Wayne Wallace is an acclaimed Afro-Latin jazz musician and eloquent public intellectual. This academic year, the multi-faceted, 61-year-old trombonist became a jazz professor at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. Wallace, a keyboardist, composer and bandleader has made several albums with his self-titled quintet. His seventh album (the quintet’s second), Latin Jazz/Jazz Latin, recently earned Wallace his sixth career Grammy nomination. Released through his imprint, Patois Records, the self-assured musician believes taking ownership in his work always yield the greatest rewards. Educating others is one of Wallace’s greatest rewards.
The San Francisco native’s post at Indiana is not the first time he’s offered his expertise in the classroom. The sought after Wallace has taught courses at San Jose State University, Stanford University, Antioch College and University of California at Berkeley on topics including jazz history, trombone studies, big band, theory, improvisation and Latin Jazz ensemble.
Wallace, the recipient of numerous grants, believes jazz is more than a musical genre. He believes that jazz is the core of American culture. “It’s a creative lifestyle. Anybody that’s an artist, it’s an essential part of who they are. They wouldn’t function if they weren’t doing the essence of what they do,” he says.
Wallace visits Latin American countries and enclaves on many occasions. The accomplished instrumentalist and well-traveled culture advocate uses jazz as a bridge to connect with diverse people.
“If people are connected on all levels of society, it will move forward. What every civilization leaves behind for the rest of the world is their culture. If you don’t nurture your culture, you’re taking steps backward for your community,” says Wallace.
Admitting to enjoying good conversation, Wallace, an authority on Afro-Caribbean music, gets inspired when he connects with local citizens. “People are people no matter where you go. It makes me appreciate more of what’s available to me,” says Wallace with a slight crescendo in his voice.
That same inspiration emerges from Wallace’s appreciation for enthusiastic students. He believes they enhance his teaching methodology. “It’s an exchange. Students who like jazz are usually self-motivated. They come with a lot of questions and a lot of energy. They motivate me to wanna teach better and figure out different ways to help find their voices as artists and musicians,” says Wallace.
Critical thinking gets Wallace’s adrenaline going. He believes that students pursuing a higher education should take the initiative to challenge themselves. His past students have approached him and told him how his courses left an impression on them once they got into the real world.
“When you challenge students to think, they’ll eventually come around. They saw what I was talking about. That’s our job as teachers – to be mentors and pass on information,” says Wallace.
Wallace, an avid baseball fan, uses sports analogies whenever he talks about being self-sufficient. “Don’t wait for somebody to discover you. If you’re not willing to invest in yourself, then why should anybody else? If you go up to bat and you don’t swing, you won’t get a hit,” he says.
Furthermore, Wallace encourages younger musicians to become engaged civic leaders in their local communities. He references the Harlem Renaissance and how this generation should create black cultural products that reflect the concerns of African American communities.
Wallace often shares with his students. “The way music is packaged now, the art does not reflect what’s going on in society. Your art should go hand-in-hand with your social consciousness. Look at music as an active part of your life, not as a hobby,” he says.
Aside from being a thoughtful educator, Wallace is extremely proud of accompanying many of popular music’s greatest entertainers and performers throughout his career. He wants his work in the classroom, on stage and in the recording studio to represent how he made a difference in the world.
“I’m very fortunate that I lived through the time I’ve lived through. I worked with that generation of performers that plowed the field for the rest of us. It’s my responsibility to pass that information onto all people. That’s how we move forward. If you take that away, you’re crippling your society,” says Wallace.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.