September 23, 2020

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Controversial jazz prof lands job at U.S. college

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/9/2017 (1105 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A former jazz professor at the University of Manitoba who quietly resigned this summer has been hired by one of the most prestigious music schools in the world — which says it didn’t know he left Winnipeg under a cloud of concerns described as "sexual in nature."

Steve Kirby, who was director of jazz studies in the Desautels faculty of music before leaving June 27, was recently hired by the Berklee College of Music.

The Boston college is best known for its jazz and modern American music programs and boasts famous alumni, including Diana Krall, Bruce Cockburn, John Mayer, Quincy Jones, Branford Marsalis, Melissa Etheridge and Donald Fagen. Its website says 114 of its alumni have garnered 275 Grammy Awards for their musical contributions.

However, Jay Kennedy, Berklee vice-president for academic affairs and vice-provost, said in a statement Wednesday "the college just recently learned of these reports."

"We take seriously allegations of any type of sexual misconduct. Berklee is committed to creating a safe and welcoming environment for all members of our community and will continue to gather information on this matter."

The Free Press confirmed Tuesday the 61-year-old Kirby, who came to the university in 2003, had suddenly resigned this summer. When contacted, the university would only confirm Kirby, a bassist who earlier in his career performed and recorded with some of the modern giants in jazz, including Wynton Marsalis, Elvin Jones and Abbey Lincoln, had retired in June.

However, a source who spoke to the Free Press said the university met earlier this summer with several female students to look into the concerns.

John Danakas, U of M executive director of public affairs, said Wednesday any investigation it may make into complaints against a staff member has to remain confidential because of provincial privacy laws.

As well, Danakas said under the institution’s respectful work and learning environment policy and its sexual assault policy, the university cannot confirm whether a complaint has been made nor whether it is investigating a staff member to protect confidentiality for all parties.

Danakas said the policies were developed after consultation with the university community. "Ongoing awareness-building and education ensure that individuals understand the options available to them and how to report any incidents."

He confirmed neither the university’s human resources department nor its faculty of music office have been asked by any institution for a reference for Kirby.

During his years in Winnipeg, Kirby became a force in the local jazz community, not only playing concerts with arts organizations such as the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, but also as editor of dig!, a local jazz magazine, and as artistic director of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances.

Kirby is scheduled to play this month at the Winnipeg International Writers Festival. No one from the festival could be reached for comment Wednesday.

An email sent to subscribers of the Asper jazz series by Jeffrey Morry, senior program director of the Asper Foundation, and Debbie Figowy, cultural arts and adult services program co-ordinator of the Rady Jewish Community Centre, said Kirby had gone to Berklee to join its jazz composition department. Neither Morry nor Figowy could also be reached for comment.

"We are confident that you agree Steve has made a huge contribution to the growth of the jazz scene in Winnipeg," the email said. "His vision and leadership have been vital to the success of our series. He was and is much-loved and will be greatly missed. We wish him well in his new position and hope he will return to visit often."

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
Reporter

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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