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All That Jazz That Almost Wasn’t

When students enroll in music classes at ARC, they may be unaware they are signing up to learn from highly respected and industry revered professionals who come with a wealth of real world experiences not found in textbooks.

One example is ARC music faculty member Joe Gilman, who recently performed three sold out shows at the SFJAZZ Center in San Francisco

Joe Gilman photo by Nicole Micheli
Joe Gilman live (photo by Nicole Micheli)

and at the Buddhist Church of Sacramento, recreating Dave Brubeck's iconic 1959 album "Time Out". SFJAZZ Center sought out Gilman, due to his association with the Brubeck Institute and his CDs that revisit Brubeck's compositions. Not bad for a guy who nearly gave up on music and was headed for law school when hired by ARC's Music Department in 1992.

"A friend advised me that there was an opening in the music department at ARC, and I applied. Luck was on my side. That was the end of my law career and the beginning of my life as a performer/educator," Gilman said. But his career in music was years in the making.

Gilman began studying piano in Carmichael at the age of seven, and credits his teacher (and later ARC adjunct professor) Yuriy Oliynyk for starting him on a path that has led to such career highlights as working with Dave Brubeck for 10 years, traveling to 12 countries in Africa as an artistic ambassador for the US through the Kennedy Center, traveling the world with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, releasing 10 CDs, and of course, teaching at ARC.  

Teaching came naturally for Gilman, whose future career could have been predicted when he was still in high school and began teaching a music theory class once per week in zero period. "I have always loved tearing apart musical concepts and sharing ideas with others," he said. Being able to provide students with musical enlightenment or answers to long held questions add to his joy of teaching, which he said has also made him more patient, understanding, empathetic and a more organized thinker and creator.

But Gilman acknowledges that technological advances have provided students with additional opportunities to access information and gain more understanding of musical concepts and practicing skills that may match students' preferred modes of instruction. And as technology provides options to help students excel in music, it also helps match music to appropriate audiences - both established and new.

Gilman is hopeful about finding new and diverse audiences for jazz, especially when ARC offers one of only two jazz studies degrees in California. "Jazz artists should pay reverence to the tradition of the art form, yet make music that is relevant to contemporary tastes at an affordable and realistic price, if it is to continue to develop an ongoing and widening audience base," he said.  

The art of seeking and finding audiences is practiced regularly in the ARC Music Department, with its 10 ensembles presenting numerous public music performances and workshops during the fall and spring semesters. Performance groups include instrumental and vocal jazz, orchestra, concert and symphonic bands, choral ensembles, and commercial music performance opportunities. The ARC Vocal Jazz Ensemble regularly wins prestigious national awards. Gilman himself also performs on occasion.

Exposure to all genres of music is an integral part of music education. When asked about his favorite albums, Gilman's answer showed this diversity of influence: Miles Davis "Kind of Blue", Glenn Gould/Bach "Goldberg Variations", Stevie Wonder "Songs in the Key of Life" and Paul Simon "Surprise."

For aspiring musicians or those planning to major in music, Gilman's advice is, "A career in the arts comes to the most tenacious and focused. Dream big but perform regular reality checks. Success is living the way you want to live - doing what you want to do."

As Gilman sees it, ARC saved him from a law career, but his application to ARC has led to a successful career in the arts and a great example to his fortunate students.