This article was edited for accuracy on April 4, 2011.
After 35 years of teaching, Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Music Curt Wilson is playing his last tunes on the TCU campus. Wilson was born in Fort Worth and attended TCU for both a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s in music. He plays the clarinet, flute and saxophone and has composed more than 150 pieces for bands and ensembles. Wilson says he is very proud of his jazz band, which has had the chance to perform with multiple guests artists and has toured countries such as Finland, Japan, Italy and Austria. After bringing the annual Jazz Festival to TCU, Wilson saw it continue to its 34th year this past weekend.
What first sparked your interest in music?
“Actually, hearing a small jazz band from my junior high that came in to play when I was in the fifth grade. They were great…Then I started taking clarinet lessons and later became a member of that group in middle school/junior high school. I continued on from there to join the Musicians’ Union after my graduation from high school.”
How big of a part has music played in your life since then?
“It’s been the most significant part except for my family.”
Who are some musicians you admire or inspire you?
“(Stan Kenton), Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Patrick Williams, Stan Getz and hundreds more.”
What was your experience as a TCU student, and how has that led you to come back and teach here?
“Well, I had a really good education here, and when I was a master student I was able to conduct a jazz band myself as a graduate student. That gave me a lot of great practical, hands-on experience. I pretty much have done it ever since. I’m from here, and so when I received my master’s in ’66, I traveled with the Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians, which is a choral group that had an orchestra. I traveled with that group for two years all over the United States. We played in every state in the union. I then started teaching in North Dakota at Valley City State College for four years. I then went to Ohio and taught at Ashland University for four years. I started at TCU in ‘76.”
You started the TCU Jazz Festival here after your second year. What was your initial idea for it, and how has it played out through the years?
“No. 1, it was an opportunity to get really great jazz music on the campus. We always have guest artists and guest bands all the time. Exclusively they perform with my band, and so the students get to interact with these great players. Most of the artists we have had here at the Jazz Festival have been internationally known. It’s a great recruiting tool to get students on our campus. We usually have anywhere from 20 to 30 bands here, and they perform usually about three tunes each for a group of jazz musicians who act as adjudicators and write constructive comments to the bands on their performance.”
Is jazz your only favorite kind of music or are there other genres you like?
“I conduct and write classical music as well.”
Looking back at your years of teaching, what has been your favorite part?
“We were the featured band at the Texas Music Educators Association Convention in San Antonio. They choose one college band to perform, and we were chosen. This December we toured Havana, Cuba. We were the first college band from the United States to appear in Cuba since 1959 during the revolt. In February, we played at Carnegie Hall in New York City along with the TCU Wind Symphony. So it’s been a great year.”
What are you going to miss most about TCU?
“The students, without a question. They keep me going. They inspire me and motivate me, and that’s what it is all about, pure and simple. I’ve been teaching for a total of 43 years, and the combination of great music and great students is unbeatable. I made the comment once, ‘I can’t believe I get paid for doing this.’ There are some ups and downs with any job, but it’s been great. It’s bittersweet when I hear the group and I know it’s the last time I’m going to be up in front of them. No question about it. Not to get teary-eyed on you, but it’s been a great run. I’ve really enjoyed it. TCU is a great place to work.”
Have you had any students that you have seen go on and do great things in the musical field?
“We’ve got many of them out teaching in middle schools and high schools and universities. The director of jazz studies at Purdue is a graduate student of mine. Obviously that’s very rewarding to send people out in the field from the university doing that sort of thing. The performance opportunities are not as prevalent now as they were 30, 40, 50 years ago, a lot because of the nature of the music business now. CD sales are almost nonexistent now because everybody’s downloading everything, so it’s a new world. I’ve seen a lot of change; I remember 33 1/2 inch records, eight-tracks, tapes, cassette tapes and then CDs. We were the first college band to produce a CD recording. We’ve done 19 recordings since I’ve been here, or at least I’ve been told.”