I was born October 10,1963 in Chicago, Illinois. I began playing violin at age 4, guitar at age 8, and cornet at age 10. At 14, my family moved to East Lansing, Michigan. I played in the bands and orchestra at East Lansing High School.
In 1978, I attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp, where I met and studied with Cat Anderson, the great Ellingtonian trumpet soloist. Cat was a special person, and was very encouraging to me. Upon returning home, I began to scour the record stores for jazz recordings. I developed a collection of bebop and free jazz , and spent hours each day listening to Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Dizzy Gillespie, Don Cherry, Red Rodney, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown and other greats. I didn't really transcribe the solos, but I played along with the records, fantasizing that I was actually playing in the bands.
My neighbor, Ed Beerman, had formerly worked for Dizzy 's DeeGee record label, and took me to meet and hang out with my hero. Dizzy took one look at me and immediately called out "Little Red Rodney!" After hearing Dizzy play live, I knew that I wanted to become a jazz musician.
Dick Ott, a local vibist , gave me my first professional jazz gig when I was 15 years old. Suddenly, I found myself in the company of real pros, and it was very exciting. Over the next several years, I received great mentoring from Detroit area musicians; especially from pianist Eddie Russ and multi-instrumentalist Sherm Mitchell. I began spending most evenings driving around the state of Michigan for gigs with them, and the opportunity to learn by apprenticeship.
In 1981, I began my college career at the University of Kentucky. I studied with the great trumpeter Vincent DiMartino, and learned more than words can express. I led a Fusion group called "Sun of Rif" in Lexington during these years. Before graduating in 1985, I had already begun travelling to Louisville, Cincinnati, Detroit and Chicago for jazz gigs.
In the summers of 1984 and 1985, I had the opportunity to play in the Aspen Jazz Ensemble, directed by Ted Piltzecker. I met a 13 year old alto player named Chris Potter, and we spent long hours practicing, gigging and jamming. In 1985, I acted as Chris's legal guardian, in order to insure that he could play gigs with me.
I began playing bass at 15. (I still play, but mostly with my students.) In 1985 I began graduate bass studies at DePaul University in Chicago. During my time in grad school, I was really much more interested in hanging out at clubs and jam sessions than I was in doing homework. I enjoyed meeting the wonderful musicians of the Chicago jazz scene and felt a great affinity for the way they played. The older musicians were unbelievably generous with their time and knowledge, and the younger musicians seemed serious and passionate about playing. I knew I had found the right place. My mentors were; Von Freeman, Eddie Johnson, Eddie DeHaas, Jodie Christian, Eddie Harris, Ira Sullivan, Lin Halliday, Barrett Deems and Red Rodney. I owe everything to these people.
In Chicago, I was often afforded the opportunity to play in house bands, teamed in the front line with travelling jazz greats. These were unbelievably inspiring experiences. They kept me motivated to practice diligently. There is nothing like being thrown into the deep water. Artists that I had the chance to work with included; Joe Henderson, Lee Konitz, James Moody, Al Grey, Don Lanphere, Sheila Jordan, Pepper Adams, Jimmy Heath and others. These situations also provided my first introductions to people with whom I began long associations, like Red Rodney, Ira Sullivan and Eddie Harris.
I led my own group in Chicago from 1986-1998. During this time, we played every Wednesday at the Green Mill. Over the years, members of the band included; saxophonists Lin Halliday, Ron Blake and Mark Tuttle, trombonist Paul McKee, pianists Jodie Christian, Ron Perrillo and Karl Montzka, Bassists John Weber, Thomas Palmer, Dennis Carroll and Stewart Miller, Guitarists Ernie Denov and Fareed Haque, and drummers Paul Wertico, Bob Rummage, Jeff Stitely and Dana Hall. The group was often augmented by Ira or Von!
After 12 years of incredible experiences as a full time musician and many adjunct teaching positions, I accepted a professorship at the University of Cincinnati in 1997. I learned that I enjoyed teaching as much as performing, and my students taught me how to open up and expand my interests and abilities. I continued to perform nationally, and spent 5 years as a member of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra.
During my time in Ohio, I was able to gain experience playing types of jobs that I had not played in Chicago.After a serious lip injury in 2001, I concentrated on revamping my trumpet technique. With the encouragement of mentors Clark Terry and John VonOhlen, I decided to develop my lead trumpet skills, and soon began working around the midwest as a lead trumpeter. I also delved deeply into traditional jazz, and enjoyed the opportunity to meet and work with a whole new genre of fine players. The musicians in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Louisville were very generous in inviting me into many wonderful situations. I racked up a lot of mileage, made many great friends and enjoyed inspiring musical collaborations.
In 2004, My wife, Carol Keeley and I moved to Boulder Colorado. I am a professor at the University of Colorado. Along with our Border Collie/Retriever mix dog, Jake, we spend as much time as possible hiking, snowshoeing and skiing. I'm playing more lead trumpet gigs than ever, and also doing a lot of Salsa band work in the Denver area. In 2010 I decided to start my own quartet; my first time leading a band since the mid-90s. Musically, I'm now attempting to combine my diverse influences and experiences into a style that embraces them all.