His Eastman career has spanned virtually the entire history of jazz at the school, and he worked alongside such revered figures as Rayburn Wright, Fred Sturm, Chuck Mangione, and others. On May 3, , he celebrated his 70th birthday with a solo recital in Hatch Hall. Shortly afterwards, we caught up with Bill Dobbins in a wide-ranging chat about his life, jazz at Eastman, and jazz in general. This is Part I of our interview. You started here in
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His Eastman career has spanned virtually the entire history of jazz at the school, and he worked alongside such revered figures as Rayburn Wright, Fred Sturm, Chuck Mangione, and others. Shortly afterwards, we caught up with Bill in a wide-ranging chat about his life, jazz at Eastman, and jazz in general.
This is Part II of our interview. If you could reflect on the biggest change here, what would it be? Probably the fact that we have a jazz undergraduate degree program. That was in , they advertised the program in , and the first year that they took in undergraduate students was Speaking of changes, perhaps one that the public is more aware of, is the addition of Hatch Hall, where you had your 70th birthday celebration concert.
Listening to music there is amazing, but what is it like playing in there? This is especially important for the students, because Kilbourn Hall is so busy that it was often difficult to impossible for the students to get recitals there. For this 70th birthday concert, you did all original compositions, and a lot of them are either dedicated to other great musicians or were written for someone.
What was your process in constructing this program? I thought for several months about what kind of program to do, and I had inclinations in several directions. I could have done standards, I could have done new music, and when I started to think about it, I decided to do mostly pieces that were written for family members in the first half.
Family was the main thing that brought us back to Rochester [in ]. There was an interesting coincidence, if you believe in coincidences. After I had the five-year contract with the [NDR] radio band, I wanted to get back to teaching, because I want to help shape the maturation of young creative musicians.
He had been living in New York for five years or so when we were in Germany, and ended up coming back to Rochester for his wedding, in the summer of Fred Sturm, who took over for me as head of the jazz department, got a great offer to go back to Wisconsin to start a jazz program, which he had wanted to do before he came to Eastman, and he decided to go back.
So right before I signed the contract to go to Austria, and just a couple of weeks after we found out we were going to be grandparents, I got a call asking if I wanted to come back to Eastman. We got back just a few months before the birth of our first grandchild. Great timing! Where did your love of those two come from?
Did you hear a record when you were young, and that was it? It was much later than that, actually. I had been studying classical for a few years. When I first started playing, the people that influenced me a lot were the first people I heard.
I knew they were improvising, I had no idea how they did that, but I could hear that it had the same organization as written music. As soon as I heard that, I knew I was going to spend the rest of my life figuring that out. Some Count Basie, and some of the guys were into Ellington. I was more interested in contemporary things. As I got more exposure, I began to love it. Read Eastman Notes Back Issues.
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The Global Source for Jazz
Contemporary Jazz Pianist: An Interview with Bill Dobbins, Part II