Faculty voice:

Etienne Charles: Loving the jazz life

Aug. 14, 2019

Etienne Charles is a renowned musician and associate professor of jazz trumpet in the College of Music. Born on the Island of Trinidad in 1983, he defies easy musical categorization. He has been hailed by the New York Times as “an auteur” and by Jazz Times as “A daring improviser who delivers with heart wrenching lyricism.” According to Downbeat Magazine, “Charles delivers his ebullient improvisations with the elegance of a world-class ballet dancer.” Etienne has received critical acclaim for his exciting performances, thrilling compositions and knack for connecting with audiences worldwide. In June 2012, Etienne was written into the United States Congressional Record for his musical contributions to Trinidad & Tobago and the World.

How do you feel about the quality of the jazz program at MSU, and what sets it apart?

It’s world class! The difference that sets MSU apart is having a full-time faculty of working musicians in the jazz industry. Another difference is the MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence Program which has brought numerous world-renowned artists to campus to work with our students for a week.

I know from talking with students that they highly enjoy the opportunity to tour with these esteemed artists during their residencies at MSU. This aspect of our program creates a unique opportunity for our students to gain professional-level advice and development from gamechangers in the jazz industry.

When you think about your students at MSU, what comes to mind as your proudest moment as an educator?

It’s hard to have a single proudest moment. In the 10 years I have been here so far, I have had many proud moments with my students. Every time a student builds confidence, finds their soul in the arts, or moves people with their art, I’m proud and grateful. I’m especially proud of students who take their music worldwide as well as those who find ways to pass their knowledge on to others through mentorship.

I’ve been lucky enough to take students and MSU alumni with me on performances around the world. When I do, I immediately remember the times my mentors Leon Anderson, Marcus Roberts and Ralph MacDonald took me on the road for performances in which I learned so much. My hope is that the trips I’ve taken with students will be as memorable.

What has been your favorite thing about being on the faculty in the MSU College of Music?

My favorite thing is being able to work with my big band and with my studio. I enjoy learning from my students as well as watching them grow as instrumentalists, improvisers and composers. With the big band, it’s a joy to see them evolve as ensemble players and to watch them learn the history of the jazz orchestra.

Being on the faculty in the MSU College of Music is an honor. It’s great to work with all the profs when we get together to perform or do masterclasses. Professor Rodney Whitaker has assembled quite the squad here.

What has been your favorite thing about being at MSU as a whole?

Our campus is gorgeous! There is simply a great group of faculty and students all across campus who work with us. My favorite thing about being at MSU is being on this fantastic faculty and working with all the eager and enthusiastic students. While most everyone was helpful in some way when I first got to campus, Dean James Forger, Professor Whitaker and faculty member Randy Gelispie — also known as “Uncle G” — were super warm and welcoming and made sure I had everything I needed. They were just like true family.

Tell us something about jazz at MSU that perhaps a lot of people don’t know.

We have four generations of mentorship going on within the MSU Jazz Studies area. Uncle G mentored Professor Whitaker. Professor Whitaker mentored Associate Professor Diego Rivera. We all mentor our students, and we watch our students mentor high school and middle school students in the area through our camps, workshops and private teaching.

When can we look forward to seeing and hearing you in East Lansing?

I always enjoy the chance to perform at the annual Summer Solstice Jazz Festival in East Lansing in June. This year, it was super exciting to get to bring my band Creole Soul to town for the festival! I’ll be in and out of East Lansing throughout the year while I compose my new projects.

Upcoming Etienne Charles performance schedule and more

Reused with permission from the College of Music