From the classroom


All that Jazz

By Justin Boulmay

Carroll V. Dashiell Jr. has a way of understating exactly what he does for his jazz students. “I’m just here trying to find B-flat for students,” he says. That’s a self-deprecating way to describe the teaching style of a man who has learned from the music industry’s most talented performers, one who has played with the Boston Pops, the National Symphony and the Washington Philharmonic Orchestra. By all accounts, Dashiell found B-flat and every other note long before he joined the faculty in 1989.

In his musical tradition, Dashiell sees his role as sharing ideas and passing on what he’s learned to every student who enters his classroom. No matter where they come from, Dashiell tells his students that many of them probably developed their musical interests in the same way.

“I always say for my students…I’m sure it was some band or orchestra or something that came to your school and you were sitting on the floor in the kindergarten room or somewhere in primary school and you looked up on stage and saw some bright, shiny instrument,” Dashiell says. “And you say, ‘Wow, what is that? I think I want to do that.’”

In addition to his teaching load, Dashiell also is the director and founder of ECU’s annual Billy Taylor Jazz Festival, scheduled this year for April 15–16.

Now 51, Dashiell was exposed to music at a young age by his parents while growing up in Washington, D.C. He already knew how to play the violin and viola when he picked up the bass between fifth and sixth grades. He had hit a growth spurt and his teacher asked him to handle the string bass because he was the only student big enough to carry it up and down the stairs.

Although he could physically handle the instrument, Dashiell didn’t know how to play it and couldn’t read the music, as he had been used to reading notes in treble clef. So his teacher took sheets of music and above each note wrote a number that that corresponded to the strings and finger placements Dashiell needed to play.

“I didn’t know that half position on the G-string was A-flat,” he says. “I just knew it was first finger, first string.”

Recording with the stars

At that time, Dashiell didn’t know his interest in music would lead him to a career. That moment came in high school, after he tore his hamstring during a football practice but still had to make a rehearsal at the Kennedy Center later that night.

“I went on and that was one of the most painful things,” he says. “I sat on the stool to play; I couldn’t get comfortable. I stood up; [I] couldn’t get comfortable. I was walking; [I] couldn’t get comfortable. But I still had to make the gig.”

Dashiell received his Musicians Union Card when he was a teenager—something that required an audition—and later graduated from Howard University. He’d go on to record with Bobby Watson and Horizon for Capitol (Blue Note) Records and Roger “Buck” Hill for Muse Records. By the time he was 25, Dashiell started his own record label.

Along the way, he also started to generate name recognition among musical groups, including a cabaret group called the Moonlighters Band and Show. Dashiell’s junior high-school teacher, Arthur Capehart, had asked him to sit in with the band, which initially thought the 16-year-old was too young to play with them.

Their reluctance didn’t last past his audition. “I played, and they were like, ‘Yeah, man, okay,’” Dashiell says. The Moonlighters Band and Show is but one of a long list of artists with whom Dashiell has played, including the Fifth Dimension and the late Ray Charles.

Dashiell traveled with Charles and now is able to share those experiences with his students. And it’s obvious by what Dashiell calls him how he felt about his time with Charles—“genius.”

“I mean, just from his grooves…his fills where he would fill in portions of music,” Dashiell says. “Just his timing, his phrasing, his passion. Passion and excellence—that’s really what it is.”

As a child, Dashiell lived next door to the mother of another artist who would become a major influence—Dr. Billy Taylor. When the musician visited home, Dashiell listened to him play by pressing his ear against the wall. Taylor would invite Dashiell over and the two would play together. Eventually, Dashiell made it on the stage with the elder musician.

“I was scared to death, and he walked out on the stage—I was already there—and he says, ‘I think I like ‘Body and Soul’ in D-flat,’” Dashiell says. “Boom, and we just started playing.”

Teaching with passion

That passion for sharing music is something Dashiell gets to do with rising musicians at East Carolina. After nearly 20 years as the director of the jazz studies program, Dashiell is in his 22nd year as an ECU faculty member, serving as the director of jazz ensembles and the jazz professor for string bass and electric bass. He still remembers his struggle as a young teacher: balancing his time between performing and teaching so he didn’t get burned out by doing two things for which he was passionate.

That drive is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by others, especially by Rhonda Dashiell, his wife of 27 years. “He has so much dedication,” she says of the impact her husband has had on her. “That’s something that I learned. I didn’t quite realize how much it took to really become good or to perfect it.”

His classroom takes multiple approaches. Dashiell uses everything from lectures to labs, from demonstrations to individual lessons, as well as online tools. In his classes, he calls the guys “cats” and the girls “cat-dettes.”

During ensemble practices, a student who makes a mistake because they weren’t fully engaged in their time together has to do push-ups. “If it’s a mistake that you made and you’re going for it, then that’s fine,” Dashiell says. “But if it’s a mistake because you were talking to somebody or because you weren’t totally immersed in the game, then you would have something to do.”

The state had not finalized its budget, so Dashiell could not say who will be at the 2011 festival. Previous years have included Vanessa Reuben and Billy Green. Poignantly, Dr. Taylor died this year due to heart failure. He was 89.

The festival brings in a guest artist to a smaller venue to give students and the community a chance to interact with them. “Realistically, we can all just pay a ticket price…but I want them to take away more than that,” Dashiell says.

Thanks to Dashiell’s time at ECU, students have taken away quite a bit and not just from the jazz festival. As a former student of Dashiell’s, Rochelle Rice ’08 says he always went above and beyond for her, including driving up to Washington, D.C., to be with her when she auditioned for the master’s program at Howard University. Dashiell played a huge role in getting her there. “He was like a dad,” Rice says. “He is like a dad. He was definitely more than just a teacher.”