For Dr. Joseph Jefferson, performing and teaching is about passion and compassion.
“As I get older in my career, I choose to play what’s in my heart,” said Jefferson, who aims to share that love for music with his students and audiences across southeast Missouri.
Jefferson began his career at Southeast Missouri State University in 2017 where he is assistant professor of applied trombone and euphonium and director of Jazz Studies. He’s also at the center of the Clark Terry/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival planned on campus this weekend.
He came to the University to teach trombone/euphonium and direct Southeast’s two jazz bands — Studio Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Lab Band.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s fulfilling,” said Jefferson, who strives to explore new music, sound and techniques in every concert, practice and performance. “I’m a big advocate of pushing our students. You don’t grow unless you’re uncomfortable. Doing the same thing over and over again isn’t fun for me, the students or audiences.”
The Jazz Ensembles host five concerts each year, showcasing a wide variety of styles, from authentic, traditional music audiences will recognize, to modern and contemporary pieces. The program also works with visiting artists and collaborates with other students and departments.
His philosophy of teaching and music was influenced by professors as an undergraduate student at Norfolk State University (Paul Adams) and while pursuing his doctorate at West Virginia University (Dr. Keith Jackson).
“They really taught me about life and would hold me accountable,” Jefferson said. “I learned to advocate for expressing myself as a classical and jazz musician, and to be confident in myself when doors open and opportunities present themselves.”
Jefferson strives to instill these same qualities in his students at Southeast.
“I see a lot of myself in these students,” he said. “Having the opportunity to pour into these students and reach back to my experiences and give back the way someone did for me is amazing.”
One of his most important messages to students is to be patient and embrace the practicing process.
“We tend to be in a hurry to get to the next level,” he said. “But I compare our process as musicians to body building and putting the time in at the gym. Or Les Brown’s story about the Chinese bamboo tree, which takes five years to grow. It doesn’t break the ground until the fifth year. They water and care for it every day of those five years, and when it starts growing it’s 90 feet tall in five weeks. That’s what they’re doing as musicians now – putting in the time and paying those dues every day.”
He encourages his students to stay the course now, often employing “#stayinit” on his social media accounts – a motto that also encompasses the influence of his late father.
“He told me ‘the most important job is the one you’re now doing,’” said Jefferson. “The most important job my students have now is being college students and learning all they can in this moment to cultivate and grow into the musicians they want to be and can become.”
The skills and knowledge they focus on while at Southeast will help prepare them for when that bit of music they’ve been struggling with clicks, or a job or performance opportunity opens, and they have to be ready to run with it.
“I want them to leave Southeast and be able to play in different genres and be confident in themselves and their abilities,” he said. “Many students may have to start their own programs or ensembles outside jazz ensemble or pep band because a school or institute needs them to, and they can utilize the resources they’ve gained here.”
He also often nurtures his students’ individual creativity.
“When my students ask about what music we should play in upcoming concerts, I’ll ask them in return ‘What do you want to do? What makes you happy about this?’ Jefferson said. “As a musician, it’s important that the light stays on.”
As a musician, it’s also important for him to seek creative opportunities where he can express himself and perform with people who strengthen and encourage him, he said. He maintains an active schedule in classical, jazz and commercial musical settings both nationally and internationally. He recently attended and presented at the 2019 International Trombone Festival – an experience he relished not only to interact with experts in his field, but also to be considered one among them. In addition, last year he received a grant and opportunity to teach in Thailand.
“I was thrown into a culture I didn’t know that much about, but music is a universal language,” he said.
Jefferson says he tries to frequently attend and participate in festivals and conferences. He is regularly invited to serve as a guest artist, clinician, and adjudicator for both high schools and collegiate music programs throughout the United States. He is the founding member of J3 Trio (horn, trombone and piano), a group that performs diverse musical compositions.
These experiences expand his own relevance, help him remain current and offer opportunities to return with knowledge to share with his students, Jefferson said.
“The great thing I love about this field — I think it’s a field where you never stop learning,” he said. “Everyone has and brings value, and you can always build on what you have.”
Jefferson’s passion for learning and teaching young musicians will be on full display this weekend at the Clark Terry/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival.
Now in its 22nd year, the Festival will be held from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Feb. 7-8 in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall located in the Cultural Arts Center at Southeast’s River Campus.
The Festival will feature more than 500 students in 29 jazz ensembles from across the bi-state region. The ensembles will perform for three jazz experts who will give them written and recorded comments as well as a live clinic session.
For Jefferson, the Festival is an opportunity to provide young musicians a venue to showcase their talents, but also a unique learning experience.
“I always strive to bring a guest musician and judges that are at the top of their game but experts in their field,” he said. “Our goal is to ensure that every participant leaves the festival energized, with a greater appreciation and knowledge for the art of jazz music and performance.”
This year’s guest artist is jazz trumpeter, educator, composer and arranger Craig Fraedrich. Fraedrich has enjoyed a professional career as a performer and educator that spans over 30 years. From 1986 to 2017, he performed as a featured jazz trumpet soloist with The Army Blues, the premier jazz ensemble of the U.S. Army and one of the few full-time jazz ensembles in the country. Fraedrich is a dedicated educator and has been an associate professor at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music since 1989. He has published eight jazz method books including three books as part of the Practical Jazz Theory for Improvisation series.
Capping events Feb. 7, Southeast’s Department of Music will present its second concert of the 2019-2020 Jazz Series. The annual “Evening Gala Concert” is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Donald C. Bedell Performance Hall and will feature Fraedrich in performance with Southeast’s Studio Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Lab Band.
The concert will showcase the talents of Southeast students and highlight the emotional journey Jefferson experienced – both sadness and joy — while selecting the pieces for this program during a recent hospital visit to see his father, who later passed away.
The concert’s program includes the Jazz Lab Band performing “Step Lightly” by Joe Henderson, “Wistful” by Niel York-Slader, “Feels So Good” by Chuck Mangione, and “On The Sunny Side of the Street” by Jimmy McHugh. The Studio Jazz Ensemble will perform “Active Measures” by Rick Lawn, “At Waters Edge” by Kris Berg, “Sky Dive” by Freddie Hubbard, “Secret Love” by Sammy Farin, “Any Moment Now” by Scott Ninmer, and “The Doctor Is In” by Bob Curnow.
“My students have worked so hard to pull this off, and it means more to me than they’ll know,” he said.
For more information about the Clark Terry/Phi Mu Alpha Jazz Festival, visit https://semo.edu/music/festivals/jazz.html.
Tickets for the Evening Gala Concert may be purchased by contacting the River Campus Box Office, located in the Cultural Arts Center, 518 S. Fountain St., weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by calling (573) 651–2265 or by visiting http://rivercampus.org/event/clark-terry/.