NCCU to offer Online Master of Music degree in Jazz Studies

Posted August 31, 2022, 5:30PM

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) is launching a new, online Master of Music program in Jazz Studies in the summer of 2023. Applications are now being accepted.

Students who enroll in NCCU’s Master of Music degree program will have their choice of two tracks – Performance or Composition and Arranging. Once the program launches, NCCU will be the only historically Black college or university (HBCU) in North Carolina with an online Master of Music program in Jazz Studies and one of only a few in the country, according to Lenora Helm Hammonds, DMA, interim chair of the Department of Music, director of Graduate Programs, Jazz Studies and Vocal Jazz Ensemble director. 

Helm Hammonds, who has worked at NCCU for 17 years and has performed worldwide, said NCCU has been developing the new program for five years and expects to have 20-25 students enrolled initially.

“We found that a lot of our students who are seeking the Master of Music degree are non-traditional students who aren’t coming right off of earning a bachelor’s degree,” she said. “Some of them have been working in the field as professional, performing musicians, and they decided they wanted to add a degree to their arsenal of resources for the eventuality of teaching, or they want to get their doctoral degree and need the continuum from their bachelor’s degree. That first step is the Master of Music.”

Band and choral directors who teach in k-12 schools and are musicians may also find NCCU’s new online master’s program attractive, Helm Hammonds continued. “They have their undergraduate degree in music, but many of them didn’t study jazz, so we anticipate having a lot of those individuals to enroll as well.”

NCCU has offered a Master of Music degree since 2008, in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting. After the COVID-19 pandemic forced higher education institutions to begin offering online classes, and colleges and students adapted, questions began arising about whether the University would offer its Master of Music degree online. Because of technology, what formerly was seen as infeasible – playing and performing or taking voice or instrument lessons in an online environment – now doesn’t seem as challenging.

“People wondered, if you’re seeing it, does it come across at the same time?” Helm Hammonds said. Other questions surrounded the integrity of the sound, whether the students will be able to replicate what professors are asking them to do, whether students’ posture can be seen virtually and how three-dimension aspects will project on a flat screen. “Now we know it’s possible,” she continued. “What we’ve learned is that people are open to teaching and learning online. Students are mobile, and it’s a digital culture that makes this a relevant and timely idea."

NCCU’s Department of Music falls under the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities umbrella, which has the necessary campus resources for success. Initiatives and incentives were offered to departments to develop online degrees, making it “a perfect storm of resources and circumstances that helped us develop to this point,” she added.

NCCU music professors who teach in-person classes will instruct some of the online courses, as will multi-Grammy-Award-winning jazz great Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, an accomplished pianist in Marsalis’ band. The two are participants in NCCU’s artists-in-residence program. 

“We have these two very important, renowned musicians as pillars in our department, with a faculty of people who are still vibrant performers that tour and record with very active careers,” Helm Hammonds said. “It’s a combination of the academic part, the theoretical part and the practicum, where you have a master apprenticeship going on between the faculty person and the students, which you don’t always find in jazz studies programs. We plan to stand on the things that have helped us get to be world renowned.”

Besides the NCCU Jazz Ensemble capturing third place at the Jack Rudin Collegiate Jazz Competition earlier this year at New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center, NCCU’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble also won a big award from DownBeat Magazine, one of the country’s premier jazz publications. 

Helm Hammonds credits her colleagues, including Brian Horton, DMA, director of the Jazz Studies Program, Thomas Taylor, assistant professor of percussion, Ira Wiggins, Ph.D., retired Jazz Studies director, and other members of the Jazz Studies faculty for working to position NCCU to offer the online Master of Music in Jazz Studies, which will take a year for students to complete. 

For more information or to apply, please visit

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) prepares students to succeed in the global marketplace. Consistently ranked as a top Historically Black College or University, NCCU’s flagship programs in the sciences, education, law, business, nursing and the arts prepare students for professions ranging from clinical research to information science. Founded in 1910, NCCU remains committed to diversity in and access to higher education. With a mission to investigate health disparities, the university’s two state-of-the-art research institutes give students real-world experience working alongside faculty researchers and pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry professionals. The university’s Strategic Plan 2019-2024, Charting a New Landscape for Student-Center Success, focuses on four areas: student access and success; innovation, research and entrepreneurship; collaboration and partnerships; and institutional sustainability. Visit


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