For some students at Rhodes College, the Mike Curb Institute for Music is simply a familiar sponsor’s name on concert posters plastered around campus. But the Curb Institute is so much more. Founded in 2006 through a generous gift from the Mike Curb Family Foundation, the Curb Institute’s purpose is to foster awareness and understanding of Southern musical traditions and their effects on Southern culture, history, and economy.
A key player in the music industry, Mike Curb is an award-winning songwriter, founder and chairman of Nashville-based Curb Records, and former president of both Verve and MGM Records. Curb’s foundation granted Rhodes the money to establish the Curb Institute to celebrate what he calls the “Tennessee Music Miracle.”
The Curb Institute is headed by Dr. John Bass, assistant professor of music and director of the Rhodes Jazz Band Ensemble. Under his guidance, the Curb Institute works to preserve musical traditions of the region while bringing new music to campus and the Memphis community through concerts, panel discussions, symposiums, and the Curb Visiting Scholar in the Arts Program. The Institute provides student fellowships and faculty grants for activities that range from researching and recording music to archiving and performing. Curb Fellows work closely with professionals and partners in Memphis, including the STAX Museum, the Recording Academy, the Levitt Shell, the Blues Foundation, and the Rock n’ Soul Museum. One of the first programs the Curb Institute created was an after-school guitar club, founded at Cypress Middle School and currently housed at Sherwood Middle School. As Bass explains, “The Curb Institute’s programming connects Rhodes to the city beyond the usual ways, and in a creative space rather than a strictly academic one.”
Through the Mike Curb Family Foundation, the Curb Institute has access to a property at 1034 Audubon Drive, a home Elvis Presley bought with the earnings from his first RCA hit, “Heartbreak Hotel.” The Curb Institute holds events and receptions there, including a new series of house concerts known as An Evening at Elvis’. The series began as a learning opportunity for students interested in working in the music industry, and the concerts are produced and recorded by students in conjunction with industry professionals. The shows feature local and national guest artists in what Bass calls “a new approach to archiving.” In addition to performing, artists answer questions and discuss Memphis’ significance in the music world. (The shows will be featured online atwww.eveningatelvis.org)
The series will continue this year, and Bass hopes to further the Curb Institute’s mission by expanding the use of the Audubon House for students. He is also teaching a new class made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The class, “Music Community in Memphis,” will fuse Curb fellowships with the curriculum at Rhodes. Students interested in working with the institute can take the class to become part of the Curb Team and work directly with the resource of the Audubon House.
One event Bass is looking forward to is Charles Lloyd’s return to Memphis. The Levitt Shell will host the Charles Lloyd Quartet on October 3, as well as a performance by the Rhodes Jazz Band and students from Lloyd’s alma mater, Manassas High School. Lloyd will also visit Rhodes to meet with students on Friday, October 2. The event is being sponsored by the Curb Institute, the Memphis Center, and the Urban Studies Program, and is an integral part of Rhodes’ Parents and Family Weekend.
A jazz legend, Lloyd’s return to his hometown of Memphis will bring music history to life for Rhodes students. This free event also commemorates Lloyd being named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master for 2015, the organization’s highest honor. The Levitt Shell concert will open with the Rhodes College Jazz Band Ensemble at 7 p.m. and will include a special appearance by President William E. Troutt, along with guests from Manassas High School.
By Margaret Tronsor ‘17