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Gary Motley on why it's 'hip to dig jazz again' and Jazz Fest 2012

By Jessica Cook | Emory Report | Feb. 6, 2012

Director of Jazz Studies Gary Motley discusses why he loves teaching, the latest expansions to the jazz program, and what we can expect from Emory's annual Jazz Fest on Feb. 10 and 11:

You've worked alongside stars such as Dave Brubeck and Clark Terry. How is the college atmosphere different—what do you like best about working with students?

I enjoy teaching as well as performing. It's very cool when you have an opportunity to share insights about your passion with others. I also learn from my students. Their curiosity helps to keep me on top of my game. They help me to stay current and relevant.

How has the program grown and changed over the years?

When I arrived at Emory, there were only a handful of students interested in learning to improvise. They mostly wanted to hang out and jam just for fun. That eventually led to courses in jazz improvisation and small ensembles (combos). Dave Brubeck's endorsement of our efforts was a pivotal point in the development of jazz studies at Emory. Our program has now expanded to include multiple ensembles, ranging from the Emory Jazz Combos and Jazz Saxophone Quintet to the Emory Big Band. We now offer courses in jazz history, improvisation, theory and private instruction. We regularly host guest artists and clinicians who share their time and talents with our students and also participate in community outreach initiatives to share jazz with the community. Our facilities include a technology-enhanced teaching facility (the Jazz Studio) and ongoing collaborations with Classroom Technologies and Emory's Center for Interactive Teaching (ECIT).

Over 30 albums are in the discography section of your website. Is it difficult to balance teaching with creating your own music? How does one inspire the other?

I am an artist as well as an educator. Jazz is my passion. Because I enjoy what I do, it's all the same to me. Whether I am talking about jazz in the classroom or speaking jazz through my instrument on stage, I am sharing this music with those who are willing to embrace it.

Sachal Vasandani is relatively young compared to headline acts of past Jazz Fest concerts. What is exciting about this young artist?

This is an exciting time for jazz as more and more young people are taking the lead in championing traditional jazz. Esperanza Spalding (a former JazzFest guest and Grammy winner) and others like Sachal are giving jazz a much needed makeover. Jazz is no longer just the music that your grandparents listened to. It's becoming "hip to dig jazz again." These young, skilled craftsmen are exposing a new jazz to a new audience. It's wonderful to see their discussions about jazz on Facebook and Twitter.

What can Emory jazz fans expect from the upcoming Jazz Fest?

You can expect to see a new young talent on the jazz scene (Sachal Vasandani) who is rapidly creating a style that is uniquely his own. You will also hear some of Emory's most talented students take the stage on Saturday night with the Emory Big Band. They will also be joined by members of the jazz faculty and artist affiliates. All in all, you will hear lots of jazz performed by people who "dig this music" and invite you to "dig" it too.