A little context:
As you may be aware, Since August of 2014 I have been serving as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Jazz Trombone at Florida State University’s College of Music. An opportunity that for me, seemed to come out of nowhere. It came to be as a product of being prepared at the right time. I was in this position for the past two school years leading the school’s second big band, a graduate level improvisation class, teaching private lessons in trombone and composition, and coaching a small ensemble. I did this all while keeping up an active touring schedule, leading my own band, teaching in New York, working as a sideman in the city, and even subbing on the occasional broadway show. Although I’ve decided to continue to focus on my performing career, I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to work with the students at FSU. I think that I learned as much or more teaching them, than they learned from me! I’m proud of the work my ensembles put in every semester, reaching into parts of their musicianship I’m not sure they knew were there. We explored the depth and breadth of the jazz tradition with an ear towards the future, keeping tabs on what is happening on the scene today in addition to being attuned to the history of this music.
Now that we’ve reached the end of the school year in Tallahassee, I wanted to take a moment to say "Thank You” to the students and community of FSU.
To all of my students at FSU’s College of Music:
First, let me say that it has been a pleasure getting to know and work with you all. The breadth and scope of the College of Music at FSU is quite amazing, and the resources available via the faculty is very impressive. For me, it has been an incredible opportunity to stand on the other side, so soon after finishing my own collegiate studies. I’ve tried to be mindful of the frustrations I had as a student and structure my teaching style in a way that allows us to work collaboratively towards our mutual goals. I know the day to day experience of being in an educational institution will never be perfect, but I hope that your perspective has been widened, and you’ll remain open to learning everything you can. Perhaps this can inform your own teaching style someday and you'll reflect on the various techniques of the professors you had at FSU.
Here are a few parting words that I hope will inspire you while you finish your studies, and continue on into the world of music-making (or wherever life may take you).
A life in music is hard and is getting harder - but it is a great life!
It has always been hard. From Bach to Beethoven to even Wynton Marsalis - they’ve all mentioned the difficulties associated with pursuing Art has a way of making our living. We do this because we have to. It is in our blood, it feeds our soul. We persevere in the face of adversity and we make the impossible, possible.
Music has prepared you for a life in any field
Studying music has prepared you to think creatively. It has developed your sense of personal accountability to a team. You’re able to think critically and focus on improving yourself on a daily basis. There are hundreds of small habits that you’ve picked up along the way that people in other fields just don’t. Musicians' brains have been wired differently than others, the brain has fired and connected more neural pathways. We see and solve problems with creativity. You'll have a unique perspective to offer in any situation.
If you can imagine yourself doing anything else, maybe you should do that.
Being a musician takes a life long commitment, there are no shortcuts, only hard work. There are no guarantees, and having a clear path to success isn't part of the job description. It's a great life, we get to play music for our life's work. As many have said to me in the past, there's always room for great musicians on the scene. On the contrary, there's not much room for mediocrity.
Work harder than everyone else
None of us can control the opportunities that will come our way. But, what we can be sure of is our own personal preparedness. We can control the work we put into our music and practicing. Every day we can get up and make an incremental improvement, over a year that will result in way more than you might expect. A great phrase I’ve heard recently is “People often overestimate what they can do in a week, and underestimate what they can do in a year” - so true. We can only focus on one thing at a time.
Take what you can from each and every teacher/experience
We as musicians are a sum of all of the people we’ve encountered and with whom we've worked. We are the product of the music we listen to and study, and the advice of our peers and mentors. We need to be aware that not everything every person you encounter is going to be something you need at that moment. Maybe something your teacher says might make sense to you when you hear it from someone else 10 years from now. But in every situation, there is always something to be learned. It might be buried deep, but there is always an opportunity for us to grow as musicians and people. I know that I've learned so much from all the different teachers and mentors in my life, but being open to receiving their information and processing it later can be a challenge.
Your current peers will be important in your professional network
Be nice. Show up on time. Take pride in your presentation of yourself. Be as professional and prepared as you can, no matter what the situation. The way you are while in school translates to people's perception of you afterward. Leave a lasting good image of yourself with everyone you meet. You can only make a good first impression once.
Always put your best foot forward
You never know who might be watching/listening.
There will always be more to learn, more tunes to know, new musicians and approaches to discover. It's a lifelong journey. A marathon, not a sprint. The best musicians I know are always learning. Read books. Learn about music, life, and the world.
When in doubt, follow your heart
Only you know what's right for you. Follow your instincts, they're probably right.
Set goals and take action!
Having a clear idea of where you are going will allow you to make decisions everyday to lead you to where you want to be. Make goal setting a regular habit. When in doubt - take action! Action is the antidote for fear.
My decision to leave has not been an easy one and to many probably seems like the opposite of common sense. But I know in my heart what I have to do and where I need to be. I moved to New York to pursue this music on the highest level and with the understanding that I would either stay until I was broke or I had managed to achieve all I had set out to achieve. And I’m not done with that journey yet.
I really hope that you’ll stay in touch. I’m always available via email or phone and I’m happy to help in whatever way I might be able to assist, whenever you need. Technology has never been better for keeping in touch - so please take advantage of the time we live in! When you come to New York, make sure you come by and say hello!
Best wishes and good luck to all, I can’t wait to see where life takes you.