15 Minutes: … all that jazz

Jessica Sheldahl

In his office, surrounded by light green walls with bookshelves full of DVDs, CDs and books on swing, blues and jazz music, sits Michael Giles, lecturer of saxophone and jazz studies. Giles is the newest addition to the music department.

How long have you been involved in music?

I started taking piano when I was five. This is always my answer: long enough that I should be a lot better than I am.

Twenty-seven years or something – you would think that I’d be setting the world on fire at this point. I play saxophone, but since I moved to town, there have been a lot of opportunities for me to play jazz piano. I get calls mostly for that, which is kind of weird.

What would be your ideal performance?

I don’t really want to do regular stuff. I’d really rather be pushing all my cards in at once. I don’t want to die tonight knowing that I played a gig at a hotel. I want to die knowing I tried to play some really great piece of music that means something to somebody.

An ideal thing would be to play with people who share the same creative vision and are committed to doing that.

And the ideal place to perform would be like a unique space with an attentive audience. It’s tough to find that.

What are your job responsibilities?

I teach applied saxophone. I’m a two-thirds lecturer. I’m more than part time, but I’m not quite full-time so I don’t have full-time staff responsibilities. I feel like I’m sort of an artist in residence.

I think this school has an emphasis on education, so I try to teach pedagogical aspects of saxophone and of jazz music to the students. There’s more emphasis here at the music school for jazz music, and I think that’s evident in my hiring.

What do you want to get from this job?

ISU has made a commitment by hiring me on to do more jazz education and jazz outreach. I’m thankful for that. I would like to see this department committed to jazz music. Jazz and improvised music need to get more visibility in academia and more credibility and more funding. It’s a great gig for a musician, a college gig.

Why is that?

What’s nice here is that you have teaching opportunities and health benefits. It’s nice to have a place to practice.

I have a computer that doesn’t cost me anything. I have Internet. I have a nice stereo. You know, it’s just a nice situation.

What excites you about music?

What excites me is performers and or composers who have the guts or the balls to really push to achieve expressiveness, to try to express human feelings in this abstract form.

I’m excited about music that inspires people to just kind of re-evaluate their lives and do the thing they really want to do.

What’s your favorite kind of music?

I don’t really listen to a lot of jazz – isn’t that weird? I like new music. I love Bjork. I like Ornette Coleman, John Zorn and Radiohead.

I just like new music. I just like creative, weird-sounding music that’s challenging the parameters of conventional thinking. That’s the only way we move ahead as a society is pushing it.