As a UW-Eau Claire student, I got my fully prescribed dose of The Power of AND in April. The communication and journalism department welcomed Washington Post political editor Terrence Samuel to campus as a guest of the Ann Devroy Memorial Forum, while the jazz studies area welcomed musical giants Stefon Harris and Jimmy Heath for the 50th Eau Claire Jazz Festival. I was privileged to work with all of them in what felt like a truly magical weekend.
My day on Thursday, April 21, began with Mr. Samuel speaking during my journalism class. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect going in, but as he began his presentation, one message was very clear. As a journalist, we will only be as successful as we want to be. Simple as that may sound, he stressed the importance of following a path to what we truly want to pursue — otherwise we’re just wasting our time.
Mr. Samuel told us some of his many stories on his journey up the professional ladder, and how he reached his goals one rung at a time. From a student’s perspective, it was inspiring to meet a man of his caliber in what was much more than the usual 9 a.m. lecture.
The extraordinary weekend continued later that night, away from class, with one of my several dress rehearsals for the Jazz Festival. As a trombonist in Jazz Ensemble I, I had the incredible privilege of rehearsing with one of the last true living jazz legends, Jimmy Heath. I had always dreamt of playing in a Jazz Fest headliner concert, but what I didn’t know was just how much I could learn from playing with world-renowned performers.
At the age of 89, Jimmy’s first note live sounded exactly like it did on all the albums he recorded in his career, with the likes of heavy artists John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Lester Young, Charlie “Bird” Parker and countless others. Hearing firsthand stories about the most influential jazzers to ever walk this planet was like nothing I had ever experienced. His presence on the bandstand was unforgettable, both in his words and music.
Jimmy was probably the most energetic 89-year-old I have ever encountered, which is where I found his greatest lesson. If you can fall in love with your craft, you can do it forever, and in his case, become an inspiration to those around you.
After working with a historical giant, Jazz I’s next opportunity was with contemporary vibraphonist Stefon Harris. The 43-year-old modern artist was able to mesmerize the ensemble with his philosophical and aurally focused approach to music.
“As a musician, you have to earn the right to be creative.”
This was the theme of his Saturday afternoon message. Stefon’s philosophy was unique in that he believes that to truly uncover individualism within music, we must first become aurally and historically informed in all facets. Personally, my interpretation translates that into a listening-focused practice, in that we can learn just as much about music from listening as we can from physically playing our instruments.
I will never forget my experiences from that weekend. If anything, I learned that music and journalism aren’t as different as I thought they were. UW-Eau Claire has fostered my development as an individual, and for that, I am enormously grateful. The firsthand experience I have gained in my time here is truly irreplaceable.
Photo caption: Jazz legend Jimmy Heath inspires young musicians during the 50th Eau Claire Jazz Festival.