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On beat: Jazz professor jams

UNF students interested in music can learn from the best. Professor Danny Gottlieb, one of the most popular drummers in jazz and contemporary music, is also a professor for the UNF Jazz Department. He performs well over 100 concerts worldwide per year. While best known as the drummer in the original Pat Metheny Group, Gottlieb has since dedicated his life to developing music as a source of inspiration. He plays not only for himself, but for soldiers overseas, civilians here at home and to a countless number of  jazz fans around the world. He is featured on more than 300 CDs to date – including four Grammy Award winners.

It all started – sort of – for Gottlieb when, at a young age, he wanted to learn to play the violin like his mother. But in Union, N.J., where he grew up, the only instrument available to him, akin to a violin, was the cello.  After eight years of practice, Gottlieb realized the cello was not his muse. Fortunately, he latched on to the drums in high school. Brought on as the cellist for a high school friend’s band, Gottlieb ditched the bow in favor of sticks.

“There was something about the drums,” Gottlieb said. “I just kept staring at the drums.”

After a friend taught him the basics, he attended a summer music school to pursue his new-found beat.

“I found that I could just play the drums,” he said. “Almost better than I could play the cello from the first week of playing [drums].” (what?)

As luck would have it, a couple of years after Gottlieb became acquainted with the drums, he discovered a music store nearby (around 1968) where famous jazz musician Joe Morello happened to teach drums.

As it turned out, Morello was a gifted instructor who taught Gottlieb an intricate way in which to hold the drumsticks – now the method Gottlieb teaches.

“I tapped into not only this famous jazz guy, but someone who had a really incredible approach, technically, to the instrument; which allows you to really be able to play with a lot of control,” he said. “I was able to develop that pretty easily because of my studies with Joe.”

After high school, Gottlieb attended the University of Miami to pursue an uncommon degree, a fusion of music and business called music merchandising.

The business interest didn’t last long, and Gottlieb decided to focus solely on jazz. During this time at Miami, he embarked on a crucial developmental stage, clarifying his perpetual understanding of jazz.

“I ended up really developing a lot of skills just being at college,” he said. “I am a product of the educational system.”

Playing jazz gigs around Miami allowed him to work his way through school and become a significant source of income early on.

After college Gottlieb, continued to play.

“I just didn’t stop.”

He moved to Manhattan and played with some of the greats: The Blues Brothers Band, Booker T. Williams, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, Sting, Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock, to name a few.

These days, Gottlieb can be found performing with his wife, percussionist Beth Gottlieb, in a band with Gary Sinise (Lt. Dan from “Forrest Gump”), appropriately named the Lt. Dan Band. They perform 30-40 concerts a year across the globe, with 75 percent of the proceeds benefiting the USO and the U.S. military.

“We’ve been in this thing [Lt. Dan Band] for five years, and it keeps getting better,” Gottlieb said. “We’re up to 13 people. It’s not pro war. It’s pro soldier. … We played ‘Purple Haze’ at the Pentagon!”

Playing for the troops in Afghanistan, and the other munificent venues, is something profoundly dear to Gottlieb.

“It’s something for me as a musician [later in life] – not that my priorities have changed – but I started out strictly being a player, and now it’s being a player plus the idea of teaching and helping the next generation figure out how to do the things I was working on,” he said. “It’s really fun.”

Regarding jazz’s future and the next generation of musicians it might inspire, Gottlieb feels confidant in its purpose.

“In terms of the future … there are certainly less jobs right away [for] a musician. But on the other hand, there are more possibilities for the technical side,” he said. “iTunes, YouTube and the Internet has changed the way you can study music.”

Gottlieb’s advice for up and coming musicians is not to limit yourself to “one thing.”

“Today, you have to be able to do a lot of different things. You have to write music, you have to arrange music, you have to learn how to use the computer…You can finds ways of making an income that didn’t exist before that you can do, in addition to using music as a creative outlook, and you should take advantage of all those opportunities.”

Gottlieb teaches an online course called “The Evolution of Jazz” and remains propitious about music and what UNF has to offer students.

“In my heart, I feel optimistic,” he said. “I feel music, like any art form, is really important to the survival of the planet. It will survive. It will flourish.”

Seeing as Gottlieb was recently awarded Tenure and Promotion to Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at UNF, music will survive and flourish here at the very least.

For tour dates, audio and videos, check out dannygottlieb.org and ltdanband.com.

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