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Teaching by Example

From Jazz to Pop to Classical, Vernon Howard Reflects on His Career as a Musician and Educator

Article by Debra Laizure

Photography by Cindy Alvarez

Originally published in Tulsa Lifestyle

Louis Armstrong once said “Music is life itself. What would this world be without good music? No matter what kind it is.”

Vernon Howard, musician, trombonist, educator and Director of Jazz Studies at The University of Tulsa, couldn’t agree more.

Equally comfortable in symphonic, jazz and popular music settings, Howard’s work as a trombonist and electric bassist has included performances with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, Signature Symphony and the Fort Smith Symphony. His jazz and commercial background has included concert, night club and stage show engagements with such artists as Nancy Wilson, Billy Eckstein, Joe Williams, the Temptations, Four Tops, Woody Herman, Clark Terry, Doc Severinsen, Louis Bellson, Ella Fitzgerald and many others.

Howard’s passion for music began as a young child. He loved all genres of music from rock ‘n roll to symphony orchestra, but it was jazz that quickly caught his attention.

He says, “When I was 10 years old, my father bought some Dixieland jazz recordings at the five-and-dime. I was fascinated with the solos and interplay of the musicians. As I was listening to the recordings, my father left the room and returned with a trombone in his hands and started jamming with the records. I thought that was pretty cool. I didn’t even know that we had a trombone in the house! I asked him, ‘Can you teach me to do that?’”

After completing his Bachelor of Music Education and Master of Music Education degrees at University of Tulsa, and pursuing additional academic work at Indiana University, Howard began teaching trombone and jazz studies at TU in 1978.

From 1975-2009, he also was a member of the summer music faculty at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan where he served as Coordinator of Jazz Studies. His work at Interlochen included numerous concerts and educational workshops with such jazz luminaries as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Milt Jackson, Wayne Shorter, Buddy Rich, Jimmy Heath, and Wynton Marsalis.

He taught thousands of young jazz students during his 35 years of teaching at Interlochen including: Tim Ries, saxophonist, Rolling Stones; Walt Weiskopf, saxophonist, Steely Dan; Walter White, trumpeter, Maynard Ferguson; Conrad Herwig, trombonist, Frank Sinatra; and Norah Jones, Grammy winning vocalist and pianist.

Howard takes special pride in the accomplishments of his many TU students that have moved on to build successful careers as professional performers and music educators. Many of the outstanding teachers and leaders in music education and jazz education in the region are former students and graduates of the TU School of Music.

Howard served as Director of the School of Music at the University of Tulsa from 2013-2020. He will be retiring from full-time teaching at the end of the current 2021 spring semester but plans to return in the fall to teach music in an adjunct capacity at TU.

As Louis Armstrong also said, “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there is no more music in them.”

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