Band classes meet jazz musicians virtually



Brian Sims introduces Eddie Clark to his band students through Microsoft Teams. Clark is a professional bass trombone player with nearly 40 years of experience.

Logging into class, band students see an unfamiliar face on screen with the name Eddie Clark. After an introduction, Clark begins telling the players about his musical career. A question-and-answer session begins where the students interact with the professional, getting to gain more awareness of what playing after high school can be.

Band teacher Brian Sims brings in professional musicians every year to come visit his classes and meet with Spartans. In-person interaction allows these professionals to have one-on-one time with players to give advice about their playing. Despite being virtual, Sims has been able to overcome the struggles of teaching music through a computer screen by continuing his lineup of class guests.

“There are different topics the musicians can broach into, opening up about things that we cannot always work on in class since we are so worried about playing and performance,” Sims said. “They are able to come talk about the music business, industry and theory. The things are more detail-oriented.”

With the lack of playing in person and having performances this year, the Spartan band was able to have a taste of the music industry through Clark’s experiences, including playing all across America. Clark has been featured in over 40 albums and played in over 500 recording sessions. His success only grew when he moved to Memphis to work with the Memphis Jazz Workshop and play gigs in the south.

“I expected the jazz musicians to talk about music theory and some advice on live performance, but I was thoroughly surprised,” Owen Keeton (11) said. “The people he brought in had performed with some world-renowned artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis and many others. I was surprised to be able to get a real insight into the highest levels of the music industry and culture.”

Sims is planning on bringing in more professionals to enlighten his students with more variety of what playing music can mean in their futures. From woodwind to brass instrument players and from teachers to players, there are different insights into the musical world from these guest speakers. This includes flutist Elise Blatchford of the University of Memphis and trombonist Howard Lamb of the Memphis Jazz Orchestra. 

“There is a perception of what people have about music in high school, and someone that has actually been out and traveled the world playing music is a totally different perspective,” Sims said. “Positive results from this are that students feel like the information they have been shared has been something they have not heard before and things they want to try doing.”

With a mix of nearly beginner players and those who have been playing for almost seven years, the band students are inspired by these people who decided to make music into their careers. Students’ passion for playing can be influenced by people who dedicate their time to help these younger players.

“I loved getting to hear about someone else’s musical experiences,” Keeton said. “It made me excited to perform after COVID.”