Ron Carter seems to have been destined for jazz greatness.
Given the same name as legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter; his first teaching job was at the alma mater of another jazz legend, Miles Davis. Carter, the director of the Northern Illinois University Jazz Ensemble, gave his farewell performance with the renowned ensemble April 10 in the same venue where Duke Ellington gave his last full performance with his orchestra almost exactly 40 years earlier – NIU’s Holmes Student Center.
“Some people are just special. [They] have an X-factor, because they were chosen to do what it is they do,” said Quentin Coaxum, a former student of Carter’s at NIU who is now a professional jazz trumpeter and teacher. “All the rest of us can do is just appreciate them while we have the opportunity.”
As Carter prepares to retire from NIU, his colleagues and former students remember his work ethic, recruiting abilities, and sheer talent.
Distinguished early career
Carter first got involved in music through singing in the church choir at the age of 8, and still credits his Christian faith as motivation.
“I’ve always been self-motivated to be the best. And also, I’m a Christian, so my faith in God and Jesus Christ, that motivates me and lets me know where all my strength comes from,” Carter said. “Because all the things I’ve done, I wouldn’t have been able to do anything without my faith.
“One thing about the Afro-American experience and Afro-American music: it’s always come through the church.”
After earning his master’s degree in music education from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, he began his first teaching job in 1977 at Lincoln High School in East St. Louis, the alma mater of Miles Davis, whom he got to know.
Carter walked into a difficult situation there, said Russell Gunn, a two-time Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter and former student at Lincoln. East St. Louis was a community in decline, and he faced opposition from the school board and from parents who didn’t understand his demanding regimen.
Source: Daily Chronicle | STEPHEN HABERKORN