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For the love of an art form

 

Bold Brilliant BinghamtonBy Brett Vermilyea

As soon as Bob Pompi landed at Binghamton University to teach physics in 1968 (it was Harpur College then), he connected with the Harpur Jazz Ensemble.

"It was one of the most enjoyable things that I was able to do in my 42 years at Harpur College, SUNY Binghamton, the University Center at Binghamton and Binghamton University," the associate professor says dryly.

When he started, the ensemble was for students only, but the director, Al Hamme, let Pompi play saxophone on the condition that he could never take a student's spot. Pompi agreed, playing on and off over the next four decades.

"In my life, it was crucial," he says. "Jazz was something I started when I was 14 years old, and, at 71, I'm still playing with groups. It's part of who I am."

But Pompi and his wife, Karen, worried about the future of the ensemble. Funding the arts is always a challenge, more so in a tough economy. They wanted to guarantee an outlet for students wanting to participate in the "indigenous American art form." Consequently, the Pompis gave $100,000 to support the Harpur Jazz Ensemble through an IRA charitable rollover, which allows people 70½ and over to transfer up to $100,000 from a traditional or Roth IRA to a charity without paying federal income tax on the withdrawal. (Congress enacted the rollover in 2006, but it's set to expire at the end of this year.)

"I wanted to see it thrive," Pompi says. "So my wife and I talked about it and we thought that setting up an endowment account that could generate several thousand dollars a year would be something that would ensure that this group, which I have so thoroughly enjoyed either playing with or listening to, would survive in perpetuity."

The gift is also a way to honor the great musicians he has played with in the ensemble; people like Steve Davis, who Chick Corea said is "playing some of the most melodic improvisations ever heard in jazz," and Matt Koza, now the director of the Artie Shaw Orchestra.

"Just incredibly good, gifted individuals," Pompi says. And with his support, the Harpur Jazz Ensemble will turn out jazz greats for generations to come.

 

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Last Updated: 11/12/13