$500,000 Gift Endows Scholarship in Jazz Studies

Sid and Carole McKnight hope gift will spark similar donations to help establish UMKC as ‘national destination’ for jazz students

A $500,000 gift from Sid and Carole McKnight will establish the McKnight Family Jazz Studies Scholarship at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance.

The endowed scholarship will support one or two students per year with full-tuition scholarships. The number of scholarships available will depend on whether they are awarded to in-state or out-of-state students.

Dean Peter Witte said the McKnights’ generous gift will help the Conservatory toward its goal of attracting more of the country’s most talented young jazz musicians.

“The McKnights understand that our city’s cultural legacy is a national treasure,” Witte said. “Bobby Watson, Dan Thomas, and UMKC’s Jazz students are committed to extending it. Of course, scholarship endowments are key. Sid and Carole’s gift will help us attract next generation all-stars. We are elated.”

Sid McKnight, who graduated from the UMKC School of Dentistry in 1966, is himself a jazz drummer. The son of two musicians grew up in Kansas City listening to jazz and playing – sometimes, he admits, “in places I could not have gone were I not playing.”

While McKnight sometimes wondered what life as a professional jazz musician would have been like, he made his long successful career as a periodontist in Kansas City. But he never lost his passion for music.

When he retired in 2000, he picked up his drumsticks again, studying under Doug Auwarter, an instructor at the Conservatory. He also attended a weeklong summer camp in Vermont for adults interested in jazz.

“I was surprised at the amount of attention my Kansas City nametag attracted,” McKnight said. “Everyone was regaling me with KC jazz history that I had grown up with and already knew!”

The experience made him want to do what he could to help make UMKC a national destination for jazz students. After seeing Kansas City jazz through the eyes of outsiders and then getting to talk to UMKC jazz students when he and his wife served as honorary chairs of the Conservatory’s Jazz Friends Jazz & BBQ event, he went to talk to Bobby Watson and Dan Thomas, who run the Conservatory’s jazz program, and Dean Witte.

“The answers from everyone came back the same,” McKnight recalled. “We need scholarship money to compete with heavily endowed eastern schools and universities if we are to recruit our share of the best talent.”

The McKnights hope their gift and an additional bequest will inspire other lovers of Kansas City jazz to step up and follow their lead.

“The stage is set,” McKnight said. “We just need the scholarship money to provide Bobby and Dan with the capability of bringing in the extraordinary talent.”

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