Oswego’s Jazz Rep Is ‘Solid’

Oswego has certainly had its share of great rock and pop performers over the years, but it’s also been a notable venue for jazz.

Even casual fans of the genre would recognize legendary names like Louis Armstrong (1966), Chuck Mangione (1972, 1980), Herbie Hancock (1975), and Branford (1990), Wynton (1991) and Ellis Marsalis (1994).

Jazz enthusiasts may also remember that established musicians like Ramsey Lewis (1966, 1976), Larry Coryell (1974), Thad Jones and Mel Lewis (1974), Woody Herman and Ron Carter (1978), the Heath Brothers (1979), Maynard Ferguson (1984), Mike Stern (2006) and Billy Childs (2008) have graced the stage here.

Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock performs in 1975.

The roots of jazz at Oswego stretch back to the arrival of Music Professor Emeritus Hugh Burritt, who in the late 1960s founded what would become the Solid State jazz ensemble.

“We began to get good crowds and it became very popular on campus, playing Waterman and the Hewitt Union ballroom,” Burritt recalls. “It was amazing to me how well it was accepted.”

With a solid jazz following and Burritt as unofficial advisor to the Program Policy Board, progressive acts started coming to campus. “We had a number of students on the PPB who were in my jazz history class that were really into it,” says Burritt, who himself played trumpet with big band legends like Tommy Dorsey in the 1950s and ’60s. “We had some outstanding groups come in.”

Solid State and the State Singers drew large crowds whenever they performed, according to Music Professor Emeritus Stan Gosek.

“It wasn’t uncommon in the’70s,’80s, even the’90s to have standing room only in Waterman,” says Gosek, who took the Solid State reins from Burritt in the mid-1980s and retired in 2003.

“The jazz scene and jazz interest at Oswego was there,” Gosek remembers. “Because of the enormous student interest in this music, that influenced bringing world-class acts to campus.”

One of his favorite memories is opening for Herbie Hancock, who played in 1975 at Laker Hall. Pianist Gosek was joined onstage by a group that included Solid State alumni for the memorable performance in front of about 2,000.

For decades, student musicians earned perhaps the biggest benefit, he said. Solid State would open for or play with many of the pros who came through and the program itself earned its own notoriety playing a couple dozen shows each year in the area and at various jazz festivals.

— Shane M. Liebler