Meet Sam Skelton: Creating complete musicians

By Lauren Highfill

 

There’s a lot to be said for someone who commutes 120 miles roundtrip every day to teach at Kennesaw State. “I gladly make the drive to KSU because I have no desire to be anywhere else,” said Sam Skelton, director of jazz studies and lecturer in saxophone. After working with several other universities before taking his current position, Skelton said, “I never saw the camaraderie on other campuses as I’ve seen at KSU.”

Skelton refers to the camaraderie between faculty, the dean and the university administration, and also to the connection between him and his students. “I love watching students figure things out. I have a blast teaching because I learn as much or more from my students than I think I teach them. It’s really my ultimate goal for them to do far better than I have ever done.”

That’s an inspiration for most students since Skelton has accomplished a lot in his 20-plus-year career. He has recorded music for Elton John, The Weather Channel and Cartoon Network, among others, and has also been a member of several cover bands. Displaying his aptitude and interest in jazz music, Skelton currently heads CSO Jazz! and is a member of a five-musician group called Furious Intentions. At the university, in addition to teaching, he directs the KSU Jazz Ensemble.

With as much professional experience as Skelton has, it’s no wonder he says students’ roles in the music program are “almost like intern positions,” preparing them for the professional world. “You don’t want to go to school for several years and graduate only having played a handful of on-campus concerts and expect to go out and perform with professional groups.”

Skelton believes that readying students for their professional lives requires them to both excel in playing their instruments and understand the business side of performance. “You can be the greatest player in the world,” he said, “but if you’re a jerk on the bandstand, you’re not going to get called back.”

To help his students achieve success, Skelton offers the insider tips and advice he’s learned over the years. “It’s so important that students know how to write a contract, to handle a client and not compromise their integrity. I want them to experience as many situations as possible before they leave the doors.” As a student of Skelton’s, Brandon Bell said, “Sam has guided me to levels I never thought I’d be able to reach. He’s also shown me what it takes to get to where I want to be, which is all so invaluable to me. I get most excited about music after a lesson with Sam or after hearing a live performance.”

Skelton’s expectations are almost limitless for what his students can achieve. “I am not afraid of students being farther along at their age than I was, comparatively—in fact, I want that. Anything that I know is fair game for me to pass on, and I want to do everything I can to make my students complete, to make them responsible and reliable musicians, and also nice people.”

According to his students, Skelton provides a great example of balancing musicianship and a good attitude. Noah Vece, a saxophone student who has studied with Skelton, said, "Sam is an incredible teacher and an equally fantastic player, but he's so much more than that. He's also a great guy, and it's obvious that he loves what he does just as much as I do."

Read more about Sam Skelton here.

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