Seasoned Jazz Director Claims Prestigious Awards
By Teresa Monaco
Bill Yeager has been the Director of Jazz Studies at San Diego State University since 1985. During his career, he has turned the Jazz Studies program into one of the most respected in the country. Under Yeager’s direction, the SDSU Jazz Ensemble won the National Collegiate Jazz Competition in Orlando, FL and has been featured at several renowned jazz festivals, including the Monterey Jazz Festival at Sea, Hawaii International Jazz Festival, and Ensenada Jazz Festival, among others.
The 2016-17 academic year has been a successful one for Yeager. This past February he became the first SDSU representative to be inducted into the California Alliance for Jazz Hall of Fame at the California All-State Music Education Conference (CASMEC). He was also awarded the 2016-17 Faculty Monty Award from the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts, given in recognition of outstanding contributions to teaching, research, and community service. The award comes with the honor of serving as Commencement speaker for the College. And if that wasn’t enough, he has been invited by the German government to represent the United States as part of a government visitors program on the German jazz music scene – Jazz aus Deutschland.”
When asked about his banner year Yeager replied, “It’s nice to receive these honors while still teaching, and I look at all of them as a way to promote SDSU and our Jazz program. Going to Jazz aus Deutschland is especially exciting, and the potential for SDSU Jazz is even more exciting.”
Yeager cites his playing experience in Dallas in the 1970s (post-graduation from University of North Texas) as a huge influence on his musical career. “The music industry was at a peak—the recording industry in Dallas had blossomed into one of the biggest in the country, and I was fortunate enough to break into the scene there.”
Yeager was always first person to be called whenever a band needed more than one trombone. He has performed with artists such as Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Tony Bennett, among others. “When I moved to LA and was pretty much only playing trombone for those first few years, I really missed conducting. And that’s how the LA Jazz Workshop got started,”
As Founder, Director, and Owner of the LA Jazz Workshop, Yeager conducted multiple diverse ensembles, taught trombone lessons, and oversaw budgeting, hiring, and faculty supervision for the organization.
Through his work at the LA Jazz Workshop, Yeager forged relationships with countless professional musicians, who he now calls upon to work with his Jazz Ensemble at SDSU. “I can’t imagine anything less than bringing in at least one person a semester who’s a world-class player. The students need that outside perspective of someone coming in whose playing is on the next level,” Yeager explains. Each major concert cycle is focused around a different visiting artist who has an active and prolific career in the music industry.
On Thursday, April 27, the Jazz Ensemble will perform with drummer Jeff Hamilton, hailed for his versatility and extensive recording resume.
When asked about future plans, Yeager is not ready to retire just yet. “Everyone I know who’s retired made up their minds about it really quickly, and I’m just not to that point yet. You don’t think about retirement when you’ve got health. The more things keep working out, the less I want to retire!”