Students at the University of Missouri-St. Louis will soon have access to a beefed-up jazz studies program due to a $1.3 million donation by the Steward Family Foundation.
Though the school currently has student ensembles and offers instrument instruction and related courses — including one on jazz improvisation — students will now be able to earn a degree in jazz studies from UMSL’s newly christened David and Thelma Steward Institute For Jazz Studies.
David Steward is founder of World Wide Technology, based in Maryland Heights, and a prominent area philanthropist. The Stewards are longtime supporters of Jazz St. Louis; that organization’s performance space in Grand Center is named for David Steward’s parents, Harold and Dorothy Steward.
The expanded course offerings at UMSL will better position students who want to make a career in the field as educators, performers or on the business end, according to Jim Widner, the school’s director of jazz studies.
The money will help fund more scholarships, better equipment, prominent artists-in-residence, increased marketing for the program and a travel budget for student ensembles to play around the region.
“Oh, it’s just beyond description. It’s gonna change the complexion of everything that we’re able to do, not tenfold but a hundredfold,” Widner, who has taught at UMSL for 15 years, said. “I’m almost speechless because a gift of this magnitude is just beyond anything I’d hoped for in my career here at UMSL.”
In a statement announcing the donation to UMSL, Steward said that more gifts to boost the area’s jazz scene are to come.
“We intend to pursue future gifts to exceed $8.1 million in conjunction with UMSL, Jazz St. Louis and the business community to ensure perpetual growth and a sustainable impact to the education of St. Louis children and beyond,” he said.
Past donations by the Steward Family Foundation also include $1 million in 2017 to build an addition to the Sheldon Concert Hall. David Steward was honored for his philanthropy last year by New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center.
The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified World Wide Technology.
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