December 2014 Newsletter Article

A Musician Never Rests

by Linda Dunn, MSU Advancement Marketing and Communications

A Culture of Jazz

The great jazz drummer Art Blakey said, “Music washes away the dust of everyday life.”

Why is jazz important? It’s America’s classical music. It’s the music of the melting pot. Jazz is the way we speak. Jazz is the way we feel, the way we dance. So jazz is not just music, but it’s also culture.

Our Jazz Community is Inspiring

Rodney Whitaker grew up in the City of Detroit, where jazz was a part of his makeup. As a young jazz musician, his mentors and his folks instilled in him that he had a responsibility to carry the music on, and to teach the next generation. In jazz tradition, you have to come through an elder to play the music. There’s no way to get the feeling, and the understanding, and the history without having a mentor.

Now Rodney Whitaker is professor of jazz double bass and director of jazz studies at Michigan State University’s College of Music. Rodney is one of the leading performers and teachers of jazz double bass in the United States. And he inspires his students to carry on the tradition by using the “each one, teach one” model.

MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence Program

The MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence provides one-on-one instruction, collaboration, and performance opportunities with the world’s very best jazz musicians. Guest artists—high caliber artists that you only can see in New York or Paris or Chicago—come to MSU to work with students, rehearse, and then go on three- to four-day tours across the state. MSU students and guest artists visit areas in Michigan to provide workshops and concerts that benefit the band programs in those communities.

These experiences expand students’ learning opportunities. Not only do they learn from great teachers and mentors here at MSU, but they also work with touring jazz elders and begin to build their professional network of jazz musicians.

Rodney states, “Imagine that you’re a young student and you’re choosing your university, and you look at Michigan State. You see that MSU brings four signature artists in addition to their acclaimed faculty, to campus every year. This becomes the place you want to call home.”

Making a Difference

The MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence program was created with a $1 million endowment, which guarantees funding in perpetuity. Students learn so much through this model. Rodney has seen first-hand how this program has changed the lives of his students, and those in communities where students have performed. It would benefit even more young people if additional artist in residence programs were created for other genres at the College of Music.