Steve Wilson makes lasting impression

Fourth and final 2017-18 MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence ends season on a high note.

MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence, Mr. Steve Wilson (left), and Professor Rodney Whitaker at Ch. 7 Studios in Southfield, MI.
Acclaimed saxophonist Steve Wilson (second from left) jamming with members of Associate Professor Diego Rivera's Saxophone Studio at the Carr Center.
Associate Professor Diego Rivera (left) and MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence Steve Wilson (second from left) rehearsing with Northview High School.
Steve Wilson (center) with the MSU Professors of Jazz, MSUFCU CEO April Clobes (second from right) and members of the MSUFCU Board of Directors before a Blue Monday performance at MSUFCU headquarters.
Steve Wilson in performance with MSU Jazz Orchestra 1 at Rockford High School.

Markus Howell says that while Steve Wilson left him with valued tips and techniques for playing jazz saxophone, his most lasting insight came from a non-musical point-of-view.

In March, the master’s student in jazz studies worked side-by-side with Wilson when the high-profile musician visited the MSU College of Music through the 2017-18 MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence Program. For seven days, Wilson mentored, toured and performed with jazz studies students. Howell says Wilson’s personal take on life as a professional jazz musician also left a big impression.

“It makes sense that people want to work with him, and that he’s basically the most in-demand jazz sax player today,” says Howell, a saxophonist. “Everything he says is sincere and professional and comes from a great place. He’s such a genuine person.”

Wilson was the fourth of four critically acclaimed artists participating in the residency program supported by a $1 million endowment from the MSU Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU). His weeklong visit included teaching College of Music jazz studies students and taking to the road with the MSU Jazz Orchestra I to high schools and academies statewide. Wilson also performed at the MSUFCU Blue Mondays concert series and at the Fairchild Theatre with jazz faculty and student jazz orchestras.

“I was a little nervous, being that he plays my instrument—the alto sax,” says Howell. “But it was really relaxed to travel with him. His personality is so warm and inviting that it simply allows people to be themselves.”

Diego Rivera, associate professor of jazz saxophone and associate director of jazz studies, met Wilson several years ago at the Detroit Jazz Festival. The two became friends, and Rivera invited Wilson to come to MSU for a one-day workshop during Spring Semester 2017. The visit was so successful that Rivera asked Wilson to participate in the Jazz Artist in Residence Program.

“Steve has an excellent rapport with his students and is knowledgeable of the entire history of saxophone,” says Rivera. “His teaching style focuses directly on student needs. He worked wonderfully with students here and at the schools we visited. He is a master teacher.”

Rivera says that in addition to his full teaching and touring schedule with the jazz orchestras, Wilson set aside time to work with jazz and classical saxophone students in a special master class. Professor of Saxophone Joe Lulloff and Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker helped make the combined class possible. 

A musician’s musician, Wilson has brought his distinctive sound to more than 100 recordings led by such celebrated artists as Chick Corea, George Duke, Michael Brecker, Dave Holland, Dianne Reeves, Bill Bruford, Gerald Wilson, Maria Schneider, Joe Henderson, Charlie Byrd, Billy Childs, Karrin Allyson, Don Byron, Bill Stewart, James Williams, and Mulgrew Miller among many others.

Wilson has eight recordings under his own name. He is an associate professor at City College of New York, on the faculty of the Juilliard School, and serves as an artist-in-residence at multiple universities.

Rivera says that hosting Wilson was an amazing experience for students, faculty and the community. Howell agreed, and says that the chance to work with such in-demand artists enriches his MSU experience and helps set the stage for professional opportunities.

“You can’t put a value on this,” remarks Howell. “It’s priceless. Steve Wilson is first class, and just to have him here for a week was incredible. He left us with a sense that this is the beginning and not the end. That it’s the start of something new.”

The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College’s curriculum and provides one-on-one instruction, collaboration and performance opportunities with some of the world’s best jazz musicians. Since 2013, 16 artists have come to MSU to carry out an itinerary that includes workshops, concerts, events and outreach to more than 27,332 students and adults in communities across Michigan. The 2017-2018 season featured four weeklong residencies including Trumpeter Michael Philip Mossman, Drummer Harvey Mason, Pianist Helen Sung and Saxophonist Steve Wilson.


Recap: On the Road with Steve Wilson

While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence in March, jazz saxophonist Steve Wilson took to the road with Jazz Orchestra I as part of MSU’s efforts to bring jazz performance and education to Michigan high schools, music academies and colleges.

Destinations and highlights:

Carr Center Arts Academy, Detroit . . .  120 people attended a community outreach concert.

Rockford and Northview High Schools . . . 50 students involved in workshops; 400 people attended a community outreach concert.

Royal Oak High School . . . 25 students involved in workshops; 200 people attended a community outreach concert.

What they said:

“What an honor it was for our high school students to work with jazz masters Diego Rivera, Steve Wilson and Rodney Whitaker. Michigan State University’s Jazz Program is leading the way in education and outreach with all of their Jazz Artists in Residence series they bring to so many different high school programs across the State of Michigan.”

—Cullen McCarthy, director at Rockford High School

“Educationally speaking, this program is unparalleled in this state. Our experience with the world-class MSU faculty, Steve Wilson, and the Bebop Spartans was one of the best clinic and performance experiences for my students and I. The amount of information and improvement that our bands saw within the time they had with us was remarkable. We literally had one-to-one teacher student ratio. It was a virtual fire hose of knowledge. I have described it to my friends as colleagues as a cacophonous educational experience.! All of my students got better, and all had a great night. I cannot stop smiling just thinking of it!” 

—Greg Wells, director at Northview High School

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