“The best decision I’ve ever made.”
Senior Jordyn Davis is branching out as a composer and jazz musician.
For Spartans, where there is a will there’s a way, and MSU Music student Jordyn Davis is making her way with her music. A senior graduating from the College of Music this spring, Davis is already an award winning composer, establishing herself as a distinguished songwriter and performer.
Yet the secret to her success is her willingness to seek a variety of projects, even those she may be apprehensive about at first. In fact, Davis didn’t enter MSU as a Music major. She studied engineering until things started to change after taking a songwriting class in the College of Music.
“I really wanted to know more about writing music for movies because I’m obsessed with film scores, and from there I got introduced to composition formally,” Davis said.
Through songwriting, Davis connected with Associate Professor of Composition Mark Sullivan. They worked one-on-one for a year while Davis was still an engineering major.
“When she started she mainly wanted to write songs, which was fine because I started in popular music,” Sullivan recalled.
It wasn’t long before Sullivan introduced her to Rodney Whitaker, University Distinguished Professor of Jazz Bass and director of the MSU Jazz Studies Program. Davis did not think of herself as a jazz bassist, but Professor Whitaker saw her potential which eventually led her to declare as a music major.
“I was talking to Professor Whitaker about taking lessons for my minor, and he said, ‘You should just apply and be a jazz studies major. I’ll turn you into a killin’ bass player because you’re a jazz bass player whether you know it or not,’” Davis said.
Her initial answer? “Absolutely not.”
Davis hesitated for a year saying she “just wanted to write.” Eventually, Whitaker’s words began to make sense.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made,” Davis said. “I wouldn’t be the person or musician that I am and would not feel as comfortable as I do in my skin, in my music, and as a creator, if had I not met Professor Whitaker.”
Davis credits much of her inspiration to members of her jazz and personal community. “All the people who believe in me and feel like I have something to offer, something to say, and continuously encourage me to go after what I’m passionate about – those are the people who inspire me,” she said.
Through the College of Music community, Davis created and leads a group of like-minded musicians in a project known as “Composetheway.” Davis pulls in different musicians including other MSU students to perform around Lansing and Detroit, and they recorded an EP of songs she composed called Connections.
“Over the last year I’ve played a lot of shows as ‘Composetheway’ and had some really cool opportunities through the project,” Davis said. Students wearing merchandise in support of the Composetheway project can be seen all around the College of Music.
Beyond her compositions and performances, Davis has shown a versatility and entrepreneurial mindset that musicians of the 21st century need to succeed. So far, Davis has:
- Had her piece “What Have You Done? (Who Are You?)” for violin and viola performed twice at the Detroit Institute of Arts and by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra after being selected by the Detroit Composers’ Project;
- Presented a talk at the TEDxMSU conference;
- Begun working alongside Professor Sullivan at the Science Gallery Lab Detroit;
- Started a project aimed at empowering young women through the arts and sciences that she hopes will “encourage and show them that women can be successful in male dominated professional fields;” and
- Applied to the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.
It hasn’t all been easy, but it shows her courage in trying new things.
With her TED talk, for example, she wrote and rehearsed her speech over a few months. “Each week it did not get easier for me. It got more and more scary even the more I practiced it,” Davis recalled.
She accomplished it anyway.
Now, her attentions are turned toward the Science Gallery project. Detroit is currently the only city in the Americas (North America and South America) in which the project operates, and MSU is its connected educational institution. It began in Dublin, Ireland, and it has only recently expanded to other countries around the world.
Through interactive exhibits, the Science Gallery locations work to inspire young people. “It’s meant to engage the 18-25 age group,” explained Sullivan.
Both Sullivan and Davis work with exhibits focusing on the connection between the arts and sciences, including sound and music. Davis especially was involved with training younger students on the exhibits.
When she graduates this spring, Davis will become the first African American woman to receive a bachelor’s degree in composition from MSU and the first MSU student ever to receive bachelors’ degrees in composition and jazz studies concurrently. All of this, every accomplishment and opportunity, make Jordyn Davis glad she decided to listen to the advice from professors Whitaker and Sullivan.
“Having the opportunity to become a member of the College of Music community has completely changed my life,” she reflected. “Every day, it is a complete honor to be surrounded by the amazing faculty and fellow students who are constantly challenging and encouraging me on my journey to become the best person and musician I can be.”