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Bob Baca to receive WMEA Distinguished Service Award

| Denise Olson

The name Bob Baca has become synonymous with jazz music performance and instruction at UW-Eau Claire, so it is with good reason that this Blugold professor and director of jazz studies is being recognized for his many and lasting contributions to music education, both on campus and in the greater community.

On Oct. 24, Baca will receive an award from the Wisconsin Music Educators Association that further solidifies his place among the top educators in the state and country.

The WMEA Michael G. George Distinguished Service Award is given annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to music and music education over a sustained period of time. George was the executive director of WMEA from 1988-2004, and again from 2009-2012. Under his leadership, WMEA and school music programs and activities experienced unprecedented growth.

Presentation of this award will be held during the Wisconsin State Music Conference Oct. 24 at Monona Terrace in Madison during the President's Welcome.

"Robert Baca is a deserving winner of this prestigious award and the WMEA is proud to add him to the ranks of previous recipients," said Lynn Seidl, WMEA past president. "The recommendation letters speak to his work with countless students in his studio and in the jazz ensembles, along with his involvement with the International Association of Jazz Educators as past executive board president, representing the United States, and as past president of the Wisconsin chapter."

Highlights from the nomination letters help paint the full picture of the impact Baca's teaching and career example have had on so many.

John Raymond '09, a professional jazz trumpeter and assistant professor of music at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music, spoke in his letter to the breadth of impact that Baca has on students, their music and their personal growth.

"He is not only a master educator and performer, a combination that few are able to balance so well, but he is a deeply influential mentor who gives every ounce of himself to the students," Raymond said. "The proof of this is seen in the vibrant, supportive culture of hard work and "chasing after your dreams" that he's developed over the last 30+ years, not only at the school but in the entire community of Eau Claire and beyond. It's safe to say that his impact is immeasurable."

A community voice well-positioned to speak to Baca's influence is Mark Blaskey, executive director of Eau Claire Jazz Inc., who described how this influential entity came to be, through Baca's vision.

"In 2008 Bob recruited a handful of community members to help him found the nonprofit Eau Claire Jazz Inc. He wanted a concrete way to help the university 'export’ all the wonderful aspects of the Blugold music program out into the community," Blaskey described. "Since that time, with Bob's guidance, the Eau Claire Jazz Fest has grown from 90 bands to 130, and added 52nd Street, a night that brings over 4,000 music lovers to downtown Eau Claire to enjoy an atmosphere of more than 50 bands playing in 19 venues up and down the main drag of downtown."

Since this award is specifically for music educators, fellow music teacher and Blugold alumnus Matt Mealey '99 summed up Baca's influence in a meaningful way.

"It was not uncommon for him to come in early to practice with us trumpet students at 6 a.m., or to host us for a late-night practice at his pole shed if we needed help. He would also allow us to accompany him to his Broadway shows in Minneapolis to sit next to him in the pit," Mealey described. "His encouragement and teaching showed us how we could start to bridge the gap between student and professional lives as musicians. His guidance has served me well for 15 years of teaching in New Richmond."

Earlier this year, Baca received the newly established Margaret and Jack O'Farrell Director of Jazz Award established through donor support. See related story.

As he embarks on this 33rd year of teaching Blugolds and bringing music to life on and off campus, the university and Eau Claire communities join in congratulating Bob Baca for a career of dedication and inspiration that epitomizes the standard of excellence at UW-Eau Claire.