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Jeffrey Smith talks with students during class

Experienced musician lends hand to invigorate music program

“I swore I’d never teach,” says adjunct instructor Jeffrey Smith.

While Smith’s professional career as a trumpeter would take him to nearly every state and 13 countries, he eventually found himself called to help young musicians develop their talents.

Smith enrolled at Central Washington University to study music after graduating from Federal Way High School, but it wasn’t long before he felt the call of playing on the road. During his first year at CWU, Smith followed the advice of his professor whose advice was simple, “school would always be there, but playing opportunities wouldn’t be.”

Taking this advice to heart, Smith played for a variety of groups including The Temptations, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Don Menza Big Band, Showboat, Jiggs Whigham, Bobby Shew, Kenny Rogers, Heart, Donna Summer, Yakima Symphony, New World Brass Quintet, Las Vegas Philharmonic, and many others. He also had the opportunity to perform with showbands in Las Vegas including the Imperial Palace, Light at The Bellagio, the Flamingo.

“It ended up taking me 10 years to graduate from CWU,” said Smith. “Every time a music opportunity would come up, I’d drop my classes and went back out to play.”

Yet he also had the opportunity to visit schools and host music clinics, and Smith’s earlier promise began to weaken.

“I realized I loved going into schools and doing clinics. And that if I loved them, I could teach,” he continued.

Jeffrey Smith
Instructor Jeffrey Smith directs student musicians during a recent jazz class.

Ready to make a career shift, Smith began teaching full-time for West Valley School District, where he continues to lead two jazz bands and three concert bands. In 2022 he also started teaching private lessons part-time for Yakima Valley College. In fall 2023, he assumed the role of interim Director of Jazz Studies at YVC, borrowing the helm from Instructor Jeff Norwood, and teaching a jazz ensemble course and jazz combo course which focuses on improvisation.

“There isn’t much of a difference between teaching to younger or older students. It doesn’t matter if you teach 5th grade or college. Nobody practices,” Smith shared with a laugh. On a more serious note, Smith says, “Older students get more excited about their work and come down on their selves harder in their performances. When they know they play well they are exuberant, but [they] experience a bigger swing of emotions when they don’t feel like they played their best. Younger students are focused more on working hard and having fun.”

While under his tutelage, Smith hopes to focus YVC’s Jazz program on continual growth.

“Our community needs a center for community music. Especially young musicians,” said Smith. “That’s my driving force for being here. I feel that young people can be part of a legacy here at YVC. They can help grow the program and develop as musicians outside of their high school experience.”  

He plans to put a larger focus on maintaining the excitement and energy from the success of concerts held earlier this academic year. He also aims to strengthen the recruitment of younger talent, for example, by providing greater flexibility and opportunities for students to participate in both their high school band as well as one of YVC’s ensembles.

“Our community needs a center for community music. Especially young musicians. That’s my driving force for being here.”   — Jeffrey Smith

“Teaching young musicians has become a passion but performing with fellow musicians will always be the highlight of my musical experiences,” said Smith.

He continues to perform regionally working in all styles of music.

Smith says his teachers made sure he did not end up a “one trick pony.” Musically that means only being proficient in one style of music.  Smith works in all styles: classical, commercial, jazz, pop, rock, reggae, you name it.  He adds, “Unfortunately, Yakima has few venues that support live music, especially Jazz. I have been fortunate to play in the Seattle are recently on some new projects and also in the Tri-Cities.”

This spring, Smith and Norwood are excited to bring renowned Los Angeles-based trombone player and recording artist Francisco Torres to the Yakima Valley. Torres will work in clinic with YVC’s ensembles, host an open clinic for community musicians and perform in concert alongside YVC’s Jazz Band and guest artists.

Story and photos by Stefanie Menard, AA-DTA ’05, communications consultant.