Conrad Herwig, Jazz Artist in Residence
Jazz trombone icon teaches, tours, and personifies jazz tradition through MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program.
Grammy award-winning trombonist Michael Dease understands the tradition of mentorship in the world of jazz. So when the MSU assistant professor of jazz trombone was asked to suggest a trombonist for the MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program in the College of Music, one came immediately to mind.
“Conrad Herwig is one in a handful of players who has revitalized the trombone’s image at certain intervals throughout the history of jazz," says Dease. “It is impossible to overestimate the value of experiencing the methods, practice rituals, and mindset of an artist like Conrad.”
Dease first met the master trombonist in the late 1990s when Herwig conducted Dease’s all-state high school jazz program in Atlanta, Georgia. Dease went on to perform and study jazz in New York and says he and Herwig kept in touch. The two occasionally crossed paths within their musical networks and gigs, and recently reconnected through a jazz and trombone summit curated by MSU alumni.
“After seeing his thoughtful interactions with students at those events, I knew he would be an excellent choice for the next residency,” Dease says.
The New-York based Herwig has released 20 recordings as a leader and contributed to nearly 200 other recording sessions with some of the most notable artists in jazz, including Miles Davis, Joe Henderson, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Puente, Frank Sinatra, Joe Lovano and Tom Harrell. Herwig received his bachelor’s degree in Afro-Caribbean ethnomusicology from Goddard College in Vermont, and completed his formal studies with a master's degree in jazz studies from Queens College. His career includes big band stints with Clark Terry, Cab Calloway, Buddy Rich, Toshiko Akiyoshi and Mel Lewis, and worked a number of years with the Frank Sinatra Orchestra. He is a professor of jazz trombone, jazz improvisation and jazz composition and arranging at Rutgers University, as well as a visiting professor of jazz studies at the Juilliard School.
Herwig was the fourth of four critically acclaimed artists to come to MSU this academic year through the jazz residency program supported by a $1 million endowment from the MSU Federal Credit Union. Herwig mentored and performed with MSU jazz students from March 18-26, and also took to the road with MSU Jazz Orchestra I to visit high schools and academies throughout Michigan. Herwig’s packed residency included public performances at the MSU Federal Credit Union and in the Pasant Theatre of MSU’s Whartan Center for Performing Arts.
MSU Jazz Studies undergraduate and trombonist Emily Malak says one of the biggest things she learned from Herwig was that music isn’t simply about the notes someone plays, but it’s also about the passion the player brings to the music. She says she heard that message time and again throughout his residency, and was impressed by his devotion to passing along the tradition and knowledge of jazz music to the next generation.
“He emphasized the importance of how mastery on playing one’s instrument and how learning jazz takes time, practice and patience,” she says. “He taught us that we must have a deep understanding of the fundamentals and roots of jazz, and that music has the ability to touch and change people’s lives.”
MSU Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker says that bringing influential jazz artists to MSU to work and tour with students is an extraordinary experience. Those visits, he says, also solidify the College’s position as a center for jazz studies, as well as a provider of music education and performance opportunities for students across Michigan.
“We’re always asked how we do what we do,” says Whitaker. “With all sincerity and gratitude we say it wouldn’t happen without the generosity and vision of the MSU Federal Credit Union. Their support makes it possible to bring in influential jazz artists, and to achieve the highest standards of excellence in jazz education and performance.”
The MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence program represents the largest-ever investment in the College of Music’s curriculum. The 2016-2017 program featured a blazing line-up of critically acclaimed musicians from the international, national, and regional scene, including Jazz Guitarist Russell Malone, Bassist Rufus Reid, Clarinetist-saxophonist Anat Cohen, and Trombonist Conrad Herwig.
Recap: On the Road with Conrad Herwig
While an MSUFCU Jazz Artist in Residence in December, Trombonist Conrad Herwig took to the road with Jazz Orchestra I as part of MSU’s efforts to bring jazz performance and education to Michigan high schools, music academies, and colleges.
Destinations and highlights:
- Detroit Carr Center Arts Academy. . . 20 students participated in an outreach concert that was attended by 100 community members.
- Royal Oak High School. . . 25 students participated in an outreach concert that was attended by 300 community members.
- Spring Lake High School. . . 35 middle school students and 20 high school students participated in an outreach concert that was attended by 300 community members.
- Alma High School with Central Michigan University 28 students from Alma participated in an outreach concert that was attended by 120 community members.
What people said:
“It was a privilege to have Professor Whitaker, Professor Dease, MSUFCU guest artist Conrad Herwig, and members of the BeBop Spartans working with our students during the clinic in the afternoon. The evening concert was terrific and the crowd enjoyed it.”
–Mike Truszkowski, Director, Spring Lake High School
“I had students describe the experience in three words. Here were some of their answers: ‘Fun, lively, energetic, helpful, exciting, amazing, outstanding, educational, interesting, and impressive.’ Thanks again for making this experience possible for our students and community. It was the top highlight of the year for me.”
–Tim Newman, Band Director, Alma High School
“The concert received rave reviews. I want to thank you, Rodney, the students and the MSU Federal Credit Union for making this possible. The opportunity to play with Conrad and Michael was a once in a lifetime event for me I'm sure.”
–David Jensen, Band Director, Royal Oak
“My experience at this year's Jazz Expo was amazing. It was so nice to be able to hear such great talent and experienced professionals at such a young age! I loved getting to hear Conrad Herwig. It was also very nice to finally have a full trombone section behind me. I look forward to this every year, and hope on it next year.”
– Dallas St. Onge, Student at Jazz Expo, Royal Oak High School
Quotes from students:
- “A high school jazz band just performed with a famous trombonist. Wow, that was cool! ”
- “Being able to play with more experienced players was very inspiring and helpful.”
- “This was a wonderful learning experience.”
- “I feel the experience really helped me as a musician. ”
- “It was amazing. I learned so much about how jazz is supposed to be. It was inspiring and jaw-dropping.”
- “It was a really great learning experience and super fun to be a part of!”
- “I learned the stage should be my living room, and the music is a conversation with friends.”