By Mia Scibelli
They aren’t just teachers – they’re performers, recording artists and philanthropists, which was proven when Cuesta faculty hosted and performed in the 12th annual Jazz Faculty Concert this month.
The concert was created to showcase the talents of Cuesta College’s music instructors, and serves as a means to provide funds for music scholarships.
“It’s been a great way to raise scholarship money […] a couple shows have even sold out and all those ticket sales go straight to scholarships,” said Ron McCarley, director of jazz studies.
This event typically brings in about $2000 each year, said McCarley. The money is put into an account at the Cuesta Foundation that holds the funds for music scholarships.
McCarley, John Knutson, Jennifer Martin, and Cassie Tarantino are the ensemble directors who choose scholarship recipients based on the individual’s talent, experience, and instrument.
“We’re really lucky to have [McCarley] as department head,” said Darrell Voss, applied percussion instructor. “He’s the real deal.”
Voss is a Cuesta alum and has been teaching at the campus since 2000. He’s performed in every Jazz Faculty Concert, including this one.
The concert, which happened on Sept. 9, made about $3,000 in ticket sales, according to McCarley. It was also Voss’s favorite faculty concert so far.
“The energy was unprecedented […] the crowd was really into it,” Voss said.
The jazz department hosts multiple events during the semester. On October 14 they will have a concert featuring two bands, from the school and the community. On October 28, a guest speaker will visit the campus to teach a clinic and perform with his band. Both events are open to the public.
The Jazz Faculty concert also doubled as the release of the jazz department’s third and newest CD, which includes tracks from student and faculty groups, representing everything in the jazz department, according to McCarley.
This album is unique because it features two tracks from past students, members of the band Sperdak. In 2015, the group was named the best community college small jazz combo in the nation by DownBeat, a jazz and blues magazine. Other student groups featured on the CD include Toy Boat, Cool Notes and Umlaut.
Alexander Kato-Willis, applied piano instructor, is a notable improvising classical pianist and was a performer at the Jazz Faculty Concert.
Classical improvisation is “[…] creating a piece of music in front of the audience on the spot,” said Kato-Willis, which means every note is played spontaneously.
This type of music is rare today, but musicians like Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven were more famous for improvising than for their compositions when they were alive, Kato-Willis said.
Although Kato-Willis doesn’t play jazz music, he was excited about his first performance for the Jazz Faculty Concert.
“This is a really stellar faculty,” Voss said. “We all teach and play professionally […] We understand the responsibility of education […] and the importance of performing.”