Apr 24, 2019

Christopher Washburne, an educator and jazz musician, will give the commencement address to our graduates and receive an honorary degree at the 2019 Commencement Ceremony scheduled for Saturday, May 11, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

St. Edward’s selected Washburne because his life and work reflect the university’s mission to educate global citizens for social justice. Washburne participates in Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connection program which serves various populations, including senior citizens, people experiencing homelessness and youth in the juvenile justice system. As part of that program, Washburne has helped men incarcerated at Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the maximum-security prison an hour north of New York city, write music and perform in jazz ensembles.  

His experience as an international jazz musician illustrates the value of a liberal arts education that emphasizes the ability to improvise, to be open to different perspectives and to appreciate multiple cultures. He has studied classical trombone, the musical traditions of Cuba and the traditional music of Africa.

As director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Program and an associate professor of music at Columbia, Washburne teaches jazz history and performance. He’s authored numerous articles and books about jazz, Latin jazz and salsa, including “Sounding Salsa: Performing Latin Music in New York.”

Washburne was key to jazz becoming part of the Music Humanities segment of Columbia College’s Core Curriculum. Today, Columbia is one of the few universities where all undergraduates will study jazz and its history. Students graduate from Columbia having heard the music of Louis Armstrong, knowing about his important place in U.S. history and hearing live jazz performers in their classroom. Washburne also collaborates with Columbia Business School professors on a program in the executive education program that uses jazz as a way to present alternative organizational models.

“Everybody’s voice in a jazz band is equal. Let’s think about what that means in a large organization, a corporate setting or at home at your dinner table,” Washburne said in a Talks@Columbia. “If you need to be creative every single day, you need help, and you need a team behind you that can help contribute.”

In his career as a musician, Washburne has performed with Duke Ellington Orchestra, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Justin Timberlake, Celia Cruz, Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony, Celine Dion, among many others.

He leads the highly acclaimed group SYOTOS, which stands for See You On The Other Side, which has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the Blue Note. In 2013, Washburne and SYOTOS played at the Global Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he also led a discussion about how jazz musicians turn mistakes into opportunities.

Washburne has spoken extensively about the transformative aspect of jazz and how that can be applied to build community.

In a talk on why jazz matters, Washburne said: “Every single human interaction has the ability to swing, to groove, and collectively we can go much farther then we can go alone. Look for the swing in your life, look for the groove. If you can find that with other people, ride it out, and you can achieve much greater things.”

Washburne received his undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin. In 1988, he completed a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory. 

Why Jazz Matters

During his Talks @ Columbia presentation, Chris Washburne demonstrates how the creative process of jazz — collaboration and improvisation — can inform leadership, adaptability, innovation, collaboration and risk management in business and life. Washburne is associate professor of Music and director of the Louis Armstrong Jazz Performance program at Columbia University.