College’s jazz program flourishes with prof and renowned trumpeter
Ron Miles, professional musician and assistant professor of music, can often be found in the crowd at student performances, as he wants "to see where they are trying to go" with their music.
Some 21 years ago, when trumpeter Ron Miles accepted his first teaching position at Metropolitan State College of Denver, his travel routine was pretty much limited to hour-long, round-trip treks on the RTD bus between the Auraria Campus and the University of Colorado at Boulder where he was a graduate student in the College of Music.
Today the professional musician tours 75 to 100 days out of the year, most recently to Canada, South America, New York and Copenhagen. But you could say his main gig is assistant professor of music at Metro State’s Department of Music, where he oversees affiliate faculty, auditions, ensembles and serves as assignments director of jazz bands.
Miles believes that his career shows students “you can stay here in Denver and make it work (as a musician).”
He has toured with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, played and recorded with Elvis Costello, played with clarinetist Don Byron’s sextet. He’s released a number of solo albums and has been featured on countless albums of fellow musicians. His reputation has been recognized in The New York Times, Down Beat magazine, and just last month Westword readers voted him into the 2010 Westword Music Showcase.
Though his passion is obviously music, he believes a brief period as an electrical engineering student at the University of Denver influenced the type of discipline that breeds career longevity. He says “being around electrical engineering and serious students” helped him with his approach to studying music.
Often lauded for having his “own voice,” he gets excited about going to see his students performances on and off campus “to see where they are trying to go.”
According to Music Department Chair Michael Kornelsen, Miles is “genuinely supportive of his students and wants each student to succeed. He is always looking for ways to keep the program fresh and energized.”
One of the ways he has done that is through a Jazz History course he established more than 10 years ago. “It was a relatively new phenomenon and Ron was at the forefront,” says Kornelsen, who has been at the College for 11 years. “The class was extremely popular at Metro State. At one point, he taught three classes of 50 students each. Now three people are teaching that class with capped enrollment at 35 students per class.”
The course is now an upper-division multicultural class.
During Miles’ time in the department, the jazz offerings have grown to include jazz piano and jazz drum set, and in the last few years he has taken the lead coordinating the department’s popular Jazz Celebration.
Kornelsen says that the department and the students benefit from Miles being an internationally acclaimed jazz artist. “It benefits us for him to be out in the world performing, and then bring his ability and international reputation back to Metro State when he’s here teaching. I appreciate him as an artist, and appreciate his thoughtfulness, and dedication to students.”
In addition to bringing experiences in, he takes the students out into the community to perform at numerous locations, including retirement homes, says Music Production Manager Charla Bevan, who is responsible for coordinating more than150 events per year for the department.
For example, on Oct. 6 and Dec. 1, he will direct the 18-piece Metro State One O’clock Big Band at the Mercury Café, a local hot spot for artists.
Those real-world experiences enrich conversations with the students, according to Miles. “It’s important to be able to do what I talk about here with students.”
In speaking of the flexibility he has had over the years to be in the classroom and on stages around the world, Miles says “the school has been very good to me.”
And according to the professor who has been in the Music Department longer than any other professor, “I’m just not qualified to do anything other than this.”