Joseph Jefferson named new St. Olaf Jazz conductor
Award-winning music educator Joseph Jefferson has been named the new director of the St. Olaf Jazz ensembles. As the college’s first tenure-track jazz conductor, he will also serve as an associate professor of music at St. Olaf.
Trained in both classical and jazz traditions, Jefferson has performed as a soloist and chamber musician around the world as a trombonist. He is regularly invited to serve as a guest artist, clinician, and adjudicator for both high schools and collegiate music programs throughout the United States, and he has published research on the shout band tradition.
Jefferson was recently selected as one of 40 music educators throughout the country to be featured in the Yamaha 40 Under 40 Class of 2023, and he was named the 2022 Ellis Marsalis Jr. Jazz Educator of the Year by the Jazz Education Network. As he was looking for a position that would enable him to focus on his passion for teaching and directing jazz ensembles, Jefferson was drawn to St. Olaf by both the excellence of its music programs and its students.
“I’m truly looking forward to working with St. Olaf students,” he says. “During my time on campus, the students were not only wonderful musicians, but they were warm, welcoming, and intentional in all conversations and learning situations.”
Jefferson is eager to build on a jazz program that has won several music awards over the years, including being honored by DownBeat Magazine for “Outstanding Performance by Large Undergraduate Ensemble” in 2019.
“I hope to increase the visibility of jazz at St. Olaf nationally, making it a destination for students interested in the study and performance of this American art form,” he says. “It is my hope that students leave jazz ensembles and classes with a firm jazz foundation and a sense of musical fulfillment and understanding of this music, its culture, and its tradition.”
Jefferson began his own music career at the age of 14 as a self-taught trombonist. His first music performance “stage” was singing and playing behind his mother in the church choir. “Being around so many vocalists during the early stages of my development really informed my musical and lyrical sensibilities and strengthened my aural skills,” he says. “My gospel upbringing is truly the foundation of my approach as a jazz musician and improviser.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University, a master’s degree from Shenandoah Conservatory, and a doctorate from West Virginia University, Jefferson has developed a performance career that is impressive in its depth and breadth.
In the classical genre, he has performed with world-renowned artists and groups such as Zoltan Kiss, The Irish Tenors, Paducah Symphony Orchestra, Rose City Trombones, and the Colour of Music Orchestra. As a jazz musician, he leads the JLJ Jazz Quartet and has performed with noted musicians like Vanessa Williams, Sean Jones, Jen Wharton, John Fedchock, The Cab Calloway Orchestra, and international R&B artists Dwele, Jon Bibbs, and Raheem Devaughn. As a collaborative artist, he has also worked with renowned Japanese poet Lawson Inada for an evening of jazz and poetry.
Jefferson comes to St. Olaf from a faculty position at Southeast Missouri State University, where in 2022 he received the Provost Award for Experiential Teaching and in 2019 he was selected as the recipient of the Holland College of Arts and Media Outstanding Teaching Award. Prior to his work at Southeast, Jefferson also held faculty positions at the University of Portland and Treasure Valley Community College. He recently completed a diversity and inclusion certification from Cornell University with the goal of sustaining effective recruitment strategies and further cultivating a positive and inclusive learning and working environment for students, faculty, and staff.
“My favorite part of being a professional musician and educator is meeting people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Music is truly a universal language,” Jefferson says. “As a performer, I am always excited to share my musical gifts and collaborate with others to create memorable musical experiences. This career path has taken me places throughout the United States and abroad beyond my wildest imagination. As an educator, it truly brings me joy to reach students where they are and provide valuable experiential learning opportunities. This, in turn, is exciting for me as it continues to help me grow and learn as an educator and performer.”
This summer, Jefferson will be overseeing the jazz portion of the International Trombone Festival’s Youth Workshop as well as serving as trombone faculty for jazz at Lincoln Center Summer Jazz Academy. He recently moved to Minnesota with his wife, Tamika, and two children: five-year-old Joseph and three-year-old Jurnee. They are also joined by their Shih Tzu, Ellington. Jefferson is looking forward to getting to know the area and continuing to pursue his hobbies, which include working out, traveling, meditating, and learning about different cultures.