoral programs in the field. Students can pursue degrees in performance, both vocal and instrumental, as well as jazz composition, depending on the school.

Modern music education doesn’t just involve training students to become performers, though. Today, programs have embraced the importance of preparing students for all aspects of a career, giving them a background in areas like business. 

Several have started dual-degree programs so students can pursue their passion as jazz musicians while also earning a bachelor’s degree in the liberal arts or other fields.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at 10 of the best jazz schools in the United States, from what degrees they offer to the admissions and auditioning process.

Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Oberlin, OH)

Oberlin Conservatory of Music
Rens van Leeuwen, Oberlin Conservatory, CC BY-SA 3.0

Oberlin College consists of just two divisions, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Conservatory of Music, the latter of which opened in 1865. The conservatory has just 540 students and a low student-faculty ratio of 6:1. They can choose from 42 areas of private study, including jazz composition and jazz performance, and participate in over 30 student ensembles.

Oberlin also offers a dual-degree program in which music students can earn a bachelor of arts in addition to a bachelor of music. This makes it possible for them to earn a degree not only in an area like jazz performance but also history, law, and other topics.

Applicants should prepare to audition to earn a place in the conservatory, which they can do in person or by recording. They also must submit two letters of recommendation from music teachers or someone who can provide insight into the applicant’s musical talent and history.

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (Bloomington, IN)

Jazz studies is one of 22 subjects students can pursue at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, where they’ll learn about not only performing jazz music but also its history, composition, and other topics that provide an intimate understand of the musical genre. 

Undergrads can earn either a bachelor of music in jazz studies or a bachelor of science in music and another field with a jazz emphasis, while the graduate program offers both a master’s degree and a doctorate in music.

The music school has numerous instrumental and vocal ensembles, including five focusing on jazz, including the All-Campus Jazz Ensemble, which is open to everyone on campus, even non-music majors.

Prospective students must do a live audition and interview with the university. Depending on their instrument, candidates may also need to submit a pre-screening recording of their performance before they move on to the audition phase.

University of North Texas College of Music (Denton, TX)

University of North Texas College of Music
Michael Barera, University of North Texas (Music), CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of North Texas’ College of Music recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of its jazz program, which offered the first jazz studies degree in the world. Since starting its first laboratory band in 1946, the school has become known in part for its Grammy-nominated One O’Clock Lab Band.

Today, the school is home to several academic divisions, including jazz studies, in which students can focus on vocals, composition, or different instruments. 

In addition to the bachelor of music in jazz studies, the UNT offers two graduate degrees. In the master of music in jazz studies program, students can take either the jazz performance or jazz composition track. Students pursuing a doctorate in performance can choose the jazz concentration.

All applicants must provide a pre-screening audition video, and those who pass that round then must take an aural skills and jazz theory test, which they will take the day of their audition.

The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (New York, NY)

The New School’s jazz school is relatively new, having opened in 1986 with the goal of having professional musicians teach the next generation of performers.

Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in jazz and contemporary music in which they focus on either an instrument or vocals. Or, they can pursue the dual-degree track, a five-year program in which they earn the BFA as well as a liberal arts bachelor’s degree. 

Those interested in graduate studies have a few options, including a five-year program in which students earn the BFA and then a master of arts in arts management and entrepreneurship.

The New School also has two graduate programs that span different parts of its College of Performing Arts, the master of arts in arts management and the master of music in performer-composer.

They school is home to the city’s biggest music internship program, giving students a chance to work with top members of the music industry, and they also can perform around New York at various venues.

Berklee College of Music (Boston, MA)

Berklee College of Music
Tim Pierce, Berklee College of Music Ensemble Building, CC BY-SA 3.0

Berklee College of Music offers lots of degree options, including undergraduate and graduate, not only at its original Boston campus but also online and at several Berklee satellite campuses spread around the world.

These degree offerings include the bachelor of music in jazz composition, in which they learn about the history of jazz, attend live performances, and learn the various techniques involved in writing music. 

