Tuesday, June 22, 2010

R.I.P.: Wendell Logan


Wendell Logan, Composer of Jazz and Concert Music, Dies at 69
Published: June 22, 2010

Wendell Logan, a composer of jazz and concert music who more than two decades ago founded the jazz department at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, long a bastion of high-level classical training, died on June 15 in Cleveland. He was 69 and lived in Oberlin, Ohio.

Professor Logan died after a short illness, Marci Janas, a conservatory spokeswoman, said. At his death he was chairman of the jazz studies department and professor of African-American music at the conservatory, which is part of Oberlin College.

Though Oberlin had been turning out world-caliber classical soloists, conductors and orchestral performers for generations, jazz there had long been an extracurricular subject at best.

Professor Logan, who played soprano saxophone and trumpet, joined the faculty in 1973 and began offering jazz classes soon afterward. But it was not until 1989 that he was able to make jazz studies a full-fledged major, in which students can earn a bachelor of music.

Besides composing many jazz works, Professor Logan wrote concert music, a discipline that black composers have historically been discouraged from pursuing. His compositional style integrated elements of Modernism, European classicism and African-American musical traditions like jazz, blues and gospel into a seamless whole.

Among his best-known concert works are “Doxology Opera: The Doxy Canticles” (2001), a gritty sung drama of race and morality with a libretto by Paul Carter Harrison, and “Runagate, Runagate” (1989), a setting of Robert E. Hayden’s poem about a fugitive slave.

In 1990 “Runagate, Runagate,” sung by the tenor William Brown, was featured in a program by the Black Music Repertory Ensemble, a Chicago group, at Alice Tully Hall in New York.

Reviewing the performance in The New York Times, Allan Kozinn wrote, “Mr. Logan’s music — a volatile mixture of angularity, harmonic haziness and expressive dissonance tempered with openly tonal sections — adds a palpable dramatic dimension to the narrative.”

Professor Logan’s jazz compositions include “Remembrances.” Reviewing a performance of that work by piano, bass and drums for The Times last year, Ben Ratliff called it “a stylish and mysterious ballad.”

Wendell Morris Logan was born on Nov. 24, 1940, in Thomson, Ga. His first musical studies were with his father, an amateur alto saxophonist.

He attended Florida A&M University, a historically black institution, on a football scholarship, graduating in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in music. He earned a master’s in music from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in 1964 and a Ph.D. in music theory and composition from the University of Iowa in 1968.

Before joining the Oberlin faculty, Professor Logan taught at Florida A&M, Ball State and Western Illinois Universities. His honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1991; his music has been recorded by Orion and other labels.

Professor Logan is survived by his wife, the former Bettye Reese, whom he married in 1962; two children, Wendell M. Jr. and Felicia Logan; two brothers, Alvin and Howard; and four grandchildren.

In interviews over the years, Professor Logan made clear that for him and his colleagues, the rubric “black composer” was a decidedly mixed blessing.

“I’m not particularly in favor of it,” he told The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, as the paper was then known, in 1994. “I think our music should be evaluated and played alongside everything else, and programmed with Beethoven and other contemporary composers. No one is asking for a special day: ‘Here’s the day for black American composers.’ That’s kind of demeaning. But it’s better than nothing.”

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