Sons have been known to follow in their father’s footsteps, but Joseph Brooks will be the first to tell you he may now be the one a step behind.
“It’s a son-father act,” Brooks said.
Brooks, a Central Washington University clarinet professor, performed Sunday with his son, Jeff, also a clarinetist, with the Central Washington University Orchestra.
Jeff, an Ellensburg High School and Central Washington University graduate, is finishing up his doctorate degree at Florida State University.
FSU has one of the top music programs in the nation. As an indication of the quality of musicians at CWU, Jeff said there were two other Central graduates in the FSU program as well.
The pair have a lengthy professional and personal relationship — Jeff is 31.
“We’ve performed together a number of times in a lot of settings,” Joe said.
While Joe teaches classical music at CWU, he is known as a jazz performer as well, and the father-son duo has performed at Jazz in the Valley.
Joe taught Jeff up until age 17 when Jeff earned the first clarinetist seat on the Yakima Symphony Orchestra.
“Fathers and sons don’t always work well together, but we did pretty good,” Joe said.
An early start
Jeff said he started playing clarinet at age 4, but it was not until middle school that he knew what he wanted to do as a career.
“I remember I was in sixth grade walking through the new section at Morgan Middle School,” Jeff said. “It dawned on me that I wanted to be a performer and I wanted to play the clarinet.”
Jeff said he’s fortunate he felt such clarity early on.
“There are people my age who still don’t know what they want to do,” Jeff said. “That’s never been an issue with me.”
While Jeff knew what he wanted, his father Joe knew the challenges and pitfalls of pursuing music as a profession.
Many talented musicians come through the program at CWU, Joe said, but most of them intend to teach at the K-12 level, and Central graduates do very well in that field.
“That was never Jeff’s intent,” Joe said. “Jeff has always wanted to go the performance route.”
As a professional field, music is loaded with talent but lacking in opportunities.
“It’s an unsure life,” Joe said. “There are a lot of good players and not a lot of places to do it.”
Joe admitted he cautioned Jeff about the lack of money in the field, but as Jeff progressed as a musician he realized the warnings weren’t having an impact.
“It reaches a point where it doesn’t matter what you say,” Joe said with a smile.
Jeff has found a way to help pay the bills as he has attended school. He fixes clarinets and has found a steady market of students in need of instrument repairs.
After graduating from Central, Jeff said he took four years off from academic rigors before returning to attend Florida State University to earn his master’s degree. He now just needs to complete his final dissertation to earn his doctorate at FSU.
Joe’s help with Jeff’s progress as a musician did not end when he stopped giving his son lessons.
“My dad came down and performed with me for my doctoral recital at FSU,” Jeff said.
When he was a kid, Jeff said he was nervous when he performed with his dad. He’s still gets a little nervous, but he cherishes the experience.
“Playing with my dad is pretty much playing with my favorite person,” Jeff said. “I like performing with him because we know what each other is going to do. It creates a nice energy.”
Joe said the changes over the years have been dramatic.
“He’s a consummate player,” Joe said. “There’s a big difference from when he was a kid. I no longer have to worry about what he’s going to do. Now I just have to worry about myself.”
Jeff said people really enjoyed the father-son performance duo. The Brooks performed the Concerto in E flat, Op. 91 for Two Clarinets and Orchestra by Franz Krommer at Central on Sunday. Jeff said he wants to write a double concerto to perform with his father to record and market.
Proud and impressed
Joe can see his son’s performances through the eyes of a father, through the critical eyes of a long-time music professor, and finally through the eyes of a fan.
Jeff created a group called Clarinet Monster, a jazz quartet which performed in Yakima earlier this spring.
Joe said it is hard to watch a musical performance and not critique it, but as the show went on he said he was just as blown away as the rest of the audience.
“It was a great show,” Joe said.
Jeff recently moved to Atlanta because it is in a central location to travel to shows across the nation and has a large jazz scene. On the way to Ellensburg for last weekend’s show, Jeff stopped in Kansas City and auditioned for the Kansas City Symphony.
“I was one of 30 or 40 applicants,” Jeff said. “It was for bass clarinet so it’s a little more specialized.”
Symphony openings always attract a crowd.
“I’ve seen as many as 10 jobs postings in one year for symphonies in America, but some years there have been no auditions,” Jeff said.
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