Undergraduates also can pursue a minor in the theory of jazz and popular song. At the graduate level, Berklee offers a master of music focusing on global jazz at its Boston campus, in which students learn through a special performance program, the Berklee Global Jazz Institute.

Berklee has several music- and performance-focused student clubs and organizations, including the co-ed vocal jazz group Point of Departure.

University of Miami Frost School of Music (Coral Gables, FL)

The Frost School of Music has numerous jazz degrees available within its Department of Studio Music & Jazz

Students can earn a bachelor’s degree in either vocal or instrumental studio jazz, taking classes in performance and more technical subjects, such as composition and improvisation. 

Opportunities for graduate students are abundant, witha master of music and doctorate degrees in both vocal and instrumental jazz performance available. Other master’s degrees include studio jazz writing and jazz pedagogy. 

Outside the classroom, jazz students have 13 ensembles to choose from, giving them a chance to perform different styles of jazz in both large and small groups. 

The experience seems to prepare students well for life after Miami. Frost says that within six months of graduation, 91.3% of graduates either obtain a full-time job or move on to graduate school. 

New England Conservatory of Music (Boston, MA)

New England Conservatory of Music
Karlunun, New England Conservatory, CC BY-SA 4.0

The first fully accredited program of its kind at the conservatory level, the New England Conservatory’s jazz program has trained performers for nearly five decades.

Undergraduates interested in jazz can choose from two bachelors of music degrees, jazz composition or jazz performance. 

Double majors let them also earn a degree in music history, music theory, or composition, or they can add a second performance area. The conservatory also has master of music and doctoral degrees and graduate diplomas in both jazz composition and performance.

The school takes a unique approach to education, with the renowned performers on the conservatory’s faculty mentoring students in private lessons. When it comes to performing, the conservatory focuses on small ensembles, with faculty guiding 27 student groups that cover a wide range of jazz styles.

Manhattan School of Music (New York, NY)

The jazz program at the Manhattan School of Music offers bachelor’s and master’s in music plus a doctorate in jazz arts advancement. 

Undergraduates can major in various instruments within the jazz program, but vocal studies are only offered at the master’s and doctoral levels. The school also offers a master’s degree in jazz composition. 

Jazz students are required to participate in ensembles, which include three types of orchestras and a big band, and guest soloists join the groups each season. Guest artists also routinely visit to conduct master classes in which students can perform and gain feedback.

The school does prescreen applicants for both its undergraduate and graduate programs, and the exact requirements for this depend on what instrument the candidate plays and/or the particular program he or she wants to pursue. 

After the prescreening, those who move forward in the admissions process undergo an audition.

The Juilliard School (New York, NY)

Juilliard School of Music
Pmasck, Juilliard School – Alice Tully Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

Students learn from highly respected jazz performers when they attend the Julliard School

In addition to honing their performance skills in private lessons, students take a mix of other classes to best prepare them for careers in not only the music industry but also the wider world. That means undergraduate lessons include music theory and history as well as the liberal arts.

Entrepreneurship also plays a large part in the Julliard experience. The school’s Alan D. Marks Center for Career Services and Entrepreneurship offers various workshops and panel discussions to help students develop skills like public speaking. 

The career center also can help set them up with freelance jobs to gain experience in addition to the various campus ensembles in which they’ll perform. Ensembles play in Julliard facilities and around New York City, including at the renowned Jazz at Lincoln Center. 

University of Southern California Thornton School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)

The University of Southern California’s jazz studies program was one of the country’s first, and its alumni and faculty members have been nominated for prestigious awards like the Grammys.

Jazz musicians can pursue not only undergraduate degrees in the specialty but also graduate degrees, certificates, and diplomas. 

USC also offers a minor in jazz studies. Undergraduates can expect to take foundational classes in subjects such as music theory and aural skills along with the university’s regular general education courses. To graduate, they also need to finish a capstone project, which can be a recital.

The music school has five jazz-focused ensembles, including two jazz orchestras. Students also can participate in the Jazz Honors Combo; ALAJE, the Afro-Latin American Jazz Ensemble; and the USC CreSCendo Vocal Jazz Ensemble.