Tribute concert for retiring CSUN music industry studies instructor planned

Sharon Hardwick

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California State University, Northridge will honor retiring jazz band director, and Music Industry Studies instructor, Joel Leach, with a tribute concert.

“Through the Years…” will be held at the Plaza Del Sol performance hall, in the University Students Union.

Put together by jazz band co-directors, Gary Pratt and Matt Harris, the concert will honor Leach who, after 26 years, will retire at the end of the year. The concert is intended to pay tribute to Leach, who was inducted to the California Alliance for Jazz Hall of Fame in March 2010, for his work within the CSUN music department, and for his work growing the CSUN jazz band into an award-winning ensemble.

“(Joel) instilled and crated this excellent program here on the West coast, when all the big music schools were back East,” Harris said. “When I was in high school I knew about the Cal State Northridge jazz band, and it’s (Joel) who created it, it’s a tradition he created at Northridge.”

While Leach has not directed a jazz band in over a decade, he is often a guest conductor, or an adjudicator at musical festivals like the Westlake High School Jazz Festival held April 30. The love of music and jazz, will keep Leach continuing with these activities into retirement, he said.

“Jazz is a ‘performer’s music’ rather than a ‘composer’s music’ as is the case with classical music,” Leach said. “Every jazz performance is different from the others, even if they played the same selection the night before. It’s the excitement of improvising both by the individual performers and even the band.”

George Stone, a former student of Leach’s in the late 1980s who has been teaching jazz music at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo for over twenty years, was approached by Leach to arrange some of the music for Thursday’s performance, just as Leach had done years earlier when Stone first came to CSUN.

“I was a composer and arranger out of high school and he took interest in what I was doing,” Stone said. “When he asked if I could write for the band, it was a dream come true. It was very evident from the way he conducted his rehearsals, and handled the professional aspects of performance, and all the training he made us go through with constantly reading new music by arrangers and who were, at the time, the cream of the crop, that (he) was a standout.”

Leach’s dedication to music, and the jazz band at CSUN, as well as the quality of the music Leach produced are the hallmarks of Leach’s tenure, Stone said.

“You couldn’t find a better example of how to be a teacher than Joel Leach,” he said.

Thursday night’s concert will mark Leach’s final direction of a jazz band at CSUN. And for Leach retirement marks the end of a enjoyable two decades teaching music.

“When I first came to CSUN I had no idea I would stay here for the remainder of my career,” Leach said. “But CSUN became home to me and its proximity to and involvement with the professional music communities of Hollywood and Los Angeles made things possible that I would never have been able to do with a band in any other city in the United States. I’ve enjoyed my years here immensely.”