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Interview – Stephen Rush: The Man, The Legend

2017 April 17
by thcappel

I decided to interview a close professor/colleague of mine, who works in the Performing Arts Technology department. His name is Stephen Rush and he’s experienced a career in music that any musician would be proud of. I’ve been working with/studying under Rush for the last 2 years and he is one of the most spiritually awake people I’ve ever met. He is so in touch with his art and with what it means to be human that he has influenced me to look past the outside barriers of music and music curriculum and look inwards to find what art is truly about. Last summer I had the privilege to go to Mysore, India for 5 weeks with Rush and south Indian Classical music, and have Rush as my music/life mentor. Rush recently recorded with Roscoe Mitchell (famous free jazz musician) for the 5th time? And has several records out of his own material. He’s worked with musicians like Ornette Coleman, Ravi Shankar, and Anthony Braxton. He recently released an in depth book of Ornette Coleman’s philosophy of music, an analysis of Harmolodics, and analysis of his compositions discussing how “free jazz does not just mean black musicians getting high and playing whatever the fuck they want,” if I use Rush’s words.

The first question I asked him was what do you like most about what you do- and what would you change. He’s a very animated character and will not censor himself, which I truly admire. “Dear god…” he states, “well… ultimately I think I enjoy the autonomy I have – the art that I make – I don’t have to worry about whether I’m artistically entertaining people and whether or not they’ll pay me for it… I just recorded with Roscoe Mitchell and if I depended on that to feed my family it’d be very very rough.” Ultimately, having a position at a University that pays well, where he can help teach young artists, he also has the opportunity to do whatever he wants artistically without worry of criticism or lack of financial gain. “Classes like [Digital Music Ensemble] – yeah, I can call the shots and do waht I want, but if the students aren’t interesting to be around then it’s just gonna suck. Ultimately it’s a good fortune to teach at a place where you just know people are just gonna bring it all the time, and you get to constantly grow alongside the students.”

The next question I asked him, was how did he obtain a position in the PAT department, considering his degrees are in Composition & Jazz. “as you know I went to eastman. It was pretty much a pulitzer camp. People trying to be freelance composers and writing orchestras. I played four nights a week for most of the time in rochester, rarely with anyone my own age. I did a lot with dancers. My doctoral recital at Eastman, along with orchestral pieces with heavy theory analysis to get my doctorate – my main recital was this thing where I played this really complicated contemporary piece by a Brazilian composer – a cello and piano piece I wrote based on Native American Ghost dances, dances they would do before going into battle knowing they would die, and an experimental piece using the sound of baby’s crying. I would go up on stage and actually the move the dancers physically… Nobody was happy about it.. afterwards the committee said “we’ll pass him but.. never again..”

“In Mississippi, they always had Eastman graduates teaching theory down there, so I worked down there for a year. Then there was a job at Oklahoma state, so I moved out there for two years. There was an opening Here at UMich in the Dance department. Now remember that I had dance on my Doctorates recital, the head of the Dance department was at my recital, and when the job opened up she remembered me and contacted me.”

Would you say it’s necessary to have a doctorates or graduates to teach at a University (in the music world)?

“I think it depends where and what you want to teach. It’s probably good to have a graduates or doctorates. But it’s really hit or miss. The highest paid faculty in the Jazz school doesn’t even have a high school diploma so..”


Rush has taught me an insane amount about being a young adult and being a young musician. I recently played a show with him in Detroit for his book release, and we were discussing making a living in the music world. I know he thinks highly of my musicianship, and he also knows that I get really in my head. When asking him “what am I doing wrong??” he always comes back to an answer like “You work too hard,” “You worry too much,” “You’re not acting cool enough.” Rush is such a deep guy, and can boil down his insights to just a few words. This brief report on the interview doesn’t do Rush’s spiritual and musical intellect justice.

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