Jazz director mentors students, colleagues and Katy Perry

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Nicole Haun

Director Isaac Jenkins, teaches the New Jazz Choir and Monday Madness Jazz Band at City College. The jazz musician still finds time to compose music and play the piano, an instrument he began playing at 4 years old for his father’s church, on Friday, May 9, on West Campus in Santa Barbara.

DANIELA JETTE, Channels Staff

A City College instructor, professional musician and stage actor, knows the perfect formula to creating award-winning jazz bands, choirs and even future stars.

Isaac “Ike” Jenkins, director of the Monday Madness Big Band, the professional level City College jazz band, sits at the grand piano.

His smoky bass tone fills the choir room with his original composition “The Three Bears,” an up-beat jazz tune that puts a twist on the fairytale “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

“I haven’t looked in a mirror all day and I have a feeling I look like Beethoven,” jokes the multitalented musician.

An adjunct faculty member of the City College Music Department, Jenkins has been a member of the Santa Barbara Community for over 40 years. He has led many groups to victory in Reno and other jazz festivals, and was an early mentor to stars, including Katy Perry and Howard McGillin.

He starred as Caiaphas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” in 1976, and played King Balthazar in the Santa Barbara Children’s Chorus “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” a show that ran for eight years, he has also directed musicals for Godspell and the Lobero Theater.

Today, Jenkins spends most of his time leading jazz groups and giving private vocal and instrumental lessons.

“Greatness comes with the art of mastering something,” Jenkins said. “In music, it is the ability to play something perfectly with ease.”

Jenkins, the son of a minister who was deeply involved in the early Civil Rights Movement, grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and was introduced to music at a very early age, playing piano and flute at Hope Lutheran Church.

“It was during high school that I began to get serious about music,” Jenkins said. “I knew I wanted to become a teacher and a performer.”

Jenkins double majored in both vocal and instrumental music at Dana College with graduate work at Cleveland Institute of Music, Denver University and Meadowbrook School of Music.

In 1971, he arrived in Santa Barbara for a position as a music instructor at La Cumbre Junior High School.

Between 1979 and 1989, Jenkins took a position as band director at Dos Pueblos High School and led his jazz choir to victory at the Reno Jazz Festival. He later won festival while directing the Santa Barbara High School jazz band.

“I seem to be able to put together that magic group of students who can really connect,” Jenkins said. “Then I can fire them up and watch them succeed.”

As a band and choir director, Jenkins’ groups consistently receive superior ratings at local Jazz festivals, including Monterey and North Texas State. They were also invited to many major Jazz Festivals in Europe, including North Sea and Montreux, and many others.

Jenkins has received a variety of awards for his excellence in teaching; including the 2004 HOPE award for Education and the 2005 Santa Barbara, Educator of the Year Award.

“I was ready to retire when I ran into two of my ex-students here,” Jenkins said. “They said that I would have some fun standing in for the Monday Madness director, and eight years later, here I am!”

During his time teaching at City College, Jenkins has reconnected with many of his previous students, including colleagues Jim Mooy, Eric Heidner, Isaac Ybarra and Andrew Martinez.

“Ike is the most energetic, exuberant, person that I have ever played for,” said former high school student turned colleague, Mooy. “He has a proclivity to swing like no other.”

Students and teachers have bonded through music to form the close-knit family of the music department here at City College.

“We’ve won, we’ve lost, we’ve learned how to deal with life and music is just our vehicle,” Jenkins said.

In order to stay active with his music, Jenkins plays stand-up bass in the City College Concert Band, where he gets to learn and exercise his mind.

“I’m a student, we are all students to our craft and the key is to try and master it,” Jenkins said. “And maybe we will or maybe we wont, but that is what you should aim for.”