Interview with Mr. Roberts regarding Joe Zak

From Jerry Roberts, March 4, 2016

1. How do you remember Joe as a 5th grader starting in band?

When I first met Joe, he seemed like a very confident individual. Joe was eager to show me his playing. He stated that he had taught himself to play trumpet and had been playing for two years already. On one hand, I was skeptical at the thought of someone at this age having that much experience and confidence; but on the other hand, I had been the only trumpeter for this fledgling band and I was anxious to hand that off to someone.

2. Did you see potential right away? How have you encouraged that in him?

I asked him to bring his trumpet in the next day and show me what he could do. He played a little lick that was familiar to him. Immediately I realized he had a tone and technique that was far beyond that of a beginner. I was very happy to bring him into band and, although he had some obvious ability, I wanted to pull him in from his regular class, like I do with all beginning band students and work with him. We had private sessions all year and by the end of the year, he was playing above the staff and reading music more capably, but still holding onto that great tone.

I knew he had instincts for jazz improv well beyond that of kids his age and continued to discuss that with both him and his parents. I also kept him playing all the lead, solo and improv trumpet parts over the years just to provide him with a steady output for what he was learning. I also encouraged him to learn the classics as well, knowing that many of the jazz greats had already been classically trained and benefitted from melding the two styles.

3. Where do you see him going in the future?

Joe has become more and more confident with his playing as the years have passed. I believe as he moves to the college level, he will find all the typical new horizons that every student finds as they launch out into this arena. He has his sights set on studying deeper and more mature jazz techniques. I believe he will more than succeed if he will keep his energies focused in that direction. I hope he will also continue incorporating studies in classical playing, since this will greatly enhance his playing.

He has more natural instinct and more drive for his craft than just about any student I’ve encountered. I am confident that those with whom he has the opportunity to collaborate will also see this. I have been able to witness the reactions of other students and directors in the events with which he has been involved. Students are always impressed and directors seek him out for featured parts. For example, both years he has attended the Northwest Honor Band at PLU, he was selected as principal trumpeter and given soloes. He was asked by members of another small school jazz combo to join them on stage at the ACSI High School Instrumental Festival this February, and what was produced between the five young men was nothing less than historic jazz improv. It was the highlight of the concert.

I expect Joe is going to go through the typical shocks found in moving from being the “big fish in the small pond” to being in the middle of the much bigger pond. On the other hand, he has already branched out into larger and more advanced arenas where he’s found himself alongside students who were already established, which has given him a healthy change of perspective that should ease that shock.

I will always hope that he, while continuing to improve and rise in accomplishment, will remember the One who gave him his talent and use it to glorify and honor Him with it. I will always hope also that he seeks out opportunities to encourage other new players. I have already seen some of that this year as he has actively encouraged a newcomer to our secondary band who is also showing great initiative.

4. How have donors impacted the band specifically? How have you been able to improve the band program because of donations to it?

Over the years, we have received $10, 400 worth of band gear, either by someone buying an instrument and bringing it to us, donating money that was used by me for a purchase, or someone actually bringing us an instrument they were no longer using. That is above and beyond the $2000 or so in instruments that were here when I first started in 2005. This naturally makes instruments available to students that would not otherwise be able to afford them. Instruments such as a tuba, a bass clarinet, a baritone saxophone are included and many others, even a left-handed guitar.

When I first started to work to build a band, all instruments had to be rented by the students’ families. Having the instrument available right away makes the band accessible to more students. Having those instruments in our possession is due to the gracious donations of parents and former students who believe in what we are trying to accomplish.

5. Where would you like to see the band program in 5 years?

Lord willing, I would like to continue to develop the beginning band with the 5th and 6th graders as an effective means of preparing them for the transition to an intermediate and advanced band. Although I like the model now in use, what I would love to see changed is to have the scheduling and space to separate the junior highers and high schoolers into two bands which have class at different times. That way, 7th graders would not be thrust into the world of the more complicated high school music level. More attention could be spent on quality playing at their level which would more effectively prepare them for advanced band. Plus the advanced band would not experience the frustration of “waiting for the junior highers to catch up”.