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First-time Career Excellence in Teaching Award presented to Robert Baca

RELEASED: June 14, 2011

Robert Baca
Robert Baca

EAU CLAIRE — The first College of Arts and Sciences Career Excellence in Teaching Award recently was presented to Robert Baca, professor of music and director of jazz studies at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He will receive a $1,000 award at the opening of the 2011-12 academic year.

The award was created by the UW-Eau Claire Foundation through the generosity of an individual donor who wished to remain anonymous. The intent is to recognize one member of the faculty or instructional academic staff each year for a career-long history of excellence in teaching. Baca, who has been with the university for 25 years, was recommended by colleagues, students, former students and music education contemporaries from across the nation.

"It has been an absolute thrill daily fulfilling my job description at UW-Eau Claire," said Baca, who oversees the trumpet studio, and along with Dr. Jeffrey Crowell leads the jazz studies area. "The greatest enjoyment I receive from teaching is watching students develop academically, as musicians/performers and as human beings. I feel blessed to be a part of our music and theatre arts department, which has a collective vision for the 21st century in which jazz and contemporary music are totally woven into its fabric."

Baca coordinates five jazz ensembles, including UW-Eau Claire's distinguished Jazz Ensemble I. The jazz studies area has flourished under Baca's leadership, garnering national awards, performing at large venues across the U.S. and releasing 15 CDs to critical acclaim. The New York Times Magazine recently recognized UW-Eau Claire as having "one of the most well-regarded jazz studies programs in the country."

Baca has been instrumental in the growth of the Eau Claire Jazz Festival, a communitywide celebration of jazz music that provides learning and performance opportunities to music students from regional high schools and colleges and brings world-class jazz talent to the area. The festival is one of the largest in the country. With the recent incorporation of Eau Claire Jazz Inc. and the addition of executive director Patty Horecki, Baca's vision for a collaborative, communitywide event that incorporates all of the arts and showcases the history and influence of jazz on American culture is coming to fruition. The April 2011 festival brought more than 4,000 people and $250,000 of revenue to the area.

Baca began his professional career by touring with Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, Tony Bennett and Mel Torme. Baca continues to perform as principal trumpet in numerous Broadway shows and symphony orchestras, and participates in commercial recordings in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn. He also tours internationally as an endorsed guest artist performer for the Conn-Selmer instrument manufacturing company. Baca is a faculty member of the Conn-Selmer Institute, participating in its annual seminar for music educators at the University of Notre Dame; and is a faculty member of the Music Educators National Conference Jazz Workshop during Music Education Week in Washington, D.C. He also founded the Shell Lake Arts Center Trumpet Workshop — a camp for high school, college and professional trumpet players that attracts attendees from around the country. Baca also has developed programs that bring the joy of learning music to underprivileged youth and to schools with no music program.

In letters of recommendation from across the nation, Baca was described as "inspiring," "selfless," "a household name in music education" and "one of the very best in his field in the world."

"I've actually experienced this 'Baca phenomenon' from coast to coast," said Bruce Allen Hering, director of bands at Eau Claire North High School. "Bob is a whirlwind of musical energy. It has a tremendously positive spill-over into the Eau Claire music community."

Hering credits Baca for the Eau Claire Memorial jazz program's recognition as one of the best high school programs in the country by Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center while Hering was band director there. Most of Hering's students took lessons from UW-Eau Claire jazz students and attended Baca's concerts regularly.

"Without Bob's influence we would never have attained this status," said Hering, who also appreciates the caliber of guest artists Baca brings to the area. "The inspirational and educational impact on students is enormous. We are lucky to have him here."

For more information about the Career Excellence in Teaching Award, contact the UW-Eau Claire Foundation at fndn@uwec.edu.

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RD/DW

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