Most people live parallel lives, and it is between those lives that people like to draw thin lines between issues of business and moments of pleasure. In the most ideal of situations, the lines that we draw to separate the parallel lives that we live can be blurred and mixed together.
For most teachers or professors teaching in institutions of higher learning, this can be a challenge and heartache. Being able to find a steady balance between one’s livelihood and one’s passions can be troublesome. But for most music professors, such as Robert Lockart, the distinction between these two extremes doesn’t necessarily need to be so apparent.
The 54-year-old saxophonist is veteran professor at Cal State Northridge of 10 years, teaching for a total of 25 years. During the day, Lockart is a mild-mannered professor of the arts, but by night, he is a purveyor and professional in the world that is contemporary jazz music. Lockart has chosen a curriculum that can satisfy his abilities as a person of practice and as a teacher of his craft. For some professors, this could be tiresome and ill-advised; for Lockart, his ability to teach is in tune with his ability to play.
“They both compliment each other,” said Lockart, commenting on his affinity for both teaching and playing music. “Playing is always fun and teaching is very rewarding. It’s like giving back for all those that taught me.”
In the late summer of 2007, Lockart released his debut album, aptly titled, “Parallel Lives.”
Released on Origin Records, the majority of the songs on the album were composed by Lockart himself. But before this newfound success, Lockart was a graduate student of music theory and received his masters’ degree for Music from Eastman School in Jazz Studies. Before that, he was playing and studying.
“(I’ve) always been playing music, ever since I was 13 or 14-years-old,” Lockart said. “(I) heard Ben Webster, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker (and) it all kind of hit me at once.”
Even though Lockart has reached what many jazz musicians would call success, he still needs to make ends meet, and in order to do that he cannot rely merely on music for money. Instead, he lives the life that most active professionals in his line of work live; teach that which they play.
“A lot of guys I know now are doing some sort of teaching on some level. Even if you look at the major guys, you’d be surprised who’s teaching,” Lockart said. “It’s just kind of the way things go now.”
Lockart admits that from time to time, the juggling act that is his life can be trying and aggravating. But for Lockart, the absolute love of music outweighs the tedious fiscal demands. For teachers like Lockart, the double life of professor and musician was never a surprise or a problem. In fact, teaching was always an essential part of the business.
“When you’re involved in any artistic pursuit there is a completely different set of values,” Lockart said. “Those values, if you’re lucky, can run along side with your more outer demands of making a living and paying the bills.”
The double lives led as professor and player is a very common practice of which many professional musicians, such as 47-year-old trombonist, Alex Iles, learned to use to support himself and his passion. Iles has been teaching and playing the trombone ever since he was a teenager.
“Players who teach and teachers who play give just as much effort,” Iles said. “It’s just another thing I do; never thought of it as a job. I love doing this. I’m committed to this.”
Like Lockart, Iles is a longtime professor of the arts at CSUN. And like Lockart, Iles is also a teacher that sees the professor/player relationship as both necessary and beneficial.
“Teaching is part of the fabric of my career,” Iles said. “It helps me with my own musical fundamentals, helps me to sharpen my own sword.”
For certain professors, such as Lockart and Iles, this is a reality, going from the classroom to performance and back again. To play an active role in the music world, it is universally understood that the artist must do more than just play, both as a musician and as someone trying to make a living.
CSUN graduate and trombonist, Evan Mackey, understands this plight and empathizes.
“Yeah, it can be pretty tough to get a gig from time to time,” the 25-year-old said. “I mean, most bands will always need a rhythm section. Not all bands need a horn section, ya’ know?”
Being a professional musician, Mackey also understands the need to practice continuously and how that might correspond with financial needs.
“Teaching is absolutely helpful. There is no better way to brush up on your own material and find a way to make some money,” Mackey said.
From a much generalized point of view, there are only two major facets to life, business and pleasure. Sometimes those two ends of that spectrum can come together and coexist in literal harmony. Other times, they clash and cause static, leading to one taking over the other.
For Rob Lockart and his dignified musical associates in positions as professionals and professors, the choice is a simple one, teach to play and play to teach.
“I’m happy as a teacher I really am. It’s hard work,” Lockart said. “Teaching keeps me honest, keeps my playing honest.”