Ambrose Akinmusire Takes the Helm at the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance

By Nate Chinen for WRTI

Ambrose Akinmusire was 25, a trumpeter and composer obviously on the rise, when he completed his course of study at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance in 2007. Within a matter of months, he went on to win the institute’s flagship competition, generating a momentum that brought him to the roster of Blue Note Records, and a heralded solo career.

Akinmusire is now 41, and no longer a Blue Note artist; he just self-released a transfixing solo trumpet album, and is soon expected to reveal a new label affiliation. In the meantime, there’s another welcome announcement: he will be the next Artistic Director of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance (formerly known as the Monk Institute). He’ll begin his tenure with six young musicians who constitute the Class of 2025, working at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

“Ambrose is the perfect person to inspire the students of the Institute of Jazz Performance,” attests pianist Herbie Hancock, the institute’s board chair and namesake, in a statement. “I remember working with him when he was a student in the program, and watching him develop over the years has been really exciting. Now he will be able to cultivate a new wave of creative artists through his role in the program.”

During Akinmusire’s time in the program, its artistic director was a fellow trumpeter-composer, Terence Blanchard. His classmates included some musicians still in his collaborative circle, like vibraphonist Chris Dingman, bassist Joe Sanders and tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III.

Akinmusire and Smith worked with Hancock and Alpert to judge auditions for the Class of 2025. Its members include trumpeter Yakiv Tsvietinskyi, of Dnipro, Ukraine, and drummer Ebunoluwa Daramola, with roots in both Assen, Netherlands and Lagos, Nigeria. The rest of the cohort hails from the United States: alto saxophonist Alden Hellmuth, of Hartford, CT; tenor saxophonist Sasha Ripley, of Houston, TX; pianist Miles Lennox, of Fort Lauderdale, FL; and bassist Destiny Diggs-Pinto, of Newark, NJ.

“Having been a student and later a judge, mentor and teacher in this program,” Akinmusire says in a statement, “I look forward to sharing my knowledge and continuing the legacy and impact of the Herbie Hancock Institute.”

For more information about the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance, visit the official website. The Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz International Piano Competition will take place Oct. 14 and 15; applications are due by July 31.