“If I can play a solo that connects with my audience … that is most definitely my favorite part of performing music.”
Derrick Gardner, the starring musician for the Winter Jazz Festival, has played music for the past 50 years.
“Music was always around my household growing up,” Gardner said. His parents performed and taught music at the public and university levels.
His mother started him on the piano at age five, where he learned for a few years until he got bored with low-level practice pieces and wanted to move onto something else, like jazz.
“It wasn’t … the music I heard my dad playing,” Gardner said. “He would have his practice room down in the basement and he would be playing these … records, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and all that stuff.”
Once he was nine, however, he got his first taste of performing.
While in fifth grade, his school started their own band program and asked for volunteers. Without hesitation, Gardner rose his hand and said he wanted to play the trumpet. The fact that the school lacked that instrument didn’t deter him from joining.
He ran home and told his dad what he wanted.
“He went out and bought me a trumpet,” he said. “I’ve been playing ever since.”
“The first highlight of my career … my first job, my first real, professional job out of college, was joining the Count Basie Orchestra.”
Since its start, the Count Basie Orchestra has been one of the most prominent jazz performance groups in the world.
Before that, Gardner had rarely traveled and said he’d been almost nowhere, even within the United States. But then, it changed. He went to Japan, New Jersey and toured Europe.
“I went from having gone nowhere, to having gone everywhere.”
Ending his job with the Count Basie Orchestra wasn’t ending his travels.
Recently, with his own group, the Derrick Gardner Quartet, he went to Taiwan and performed in front of an audience of 20,000. It was his first time with his own band.
Gardner said those events in his life have been the highlights of his career so far, “Those two kind of stand out above and beyond everything that happened in the middle.”
His most fulfilling
Even with those highlights, he said there have been even more fulfilling parts to his career.
One was when he finished recording his big band, Derrick Gardner and the Big Dig Band. He received a grant from several Canadian sources to record, and it finished at the end of January. The music should be released late March or early April.
“I was able to record all of my original compositions and arrangements,” Gardner said. “That is somewhat of a rarity for any musician, to be able to do that on such a large scale, and I’ve been very graciously given that opportunity. That was extremely fulfilling to my own musicianship.”
Gardner said the other thing he finds most fulfilling is his teaching career.
One of his favorite parts of educating is “being a part of the larger picture of jazz … creating the future of jazz and strengthening the foundation of jazz with really young musicians that are out there and that are excited about the music and ready to take on a professional life as a musician and just be creative throughout their lives. That’s a very gratifying part of being involved in music.”
Gardner also said he loves to see his students excel in their careers after graduation.
“When I see my students getting all these opportunities to be able to enhance their careers with all these great performances they’re doing, that says, ‘Maybe I’ve done something right’,” he said. “And when you get a thank you back from your students … it’s very gratifying.”
Gardner will perform with other artists during the Winter Jazz Festival at BYU-Idaho, being the main concert on March 14 at 7 p.m. Tickets are on sale now costing $6 for BYU-I students and $10 for the general public. It will be held at the John W. Hart Auditorium.