Denison Music Instructor Tom Carroll was a little ambitious—and very optimistic—when he created the First Annual Jazz Guitar Festival in 1997. After all, he did it with little more than $500 and a bunch of great friends in the business.
But now, in its 17th year, the event is the longest-running ongoing jazz guitar festival in the county. So perhaps Carroll was clairvoyant as well.
From its first year as a single concert featuring Gene Bertoncini, the Jazz Guitar Festival has grown to three concerts and several music clinics each year. The clinics are open to the public and are usually staffed by Denison music faculty and the headline musicians.
“Music education is very much a part of this festival,” says Carroll. “I wanted to make these top musicians accessible to everyone, from the professional to the weekend amateur.”
“Part of our job here as music teachers is to give our students an experience they can take with them into the rest of their lives.”
In addition to Bertoncini, the Jazz Guitar Festival has been responsible for bringing to the Denison stage such stellar headline acts as Frank Vignola, John Carlini, Rick Peckham Trio, Stan Smith, Doug Richeson, Guy Remonko, Howard Alden, Trio da Paz, Pamela Driggs, Tim Cummiskey and Chris Buzzelli.
In the true spirit of jazz, Carroll’s personal history with the guitar has been improvisational. Unlike many musicians who begin to play as children, he discovered the guitar at the age of 18, as a student at Harpur College in New York. He was enthralled with the music, particularly jazz and blues, and he quickly became proficient and performed with local bands.
“On Friday and Saturday nights, I would play with a rock band from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and then drag my amp across town to a jazz band and play until 7 in the morning,” he says. “I was in heaven.”
He moved back home to Ohio to be near his family and soon became enmeshed in the local jazz scene. Within months he was booked four to five nights a week and began recording. Word about his abilities spread and Carroll also began to take on students. He began teaching at Denison in 1980.
“I love watching my students discover music,” he says. “I teach at every level, from beginners to advanced players, and it’s exciting to see them all move forward and awaken to the music.”
There’s a deep bond that music professors form with their students. “A professor from another discipline might have a student for as many as five classes,” he says, “but I see my students every week for eight semesters, usually one on one. We get really connected. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Carroll keeps in touch with many of his former students. Several have gone on to be professional musicians, and some even teach at the college level, but Carroll says it’s just as fulfilling for him to talk to a former student who plays in a weekend band.
“Part of our job here as music teachers is to give students an experience they can take with them into their lives — it’s for doctors and lawyers as much as for those in the music profession.”
View the campus series Jazz Festival for more information ↪