Donors Jeannie and Jack Thompson have committed $1.6 million to the jazz studies program at the University of Colorado, a campus where big-band era great Glenn Miller attended school in the 1920s and where today's student recordings are garnering attention.

The Thompsons also helped raise matching donations, generating a new endowment that totals $2 million. The endowment -- once fully in place in coming years -- will dole out an estimated $80,000 a year in unrestricted funding for leaders of the jazz studies program to use at their discretion.

"Jazz is a truly unique American art form, and there aren't very many of those," said Jack Thompson, who met his wife at The Sink while he was a history student in the 1960s. "We couldn't conceive of a place where Glenn Miller came from not having a vibrant jazz program."

At CU, nearly all donations come with donor restrictions, often guidelines that are very specific. But the Thompsons' gift is largely unrestricted, and the campus is taking the unprecedented step of naming the program in their honor, said Jeremy Simon, spokesman for the CU Foundation.

To honor the gift, the university is renaming the already-existing program the Thompson Jazz Studies Program.

Although buildings and rooms are named after donors -- even a bathroom in the ATLAS building was named after venture capitalist Brad Feld -- such naming of an academic program is new for CU.

John Davis, chairman of the program, expects the endowment will help bring guest artists to the college for residencies and help fund professional recordings for CU jazz ensembles. The money could also help pay for travel to national competitions, which help boost the program's reputation.

CU's jazz studies program was established in 1996, under music school dean Daniel Sher. The program offers undergraduate and graduate offerings.

Jeannie Thompson, who earned a zoology degree from CU in 1964, and her husband are the Boulder campus chairs of the university's $1.5 billion Creating Futures campaign.

The Thompsons have donated to diverse areas on the campus, ranging from a $2 million gift toward the construction of the biotechnology building -- where a vaccine development research hub has been named in their honor -- to an endowment for Western American writing in the Center of the American West. The couple has donated to more than a dozen programs on the campus.

Jeannie Thompson said she hopes the gift spurs potential donors to think of their broad interests.

"A lot of donors have diverse interests," she said, adding that she's drawn to the liveliness of jazz music.

She said she was especially impressed with the jazz studies program in 2011, when Grammy-winning artist Maria Schneider came to CU as a guest and performed with students in Macky Auditorium.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.