Although new music lecturer Andrew Speight is only in his third week of teaching classes at San Francisco State University, he is already taking a short excused absence this week to perform at the opening ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.Return to top
Speight, a world-renowned and award-winning alto saxophonist who was born and raised in Australia, will perform at the Olympics as part of a band of Australian jazz all-stars. This opportunity arose from his notoriety in Australia, which includes winning the country's equivalent of a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Album of 1999 for his CD "Andrew Speight Quartet." However, he is more excited that the Olympics performance offers an international spotlight for lesser-known Australian jazz artists.
"We have a small community of celebrated jazz players, and because of my resume, it makes it an opportunity for them," he said.
Speight has been living in the United States for nine years, but will enjoy the California sunshine -- or San Francisco fog -- on a regular basis for the first time after surviving the freezing winters at Michigan State University. He also said that he is happy to live in an area that feels more comfortable and familiar to him than the automobile-industry epicenter of Lansing, Mich.
"San Francisco is similar to Sydney, where I grew up, both in climate and lifestyle," he said. "It has a cosmopolitan attitude. San Francisco is one of the few cities in the country similar to Sydney."
Speight is also excited about joining SFSU's top-notch jazz and world-music studies program.
"It has a lot of energy, a vibrant faculty," said Speight, who is teaching Practical Jazz/Pop Harmony and Survey of Jazz this semester. "[The jazz and world-music studies program] encompasses a lot of things musicians need to prepare for the future of the music ... Here, it's not just about teaching jazz, it's about teaching these different conglomerates of great music."
Patricia Taylor Lee, chair of the SFSU music department, said she is excited about him being here as well.
"Andrew is an outstanding performer with vast experience in jazz and world-music education," she said. "In addition, he's a delightful personality and an all-aro und great addition to our faculty."
Speight has performed and worked closely with many of jazz's elite class, including Mel Torme, Rodney Whitaker and Nat Adderley as well as Ellis, Wynton and Branford Marsalis. In fact, Branford -- a friend of Speight's -- will be an artist-in-residence in the music department beginning this fall. They first met years ago when Marsalis visited Forest High School, a music preparatory school Speight was attending at the time. The two later developed a friendship that evol ved into Marsalis joining Michigan State's faculty as an artist-in-residence when Speight headed the university's jazz studies program.
"In a sense, we would just hang out. He had always talked, when he was on 'The Tonight Show,' about teaching," Speight said. "He wanted students to know things that weren't being addressed in teaching then."
Much like Marsalis, Speight grew up in a household full of musical influence. His father was a well-respected pianist and schoolteacher, and his mother sang jingles and commercials on Australian radio. He also loved to play his parents' records, especially jazz.
"I gravitated to it; something about it struck a chord," he recalled.
Listening to the likes of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and others was a way of learning "music by osmosis," he said.
Realizing that many others are not able to learn music by osmosis, Speight believes that students must find a way to foster their own styles of writing and performing. If they merely learn the basics, then jazz's future will be predictable, lacking the creativity and innovation that has brought the music to where it is today.
"There's room to te ach nuts and bolts, but we want to foster more than just clones so the music can survive and be creative and have people who play differently," said Speight. "What's relevant to keeping this music alive? There has to be a need in society, a way to relate to the music ... Jazz education is only as good as the scene around it."
And with talents like Speight and Marsalis joining the SFSU music faculty, jazz music and its teaching should continue to grow and thrive well into the 21st century, spreading from SFSU to a worldwide audience.
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