Jazz player teaching the new generation

As NKU grows into a bigger university, more teachers and degree options begin to be added. The jazz degree has only been around for about five years, but one teacher is already starting to stand out: John Zappa.


Zappa was born into a musical family and, like most, began playing his first instrument in elementary school.


“I really wanted to play the drums but my parents thought that I needed to learn a different instrument first,” Zappa said. “So looking at the paper that was sent home which had no pictures, just line drawings of the instruments, I chose the trumpet.” His parents wanted him to first learn an instrument that would make him read music.


Zappa earned his degree as a jazz trumpet player from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. After graduating, Zappa played in many jazz bands around the area: Rich Uncle Skeleton, Blue Wisp Big Band, and the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, just to name a few.


Then in 2005, Zappa decided that he would return to the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to achieve his master’s in jazz. While going back for his master’s, he also achieved a goal that stemmed from his childhood: he mastered in jazz drums.


Zappa has been an ever-present name in jazz on NKU’s campus since 2006. Going from starting as an adjunct professor to, as of last year, becoming a full-time professor.


Many students have taken his class for appreciation of jazz, and the textbook was written by Zappa himself.


“When I started looking into what kind of textbooks [there were], there were none,” Zappa said. “People were using jazz history books that were just written for people who know jazz, not someone just trying to learn.”


Zappa said the textbook he wrote isn’t just a boring history book that will confuse most students with dates and names. The jazz appreciation book is a way for students to learn about jazz as an art form. In the book, they will learn how to properly listen to jazz and how to properly appreciate it.


“I couldn’t effectively run this program without John,” said William Brian Hogg, a jazz instructor at NKU. “He does so much for these kids. He’s like their mentor and doesn’t ask for much in return for all his work.”


Zappa is teaching both jazz appreciation classes and jazz combos. His combos, like all of the jazz degree students at NKU, have regular concerts at the York Street Cafe in Newport.


“What I remember from Zappa’s class is he was a very hands-on teacher,” said Nick Noble, a senior electronic media broadcasting major. “He likes to get feedback from his students.”


When asked why he wrote the textbook, Zappa said, “Educating people about jazz is the only way it will survive.”


Jazz appreciation is a class that helps fulfill a cultural pluralism credit for NKU students. According to Zappa, it is a way to help students better understand jazz as an artform and not just as a way to teach kids about the history of jazz.

“The most satisfying thing about the jazz appreciation course, is reading what the students write about the concerts they attend,” Zappa said. “What they write is extremely satisfying and rewarding.”