Jazz trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, performing Wednesday at UD, remains focused on music, education



Wycliffe Gordon grew up in Augusta, Georgia, surrounded by music. The trombonist could’ve gone in any direction but found his way to jazz in his early teens.

Gordon is presenting a Cityfolk Jazznet Legacy Concert in the University of Dayton’s Sears Recital Hall in Jesse Philips Humanities Center on Wednesday, March 22.

As the son of a classical pianist and teacher who also regularly played organ in church, Gordon always appreciated music. However, it was a secondhand copy of a family member’s Columbia Records jazz compilation that completely turned his head around.

As a student at Butler High School, Gordon turned his full focus to music, and it paid off. He was a member of the McDonald’s All-American High School Band in 1984, a national select group sponsored by the McDonald’s Corporation from 1967 to 1992. Each year, it featured two high school seniors from each state and provided the young musicians a chance to perform in New York City.

Gordon enrolled in Florida A&M, where he was trombonist in the marching band. His big professional break came in 1989 when he joined the Wynton Marsalis Septet. He appeared on highly regarded albums like “Blue Interlude” (1992) and “In This House, On This Morning” (1994). Gordon remained with the group until 1995. The following year, he turned his focus to leading his own group. He was also a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra from 1995 to 2000.

Atlantic Records released “Bone Structure,” Gordon’s debut as a band leader in 1996. He has gone on to release more than two dozen albums such as “The Search” (2000), “United Soul Experience” (2002), “Boss Bones” (2008) and “Somebody New” (2015) for imprints like Nagel-Heyer and Criss Cross. His latest album, “Originals Only: Just For You,” was released in 2021.

Gordon is four decades into his career as a performer, recording artist and jazz educator. His priorities have shifted a bit but the jazz lifer remains focused on the craft.

Gordon was in a hotel room in Texas, following a performance with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, when he answered some questions in advance of Wednesday’s performance with UD’s Faculty Jazztet.



Question: What’s the program you’re presenting at the University of Dayton?

Answer: We’ll be performing some standards and a few of my original compositions. There’s not a particular theme but I recently heard it will be a quintet. I’ll also be working with some student groups while I’m in town. We’re going to have a great time. I’m looking forward to working with students but also looking forward to working with the faculty members that are performing musicians and also educators.

Q: What keeps you teaching?

A: It’s important to pass along those things that inspire us and that we love doing. When I was starting out, I got a chance to work with different people and that’s important no matter what you’re doing. If you play golf, you want to work with a great golfer. It’s the same with science or if you’re playing jazz. They can show you a side of the craft as well as part of themselves. That inspires us to be our best at whatever we do.

Q: Is jazz a tougher sell to youngsters these days?

A: I don’t know that it has ever been an easy sell. Jazz is not the highest form of popular music as far as worldwide popularity but as far as educational institutions, it is well preserved in grade school through college. A lot of young people are into it because there are schools that hold jazz festivals and competitions for student bands. That’s great to see and to hear, more importantly. These develop into working jazz bands. I did one recently and there was 1,000 kids there for a jazz concert. That was a great. The reception we got when we were called to the stage, you’d think we were rock stars. I was surprised because it was 95 percent young people.

Q: What was your introduction to jazz?

A: It was on recordings. My father played classical music. We heard that at home but he also played at the church, so we heard gospel music. I grew up in a rural area, so it was classical and gospel and we heard country music on the radio. I heard jazz on recordings. A great aunt of mine passed and amongst her things that were bequeathed to the family was a five-record introduction to jazz music.

Q: How old were you?

A: I was 13 or 14 and at that time the popular music was Kool & the Gang, Parliament Funkadelic and Chicago. Those groups had horns and we loved those groups but then I heard these recording of Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, Count Basie Orchestra and Sonny Rollins. I’d be out in our garage with the record player listening to that and my friends would say, “Hey, we all like jazz but Cliffe likes that deep jazz.” I just fell in love with jazz.

Q: Are you still living in New York?

A: No, I left in 2016. I’m back in Augusta, Georgia. I was in New York for 20 years and it wasn’t bad but I just found myself never really working in New York. I taught at Juilliard for seven years, the Manhattan school but, I was on the studio faculty, and I didn’t have a regular schedule. I’d schedule lessons with my students in advance, so I didn’t really need to be there. I woke up one day and I’m like, “Why am I paying to be here?” I decided to move out of New York.



Q: Any new releases on the horizon?

A: I didn’t record much during the pandemic other than on Zoom or overdubbing on somebody else’s recordings. I’m ready to saddle up and ride again. I want to make some new recordings but if I’m not inspired, I don’t make myself compose. There’s a lot of stuff just sitting in the archives. I got the chance to go through and check things out over the pandemic. There are new compositions, ones I’ve only performed once and finished songs. I have a new CD I recorded in 2019 that I never released.

Q: Will that be coming out?

A: I may release it later this year. It’s mixed and mastered and everything. There are a couple of standard compositions but for the most part it’s all original music. I have lots of music that I’ve written that I haven’t recorded. I’m starting to get back into it. I want to record new music but also release some things that haven’t been released yet.

Q: What’s the plan for the spring and summer?

A: COVID kind of slowed me down. I’m no longer interested in being on the road as much as I used to have to be. I got used to being home in the midst of it all. People said, “Oh, man, I bet you can’t wait to get back on the road.” I said, “Oh, yeah, I bet I can.” I’m still willing to go out. I still love to perform but I want to work a little less.

Gordon’s concert with the University of Dayton Jazztet is part of UD’s ArtsLIVE series. The next concert is Dorian Wind Quintet on April 16.

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or donthrasher100@gmail.com.


Who: Wycliffe Gordon in a ArtsLIVE Cityfolk Jazznet Legacy Concert

Where: University of Dayton’s Sears Recital Hall, Jesse Philips Humanities Center, 300 College Park, Dayton

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 22

Cost: Free for UD students, $18 general admission, $15 seniors 60 and older and UD alumni, $10 UD employees and retirees, $5 youth and students younger than 21

More info: 937-229-2545 or udayton.edu

Artist info: wycliffegordon.com

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