Jazz professor sets students up with gigs

By Audra Gamble | 9/25/13 7:23pm


Courtesy / Michael Drost
Professor Michael Drost

Some professors know from a young age they want to teach. Others, however, fall into the position
and find they bring something unique to the classroom. The latter is the case with Grand Valley State
University’s own Michael Drost, jazz professor and guitarist.

After commuting on weekends for six years to play with his band, Drost had performed thousands of
gigs. Then a few years ago, Drost played a gig with a GVSU saxophone professor. The professor
mentioned an open position in the music department and, within a few weeks, Drost was on campus
and hired.

Though Drost stayed away from academia for most of his professional career, he fit right in.

“I’ve always been a teacher; I home-school my kids,” Drost said. “I feel it’s sort of the obligation of a
musician to pass their knowledge on.”

And pass that knowledge he does. Drost brings to the table what some are unable to—real life

“I’ve played thousands of gigs, and experience is the biggest thing,” Drost said. “I try to offer that to
my students. I offer them to play gigs with me or hook them up with various musicians downtown.”

Drost frequently invites his students to play alongside him at performances. Every Tuesday night, he
hosts a jam session in downtown Grand Haven at 7:30 p.m., and there’s always at least one of his
students performing with him.

“I make it a point to hire my students to play (gigs) before anyone else,” he said. “Your education is for
naught until you can apply it. I want to give them the exposure to good jazz music, and hopefully
through that they can develop into better musicians.”

Drost’s first exposure to good jazz music came through listening to the famous guitarist Joe Pass.

“He was a master of guitar. He’s my favorite jazz guitarist,” Drost said. “I bought tickets to see him in
Kalamazoo, but a week before the concert, he died. I never got to see him. I would have loved to see
him live. He left a great legacy of great music.”

Drost hopes to inspire his students with the same kind of exposure to musicians he got, so inviting
his students to play with him and other musicians on a regular basis is very important to him.

“I teach all the small jazz ensembles and I teach improvisation to any students who might be
interested in learning, from the beginner to the most advanced,” Drost said. “I try to give everybody a
little taste. It’s open for everybody.”

Drost hopes that even more musicians will become interested in the GVSU jazz program.

“I would like to see it grow,” he said. “If anything, I would love for students who otherwise wouldn’t
have exposure to jazz to have a little bit through me.”

Drost might have begun his professorial career on a whim, but he doesn’t regret it.

“I enjoy it more than I thought I would,” he said. “The students that I found are very eager to learn,
and that makes it so much more enjoyable. They know that they’re getting something a little different
from me. It’s so rewarding seeing (their) progress.”


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