Jerry Tolson is Professor of Music Education and Jazz Studies and Chair of the Academic and Professional Studies Department in the School of Music at the University of Louisville where, along with classroom instruction in jazz history, African American Music, Jazz Pedagogy, and Methods, he directs jazz ensembles. He is also interim chair of the music history concentration. He joined the U of L faculty in 1993 after teaching previously at Central College (IA) and the University of Nebraska-Omaha as well as several Iowa high schools.
A graduate of Drake University and the University of North Texas, Mr. Tolson is an active clinician, adjudicator, and guest conductor. He has made presentations at national and international conferences such as IAJE, JEN, and NAfME; numerous state conferences; and the Midwest Clinic, as well as universities in the U.S. and abroad. Tolson has also conducted All-State and Honor Jazz Ensembles in numerous states including Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, and Kentucky. As a composer and arranger, his vocal jazz works are published by UNC Jazz Press. He is an author and clinician for Kendor Music, a clinician/consultant for Alfred Music Publishing Company and a content consultant for Pearson/Prentice Hall Educational Publications. He is the educational director for the University of Louisville Jazz Festival and co-founder of U of L's African American Music Heritage Institute, a celebration of the contributions of African Americans to America's musical history, as well a national series of jazz teacher training institutes. In addition, he has been a faculty member of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops for over twenty years.
Tolson's articles have appeared in Music Educator's Journal, Jazz Educator's Journal, The Journal of Jazz Studies, The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry and The Instrumentalist, and he is a contributor to the following publications: Teaching Music Through Performance in Jazz, Volumes I and II (ed. Carter and Miles), Jazz Pedagogy: The Jazz Educator's Handbook and Resource Guide (Dunscomb and Hill), and The Jazzer's Cookbook: Creative Recipes for Players and Teachers. His jazz pedagogy book, The Jazz Commandments: Guidelines for Jazz Articulation and Style, is published by Kendor Music. He also served as a consultant for the HBO Video Production, "The Leopards Take Manhattan," a video on the youth percussion group the Louisville Leopard Percussionists. In addition, based on a research paper he completed on jazz musicians and drugs he was interviewed in 2017 by BBC radio for a series "Hitting the High Notes," which explored the effects of drugs and substance abuse on jazz musicians.
As a performer on woodwinds, keyboards, and vocals, Tolson leads three of his own groups including a jazz trio, quartet and a big band and has worked with such artists Delfeayo Marsalis, Antonio Hart, Rufus Reid, Don Braden, Winard Harper, Mark Gross, Pete Christlieb, Phil Wilson, James Moody, Benny Golson, Kevin Mahogany, and Marvin Stamm. Tolson has released five CD's of original jazz compositions Nu View, Back at the Track, Fresh Squeezed, Late Night Cruise, and Black Sand Beach. Scott Yanow, author of Bebop, Trumpet Kings and Jazz on Film wrote this about Tolson's recording Fresh Squeezed, "he has an original style within the straight-ahead jazz tradition; many of his originals are catchy, and he easily holds his own with even his best known sidemen."
His composition, "In the Company of Strangers", from Nu View was a runner-up in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Tolson's jazz groups have appeared at local and regional jazz festivals including the Louisville Jazz and Blues Festival, Jazz in Central Park, Evansville Jazz Festival, and the Legacies Music Festival. They have also performed at the Jazz Education Network conference and have toured extensively in the Midwest and southern regions of the U.S. His groups have also appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy, and in Barbados. He has also performed in Brazil and Trinidad.
Tolson has been named to "Who's Who Among America's Teachers," has received the Kentucky Music Educators "College Teacher of the Year" award, the University of Louisville Exemplary Multicultural Teaching Award, and has twice been recognized with the University of Louisville Distinguished Faculty Service Award. Tolson has served as a board member of the University of Louisville Athletic Association, the University Club of Louisville, and IAJE. His other professional memberships include the American Federation of Musicians, Jazz Education Network, the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP), the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) also known as the Grammy organization, College Music Society, Pi Kappa Lambda (Honorary Music Society), Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Kentucky Music Educators Association, and the National Association for Music Education.