Visiting Jazz Guitarist Shares Perspective and Inspires Students

Russell Malone embodies jazz tradition through the MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program.

MSU Federal Credit Union Jazz Artist in Residence Russell Malone pauses for a group photo after a workshop with the MSU Jazz Guitar Studio.
Jazz Studies Professor Randy Napoleon with MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence Russell Malone playing on the Fox 2 Morning Show in Detroit, Mich.
Russell Malone shares a moment with a young student who brought his jazz guitar to the Carr Center in Detroit, Mich.
Russell Malone playing with the guitarists from MSU Jazz Orchestra I during sound check at Byron Center High School.
Russell Malone takes the stage to MSU Jazz Orchestra I and patrons’ ovation in Petosky, Mich.

Randy Napoleon has never forgotten the night Russell Malone invited him to sit in on a set. He was the act performing before Malone took the stage at an Ann Arbor dinner club, and was just 16 years old.

That night more than two decades ago, Napoleon says, set the tone for a relationship typical of the jazz tradition—one based on an experienced musician mentoring someone younger. So when the now assistant professor of jazz guitar was asked to bring in a guest guitarist to work with his students at the MSU College of Music, he knew exactly who to call.  

“It was a dream come true to invite Russell to mentor my students,” says Napoleon. “He doesn’t mince words when it comes to younger musicians, and his warmth and sense of humor provides a good balance of laying down what needs to happen musically.”

Malone was the first of four critically acclaimed artists to visit the College this academic year through the MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program supported by a $1 million endowment by the MSU Federal Credit Union.

Malone mentored and performed with MSU jazz students Oct. 10-16, and toured with the MSU Jazz Orchestra I to high schools and academies throughout Michigan. His residency included performances at the MSU Federal Credit Union for their Blue Mondays concert series and a public performance at the Fairchild Theatre.

A versatile performer with a fluid, straight-ahead style, Malone has worked with master jazz organist Jimmy Smith, toured with Harry Connick, Jr., and toured internationally to critical acclaim with Diana Krall. Napoleon says, too, Malone’s approachable communication style makes him an ideal teacher and mentor.

 “One thing I love about his musical philosophy is everything is common sense,” Napoleon says. “Sometimes education can get a bit abstract. All of Malone’s ideas are very direct, applicable, and extremely easy to understand.”

Like Napoleon, MSU Jazz Studies Graduate Student Jocelyn Gould originally met Malone while opening for his band during a concert series at her alma mater in Canada.

“I was so excited when I heard he was coming to MSU,” says Gould. “Not only was the program’s first artist in residence a guitarist, he was also someone I knew.”

Gould was among the members of Jazz Orchestra I who toured with Malone during his residency. She says Malone’s communication style put her immediately at ease, and she admired his ability to coach musicians of any age.

“He’s incredibly nurturing to younger musicians,” Gould says. “You could see that he came up through the tradition of being mentored by older musicians, and that now he’s interested in being encouraging in the same way. It was incredibly valuable to have the chance to play with him on stage, and to observe the way he interacted with everyone.”

MSU Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker says the jazz residency program builds on the mentoring tradition that is central to jazz. He says as the program gains momentum, an increasing number of artists and educators perceive the College as a center for jazz studies and performance.

“We are incredibly thankful to the MSU Federal Credit Union for their vision and generosity that make it possible for us to achieve the highest standards of excellence in jazz studies and performance,” says Whitaker. “Having jazz artists such as Mr. Malone share their talents and experiences through residencies strengthens our ability to provide music education and opportunity to students across Michigan."

The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College of Music’s curriculum. The 2016-2017 season features a blazing line-up of critically acclaimed musicians from the international, national, and regional scene. The four weeklong residencies include Jazz Guitarist Russell Malone, Bassist Rufus Reid, Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen and Trombonist Conrad Herwig.

Recap: On the Road with Russell Malone

While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence in October, jazz guitarist Russell Malone took to the road with the 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:

  • Byron Center High School… 450 people attended a community outreach concert; 65 students were involved in workshops.
  • Detroit Carr Center… 62 people attended a community outreach concert; 4 students were involved in a workshop.
  • Ludington West Shore Community College… 300 people attended a community outreach concert; 100 students were involved in workshops.
  • Petoskey Crooked Tree Arts Center… 200 people attended a community outreach concert; five students participated in a workshop.

What people said:

“The experience with the MSU Jazz Program is second to none!”

       – Marc Townley, Byron Center High School

“Thank you all for such an OUTSTANDING day of clinics, music and friendship. We have worked with the MSU Jazz department for many years and within this time, have touched the lives of THOUSANDS of music students, arts patrons and community members. Russell Malone was a true gentleman and inspired our players to become better musicians. MSU music students and Jazz faculty were at the top of their game, and provided over 100 musicians and guests a wonderful clinic, a 300-person packed house performance in the evening, and a three-hour gig at the James Port Brewing Company in downtown Ludington.  

“As an MSU Alumnus, I can tell you that MSU is filling a much needed void in terms of jazz education. Schools in this state need music educators that have a well-rounded background in classical and jazz idioms to ensure that their students are receiving the most well rounded music education possible. The MSU College of Music through the generosity of the MSU Federal Credit Union is making this possible. Thank you a million times over.”

      – Ted Malt, MSU BA Music Education ’98

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