A Passion for Jazz: Jason DeCristofaro

Photo by Ken Voltz

Jason DeCristofaro has a full schedule. Looking only at his list of performances booked for the second half of 2018, one finds over 70 engagements. And these aren’t all the same show over and over: the prodigiously-talented musician—he plays vibraphone, piano and various percussion instruments—works in many different genres. But his primary focus as an educator, composer, collaborator and performer is on instrumental jazz.

What was your earliest exposure to music that led you to decided to pursue a a life as a musician?

My father was a professional musician; he still plays for fun. At home, he would play a lot of different styles of music for me: classic rock, folk music … a little bit of everything. I remember him playing a recording of “Grand Canyon Suite” by Ferde Grofé; he played Dave Brubeck, too. I can’t pinpoint any specific single experience, but I think it was just growing up in a household where different types of music were always playing.

Do you have a single piece of music that really moves you?

It’s hard to pick; ultimately, it depends on the mood I’m in. But I always really feel something when I hear Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” The way it gradually unfolds and slowly builds to a climax is really powerful and moving. So I’ll go with that one for today.

In June you traveled to Geneva, Swtizerland and Maurepas, France to perform at the Fete de la Musique. Did you play your own compositions?

Yes, I played with Calen Gayle, a flutist who I went to grad school with. It was me on vibes plus him and a rhythm section. We mostly did my original music as well as a few standards.

You organize and take part in many benefit events. As a musician and citizen, do you feel it’s important to combine your talent with the things that you believe in?

Absolutely. I fee that everyone has an opportunity to try and make the world a better place. We all have our own unique gifts. There are a lot of causes that are important to me—hunger, marginalized people and the environment, for example—so I want to help the groups working on those causes, help them realize their missions.

How do you view the connection between your work as a composer, a performer, and an educator?

I think it’s all connected. They scratch different itches for me, and at the same time, they influence one another in unique ways. I love teaching; intrinsically, it’s something I’m very passionate about. We spend so much time as musicians caught up in the details, and very often, when I find myself teaching a student very fundamental concepts, it provides an opportunity for me to reflect on those fundamentals. And that reinforces why I’m doing this, and how I got into this.

As a teacher, in student I see an excitement and a passion that reminds me of when I was just getting started it. I love what I do, but it’s also very much a job. Working with students and seeing that passion kind of reminds me, “Oh, yeah: I do this because it’s fun!”