5 Questions for the March 2010 Mentor

Greg Yasinitsky is the Regents Professor and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Washington State University. Also a nationally known composer, arranger and saxophonist, he has written music especially for Clark Terry, David Liebman, and the USAF “Airmen of Note.” He has performed with numerous distinguished artists including Lou Rawls, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Stan Getz, and Lionel Hampton. He is Principal Saxophonist with the Spokane Symphony, and performed as a member of the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Oakland Symphony. He also plays saxophones for Jazz Northwest, the resident WSU faculty jazz ensemble.

MENC welcomes Yasinitsky as the MENC jazz mentor for March 2010.

You’ve been teaching at Washington State for close to 30 years now. What kinds of courses do you teach?

I direct the Jazz Big Band; teach lessons in saxophone, composition and arranging, classes in jazz history, jazz theory, and jazz arranging, among others.

You’re also a well-known composer and arranger. Do you have any particular favorites among your many compositions and arrangements?

My favorite is usually the one I am working on right now.

What are the toughest challenges facing jazz educators today, in your opinion?

I think today’s music educators are asked to do so much. In the jazz arena, they are expected to direct large jazz ensembles and work with horn players, vocalists and rhythm section musicians. They are expected to coach their improvisers and work with combos. And most educators in the public schools are also expected to be experts in athletic bands, concert choirs, wind ensembles and musical comedies. It is a tough gig.

What is your proudest moment as a jazz educator?

I’m always proud when my students do well. I’m proud when WSU students are featured in Jazziz and Down Beat magazines. I’m proud when my students have their music published. I’m proud when WSU students receive recognition at festivals and am proud to see graduates of WSU teaching at colleges and universities and touring, recording and performing with top artists.

What are you listening to these days?

Lately I am listening to recordings by my former students: saxophonist Brent Jensen, trombonist Matt Finders and pianist Brent Edstrom; my friends Mark Levine, Hugh Frasier and Dave Glenn; funk bands Cold Blood and Tower of Power; and some of my all time favorites Joe Henderson, Ernie Watts, Maceo Parker and John Coltrane.

—Nick Webb, March 4, 2010, © National Association for Music Education