Stamps Blends Jazz, Community, and Leadership in the ArtsDave Stamps directs the Gustavus jazz ensembles, leads the arts administration program, and connects musicians across the region and beyond.
Posted on March 8th, 2021 by

Dave Stamps directs jazz at the Nobel Conference.

by Dana Melius

Gustavus Adolphus College associate professor of music and composer Dave Stamps manages his busy schedule with one foot in academia and another in the growing Twin Cities jazz scene.

Stamps, who arrived on campus in September 2014, has helped grow an expanded music program as Associate Professor in Music, Director of the Gustavus Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Area Coordinator, and Director of the Arts Administration program.

He is also the co-founder and Vice President of Operations for the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers (ISJAC). And there are plans for a large ensemble studio recording for the accomplished composer targeted for late 2022.

“There are some pretty incredible jazz composers here in the Twin Cities,” Stamps said, noting that nearly 30 of his ISJAC members are Minnesotans.

Stamps grew up in the St. Louis suburbs and also in Bloomington, Indiana. As an active and accomplished trombonist, his current residency in the birthplace of the Mississippi River seems fitting, he says, because the river, from New Orleans through St. Louis and up to St. Paul, holds a special place in jazz history.

His personal educational journey included stops and degrees at the University of Nebraska, University of South Florida, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and Indiana University. From there, Stamps served as the Associate Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Northern Colorado, where he teamed up with current Gustavus colleague, pianist and fellow jazz composer Masa Ishikawa.

“I’ve known Masa now since 2006,” Stamps said. “He is really phenomenal and a major asset to the Gustavus music department.”

Stamps reviews his notes before a performance.

But it was Stamps’ work in Florida which moved him into an organizational path and the founding of the international jazz program. And it pulled together Stamps’ diverse interests — music entrepreneurship, arts administration, jazz composition and the social impact of arts-based enterprises.

Those music connections and diverse interests have proven to be a great fit at Gustavus, where Stamps has been able to combine his love of jazz and experience in the professional world to provide interdisciplinary opportunities through the College’s music and arts administration programs.

What excites Stamps about his tenure on the Saint Peter campus?

“Hands down, the students,” Stamps said. “I live for this. Gusties are exceptionally bright and see the bigger picture of things…They help out, they communicate well, they support each other, they go with the flow.”

Stamps stresses that music as part of a liberal arts education, no matter one’s talent level, can benefit anyone’s career path. And the “improvisational nature of jazz” can help in any job experience, according to Stamps.

“That skill set is perfect,” he said.

Music student Anya Menk ‘22 serves as co-president of the Gustavus Jazz Club and vice president of the Future Music Educators Association. And she loves what Stamps has brought to the Gusties’ music scene and programs.

“I’ve studied under Dave for almost three years now, and I can definitely say he’s one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever had,” she said. “He knows exactly how to break down abstract ideas such as improvisation and groove into understandable and practicable concepts.”

And Menk has seen how Stamps’ teaching ability has touched students at different levels and with unique needs.

“Dave makes sure to meet every student exactly where we are. He also makes sure to challenge us while at the same time highlighting our strengths. The jazz community that he has created here at Gustavus has some of the most thoughtful and talented people I’ve ever worked with.”

It’s that community concept which Menk says Stamps has developed in such a special way.

“Dave has always put the community of our ensembles ahead of anything else, and I think this speaks for how much he cares about his students and the music we make together,” Menk said. “Not only is Dave an inspiration to those in the Gustavus community, but he is also an influence to the jazz community at large.”

Stamps on stage with Anya Menk in Singapore.

That community focus is what caught the eye of Ann Rosenquist Fee, executive director of the Arts Center of Saint Peter. Fee, also an accomplished musician, helped create a first-ever jazz series and worked to bring in a diversity of musical acts to the downtown facility.

“In the early days of our jazz series, I kept hearing about ‘this new jazz guy’ at Gustavus, and how we needed to connect,” Fee recalled. “When we finally did get him to the Arts Center to play, he explained his vision of creating ensembles open to any student at any level. Not ‘any music student,’ but truly any student, musical background or not.”

Fee said that Stamps’ fundamental philosophy of how music can benefit all learners was impressive.

“What he described sounded like a soul-level overhaul of college music, of making music in community, of music as a lifelong pursuit,” she said.

To Stamps, those words are likely music to his ears.

“Music ensembles teach students here to work together and there’s also a designated leader in each section,” Stamps said. “You really have to trust everyone you’re working with.”

A Gustavus highlight for Stamps was the 2020 January Term tour to Malaysia and Singapore. Performing eight concerts in six locations, the tour wrapped up with an impromptu jazz session in Singapore, one which stretched for two-and-a-half hours.

“That’s a really special moment to watch two cultures merge into music that didn’t exist five minutes before,” he said.

Stamps’ recent sabbatical plans, and a trip to Bucharest, Romania, were put on hold due to the COVID pandemic, which also drastically altered the learning experience at Gustavus. But he said students have fared well through it all and there have been benefits, too.

“There are some parts of it that actually work better,” he said, as Stamps is able to more closely work with sectionals and individual musicians while still social distancing. But he’s also found it a bit more difficult in that “ensemble balance is a lot trickier due to the spacing and masks.”

Despite the challenges, Gustavus has proven to be a great way for Stamps to blend all of his musical talents and interests.

“I’m very grateful to be here,” Stamps said. “The program has met me at the intersection of jazz and arts administration. I’ve found a home where I am.”

“During these trying times, the arts are crucial, and I can’t wait to see what these young leaders grow into.”


One Comment

  1. Kurt Bachmayer says:

    Your vision and energy are inspirational, Dave. Keep inspiring!