Tell us about your professional background.
Prior to my appointment to DePaul University, I was an assistant professor of music at Emporia State University, Kansas, where I taught applied trumpet lessons, a course in jazz pedagogy, directed the university jazz bands and served as the director of The Great Plains Jazz Camp. I hold a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in performance from the University of North Texas, having earlier earned a master’s degree from that school and a bachelor of music education degree from The Ohio State University.
Why do you like teaching here at DePaul?
Some of what I love about teaching is selfish: I love music, specifically jazz music. I want to be around other jazz heads, other people with a passion and talent for this music. I wanted to teach at the college level because the students are good enough to play sophisticated, complex pieces and because performing is a big part of the educational experience. I’ve been lucky to rub elbows with great musicians over the years — some already great, some on their way to greatness — many of them my students or colleagues.
Another nice thing about teaching is that I can share with students everything I’ve learned since I was their age — and I’m still figuring some things out, what works for me and what doesn’t. A musician can spend a lifetime learning how to practice!
Describe the relationship between the School of Music — specifically the Jazz Studies program — and Chicago.
I came to DePaul in 1990 as the director of jazz studies, and I’ve never looked back. I’m from the Midwest and always thought that Chicago would be a great place to land because of the city’s size and culture. Remarkably, at that time, none of the local universities had a strong jazz program. With Chicago’s amazing jazz and blues tradition, the metropolitan area was begging for someone to come along! Why not me? And, why not DePaul? As soon as I started, I began a push to attract undergrads from all over the country and to recruit outstanding musicians as graduate students and teachers.
From the beginning, the jazz program used the city — and we still do. In the ‘90s, we didn’t have much in terms of facilities for performing jazz; necessity being the mother of invention, I started soliciting area high schools, offering my services to work with their musicians free-of-charge in exchange for the use of their facilities. Our jazz ensemble would be a “guest band” — we still do about a dozen of those kinds of appearances each year — and after presenting a workshop, we’d share a concert with the high school group.
What makes the jazz program at DePaul unique?
Our jazz program has 11 student chamber groups ranging in size from quartets to septets; each group presents a concert each term and cuts a CD of three to five songs in a professional recording studio. Every student combo does its own arrangements, whether jazz classics or their own original music. We have three student Big Bands of 20 students each — five trumpets, five saxophones, four trombones, a few drummers, a bassist, a pianist and a guitarist. The top band plays the Jazz Showcase for four nights each term.
DePaul’s jazz program has a robust group of alumni, teaching and working all over the U.S. and the world, spreading our reputation and creating a pipeline of contacts. This past year, I started Bob’s Alumni Big Band —
a jazz group that includes alums from my more than twenty years at DePaul. We have a CD that was just released: Reunion
(Jazzed Media label). The band plays several times in the coming months at area high schools, the Jazz Education Network (JEN) Conference
, and Chicago’s Jazz Showcase
I’m going to put together a new alumni band every year. I’ve got hundreds of great musicians to choose from.
What types of students does DePaul attract?
Our Jazz Studies program and School of Music (SOM)
attracts a wide range of talented student composers and performers. Many are from Illinois and the Chicagoland area, but during my time here I’ve seen a significant increase in the number of students from across the country and world. Our current Jazz Ensemble has students from Peru, Japan, England, Canada, Ireland, and six states from the United States. The reputation of our program and the SOM, and the culture and opportunities present in Chicago, seem to be the primary attractions to DePaul.
Which classes are you teaching this year?
I teach our graduate Jazz Styles and Analysis class where each student (24 students in the class) makes two presentations involving the written transcription and analysis of recorded (CD) solo improvisations of professional jazz artists. I’m also teaching private lessons in jazz style, and directing the student Jazz Ensemble and Phil Woods Ensemble. These two groups recorded this past November in-studio with jazz icon Phil Woods for a forthcoming CD recording. The disc will feature student and faculty musical arrangements of the original compositions of Phil Woods. Our off-campus student jazz group performance schedule — which includes performances at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase
, an international conference (Jazz Education Network) and several secondary schools — has been very active this year.