Trumpeter Chad McCullough on the Universal Language of Jazz
The English poet Henry Longfellow called music “the universal language of mankind.” American jazz saxophonist Charlie “Yardbird” Parker says, “Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn.”
Together, those truths add up to a working definition of jazz: the universal language of personal experience.
“I’ve been a lot places in the world where my only connection with the people was jazz music,” says Seattle-based trumpeter Chad McCullough. “I was recently in Belgium doing a 15 concert tour for my third album. My Flemish is horrible and my French is nonexistent. It was wonderful to see these people, who couldn’t communicate with me in the verbal sense, but they came up after the performance and could still express their joy from the music.”
“I’ve found that music can be the language that connects you, and jazz has connected me to more people than any other type of music I’ve played.”
McCullough has been in high demand on the jazz scene nationally and in venues around the world. He has three critically acclaimed records under his own name and is a guest artist on countless others. He also is an educator, speaking about jazz music and the trumpet at clinics in high schools and colleges across the country. He has participated in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival as a student, as a festival intern in 2002, and as a festival adjudicator for student competitions between 2003 and 2010. In 2002, he was awarded ‘Best College Soloist’ in the trumpet division.
As a composer, he has scored for film, written for brass ensembles, dancers and string ensembles. His works have been performed throughout the world.
McCollough is a member of The Kora Band, a West African-inspired jazz group whose music is known internationally. He has worked in the Disneyland bands, and played both piano and trumpet in the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He also holds administrative duties at Origin Records and the Ballard Jazz Festival.
He holds a bachelor of classical music degree from the University of Idaho and master of classical music degree from the University of Washington. He was the first student to graduate from the Lionel Hampton School of Music with a jazz emphasis on his music degree. He began his University of Idaho music education fresh out of high school.
“What I would tell myself, if I was a freshman now, is the University of Idaho education is not just about learning the language of jazz,” says McCullough. “That was what I was expecting, and I got that, but I got so much more than that. The education that the university provided helped me to become a much deeper musician, in all ways.”
In keeping with Charlie Parker’s definition of music, Chad recommends experience – including the experience of playing all genres of music – to students entering the Idaho program today.
“My advice to students would be to do everything and take advantage of every opportunity,” he says. “You can’t say no until you graduate. [While at UI,] I was playing in three jazz bands, two jazz choirs, orchestra, wind ensemble and two or three of my own working bands – playing everything from private parties to…you know, in the video rental store there in Moscow, being paid in video rentals.”
Among his University of Idaho mentors McCullough lists former trumpet professor Robert McCurdy, who was “like a second father.” Music professors Al Gemberling, Tom Lyons and Dan Bukvich also were highly influential. “The guidance and support from Dan and Bob are probably two of the biggest reasons I’m still doing what I do,” McCullough says.
“Actually, one time Dan Bukvich was kind enough to tell me, ‘You just need to go out and sound bad for a while, and then you’ll be fine.’ It was important to learn that I’m not expected, when I’m 17, to sound perfect. That it’s okay just to know I’m getting better – as long as I’m working to get better,” he says. “The Idaho faculty always compelled me to do the right things. They were able to help me, and guide me in ways I could never begin to repay them.”
“One way that my education has shaped me is that I’ve learned to be comfortable putting myself in challenging situations,” he says. “My advice to students would be: Do everything. Then, wake up early, and do more.”
Article by Donna Emert