An Important Voice in Music Education

In Memoriam Chris Vadala


By NAfME Member Peter J. Perry

This article first appeared in the April 2019 issue of Teaching Music magazine.


On January 17, 2019, an important voice in music education was silenced. Chris Vadala, director of jazz studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, and one of the country’s foremost woodwind artists and educators, passed away after a 10-year battle with cancer. His work on saxophones, flutes, and clarinets appeared on more than 100 recordings, as well as numerous jingle sessions, and film and television scores.

important voice

Photo by Erik Sharar


Vadala first gained prominence at the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester in New York and was then quickly picked up by Chuck Mangione. With Mangione, Vadala recorded and performed around the world, earning GRAMMY®, Golden Globe, and Academy Awards. From there, he went on to perform and record with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones,
B.B. King, Chick Corea, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Placido Domingo, Sarah Vaughn, Natalie Cole, Herbie Hancock, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Henry Mancini, Doc Severinsen, New York Voices, Frankie Valli, and many others.

music education

Photo by Erik Sharar


As one of Conn-Selmer’s most requested Artist clinicians, Vadala traveled worldwide, performing with and conducting student and professional jazz ensembles, symphonic bands, and orchestras. He was actively involved in the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE, and later the Jazz Education Network), serving on the Maryland state board, including as state president for two terms. He also served as jazz director at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland, and as a faculty member of the Maryland Summer Jazz Consortium, the state’s longest-running jazz enrichment program. He was a regular contributor to educational periodicals such as Saxophone Journal and DownBeat magazine, authored the book Improve Your Doubling, and contributed to the Approaching the Standards series and Jazz Pedagogy: The Jazz Educator’s Handbook and Resource Guide. His playing can be heard on the soundtracks to the films and television shows Criminal Minds, Zombieland, Avalon, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, Intolerable Cruelty, Let’s Go to Prison, and The Cannonball Run, among others.

“Chris brought tremendous devotion, passion, and artistry to his work at UMD, along with an unfailing generosity of spirit as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend.”

As director of jazz studies at the University of Maryland for 25 years, Chris Vadala built up a nationally recognized jazz program—from one that initially contained only two small jazz ensembles and one jazz undergraduate major to one that currently includes three jazz ensembles, multiple combos, improvisation courses, and both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Additionally, Vadala maintained an in-demand saxophone studio that drew students to the university from around the world. “Chris brought tremendous devotion, passion, and artistry to his work at UMD, along with an unfailing generosity of spirit as a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend,” says Jason Geary, director of the School of Music. “Under his leadership, the jazz program rose to new heights and gained the national reputation that it enjoys today.”


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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

Catherina Hurlburt, Marketing Communications Manager. June 25, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (


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