Faculty voice:

Michael Dease:
Attitude is everything

Nov. 6, 2013

After finishing his first year as assistant professor of jazz trombone in the MSU College of Music, Michael Dease extended his teaching responsibilities well into the summer months.  Dease spent four weeks in residence providing instruction in northern England, New Jersey and Michigan. Just back from completing a month of performances in New York City, Dease considered the dual role of educator and performing artist. 

One maxim remained true the entire summer, and that belief was “attitude is everything.”

Whether on the bandstand or in the classroom, everyone's personal and professional disposition preemptively decided the degree of accomplishment that we would together achieve. Dedication doesn't have an age limit, so it felt natural to observe these similarities between 8-year-old beginners and veteran musicians. 

In my Jazz House Kids Camp ensemble class, I was inspired by the patience that the advanced students demonstrated with the novices. I was further encouraged by the younger students’ courage and risk-taking abilities when they jumped into improvising situations, where they were observed by friends and strangers alike. This spirit of passion and empathy helps propel the expressive qualities of jazz music forward, and my students made giant leaps in their playing in just a short time. 

While walking the grounds at Interlochen Arts Academy, I stopped by a practice room and showed a teenage saxophonist a pattern that James Moody taught me. The look of curiosity and determination on his face told me more than his subsequent hours of practice did. His attitude was in the right place.

The recognizance of the oral tradition in jazz music is vital to its integrity and evolution.  When the attitude is open and positive, it opens the corridors to the highest levels of communication, which directly mirrors the dialogue of the rhythm in music. 

To honor the mentors that helped me along my way, I hope to continue promoting education as a priority among performing artists. That helps explain the feeling of continuance and development that happens when I see my students having their own students! Our attitude can ensure that our lights are forever shining.