Professor, composer, conductor, musician, mentor, and steward of the jazz idiom
Jerry Tolson is a native of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and after receiving his bachelor’s degree from Drake University in Des Moines, he taught band at several Iowa high schools. He earned his master’s degree at the University of North Texas and taught at Central College (IA) and the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In 1993 he joined the music faculty at the University of Louisville. He is now professor of jazz studies and music education at the University, where he is chair of the department of academic and professional studies, coordinates the music history area, directs jazz ensembles and teaches jazz pedagogy, jazz style, jazz history, and African American Music classes.
Tolson has made presentations at state, regional, and national Music Education conferences, the International Association for Jazz Education Conference, Jazz Education Network, the International Academy of Law and Mental Health, and the Midwest Clinic, as well as universities in the U.S. and abroad. As a composer/arranger Tolson has written over 150 original tunes and dozens of arrangements for both large and small instrumental ensembles as well as vocal jazz ensembles. His vocal jazz works are published by UNC Jazz Press. He is a clinician/consultant for Alfred Music and Kendor Music Publishing Companies, a content consultant for Pearson/Prentice Hall Educational Publications, and serves as an adjudicator, guest conductor, and jazz camp instructor internationally. Tolson has directed All-State and Honor Jazz Ensembles in Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky. In addition, he is a long-time faculty member of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops.
He is the educational director for the University of Louisville Jazz Festival and co-founder of U of L's African American Music Heritage Institute, a celebration of the contributions of African Americans to America's musical history, as well a national series of jazz teacher training institutes. Tolson’s articles have appeared in Music Educator’s Journal, Jazz Educator’s Journal, The Journal of Jazz Studies, The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry and The Instrumentalist, and he is a contributor to the following publications: Teaching Music Through Performance in Jazz, Volumes I and II (ed. Carter and Miles), Jazz Pedagogy: The Jazz Educator's Handbook and Resource Guide (Dunscomb and Hill), and The Jazzer’s Cookbook: Creative Recipes for Players and Teachers. His jazz pedagogy book, The Jazz Commandments: Guidelines for Jazz Articulation and Style, is published by Kendor Music.
Tolson began his performing career on saxophone, and other woodwinds playing in school ensembles and in the pit for professional stage productions. He has done free lance work in Louisville, KY; Dallas, TX; Omaha, NE; and Des Moines, IA, including work with the Four Tops, Temptations, Martha Reeves, Manhattan Transfer, Steve Lawrence & Edie Gourmet, Carol Lawrence, Little Anthony, The Drifters, The Shirelles, Leslie Gore, Marilyn Maye, Lou Christy, Tommy Roe, Peter Noone, Gene Pitney, and Stephanie Nakasian. In recent years he has focused on the piano and singing while performing with his own small groups and big band and working with such jazz artists as Delfeayo Marsalis, Antonio Hart, Rufus Reid, Winard Harper, Mark Gross, Kevin Mahogany, Don Braden, Sunny Wilkinson, Kathy Kosins, Nenna Freelon, Pete Christlieb, Phil Wilson, James Moody, Benny Golson, John Fedchock, and Marvin Stamm. Tolson has released five CDs of original jazz selections, Nu View, Back at the Track, Late Night Cruise, Black Sand Beach, and Fresh Squeezed. His composition, "In the Company of Strangers", from Nu View was a runner-up in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Tolson's jazz groups have appeared at local and regional jazz festivals including the Louisville Jazz and Blues Festival, Jazz In Central Park, Evansville Jazz Festival, and the Legacies Music Festival. His groups have also appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, and in Barbados, Brazil, and Trinidad.