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The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

The news site of Santa Barbara City College.

The Channels

SBCC’s Charles Wood passes 50 years of jazz to students

Jazmyne Cushenberry
Dr. Charles Wood, a part-time jazz teacher for City College, is captured playing the Vibraphone, an instrument he claims to have mastered in under two years, Wednesday, Feb. 20, in a practice room in the Drama and Music Building on West Campus. Wood has been playing instruments and teaching musical arts for over 50 years.

Dr. Charles Wood has been teaching jazz for more than 50 years, playing together with stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Don Ellis, Dizzy Gillespie and Frank Sinatra.

Faculty and students know Wood as the man who filled City College with the sound of jazz.

“You do not make a lot of money, but the awards are not necessarily financial. I’m sure that is what keeps me going,” Wood said.

He sits in his chair with his music students almost huddled around him in a circle, listening to a lecture that seems more like a collection of wild stories than an assignment.

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Wood teaches his students the different sounds and eras of jazz by playing them a variety of songs while he yells his commentary, able to identify an artist just by the sound of their instrument.

“His experience and intellect in the subject makes his class the highlight of my morning,” said Reuben Blackman, one of Wood’s students. “I’m always looking forward to his lectures full of amazing, one-of-a-kind tales.”

When Woods was in fourth grade growing up in Long Island, he was forced to take the Sea Shore Music Intelligence test and ended up as a violinist.

“I really regret not staying with that instrument,” Wood said. “Trumpet players and trombone players are a dime a dozen.”

When Wood was a part of his high school band at Valley Streams Central High School in New York City, they competed in the Ted Mack Amateur Hour radio and television program.

He got a job on the show fixing instrument arrangements and was called back every couple of months for work. This was just one way Wood was introduced to some of his famous musician friends.

He went on to learn multiple instruments in high school, but as he grew closer to college he became interested in physics. Wood attended Ohio University on an athletic scholarship for track and baseball while majoring in physics.

“It only took me one semester to realize I did not want to do that, so I switched over to music and found an interest in trumpets in particular,” Wood said.

However, Wood learned the ways of jazz music from his face-to-face experience with some of the industry’s biggest players. He laughs to his music appreciation students as he teaches them the birth of swing music through a story of him and jazz legend Bennie Goodman casually sitting in a dressing room, discussing the life of being on tour.

Wood was brought into the City College faculty in 1988 to rebuild the jazz program and create the concert band program. His wife and him decided to move Santa Barbara in the early 70s and started teaching at UCSB.

When Wood first joined the faculty, there was only one student jazz band. Today, there are three bands and a jazz improv class involving a total of 65 students and four faculty members.

“I have great comfort in working in this department,” said Wood. “I am surrounded by a lot of gifted students and musicians, and I am honored to work with such a talented faculty.”

One of the bands he created is “Monday Madness”, which meets at City College on Monday nights.

“I wanted a place for the really tough loving players to play and have people come out and hear us, and it all worked out in the end,” Wood said.

The two other bands are “Lunchbreak,” which has taken top honors at the Reno Jazz festival multiple times, and “Good Times.”
“I would not be doing this if I did not love working with the kids,” Wood said. “It is an exciting time to share music with your students.”

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