American jazz musician Eric Dolphy once said, “Once you play the music, it’s in the air. It’s gone.” In James Umble’s case, the music may be in the air, but it is never gone. It runs through Youngstown State University, through the students in the Dana School of Music.
Umble has been teaching saxophone majors at YSU since 1984 and takes pride in the students he’s had the opportunity to teach over the years.
“We’ve just had a great tradition of saxophone teaching here, and I am proud that perhaps that’s my greatest achievement … what I’ve tried to establish and continue here at Youngstown State in the saxophone studio,” he said.
Umble started playing in the sixth grade. He as had the opportunity to play in concerts across the country and to work with composers in creating and premiering new literature, especially for the chamber music combination of saxophone, violin and piano.
The Cleveland Duo and James Umble is the name of his professional trio, a group that has been performing together for the last 18 years. The Cleveland Duo consists of two musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra, Stephen Warner (violin) and Carolyn Gadiel Warner (piano). They have recently played in Australia, and two weeks ago in Miami, Florida. They also recently performed at The Cleveland Institute of Music. Next month, Umble will be playing in South America.
“I’ve never been to South America before, but I am going there as one of two international soloists that were invited to perform on a Single Reed Woodwind professional conference in South America,” Umble said.
As much as Umble enjoys teaching and making music, he also enjoys listening to it. His current band of choice is Topology, an Australian post-modernist group whose sound consists of a mix of jazz and minimalism. Umble also enjoys listening to world, ethnic, eclectic and classical music genres.
“I love hearing great violin playing, and I also enjoy the conversations with my students that result when they bring me music they are listening to and turn me on to it. This is a great dialogue, as I encourage them to listen to music I am inspired by as well,” he said.
As inspiring as Umble has been to his students — as a professor and musician — he too has had his own role models in the past.
In his early years teaching, there was one great mentor who really helped show him the different roles of a professor — Joseph Edwards, a former clarinet/saxophone teacher at YSU.
Edwards started the saxophone studio, went on to become the chair of the Dana School of Music, then went on to become the interim dean of YSU’s College of Fine and Performing Arts after being the interim dean in the Beeghly College of Education.
Umble was also inspired by his teacher in France, so much so that he wrote a book on his behalf and on his experiences.
“I am so thankful to have had opportunities to have played with the Cleveland Orchestra, which is one of the great orchestras in the world. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to study in France and subsequently, I wrote a book about that experience which has turned into a reference book used by saxophone students all over the world,” he said.
Umble is working on the second edition of that book, which should be out in six months.
“And all of that activity reflects back on Youngstown State very well, because I am representing the university everywhere I go,” Umble said. “People know where I am teaching, they know about our school, they know about our great school of Music, and I am proud to carry the name of Youngstown State and the Dana School of Music everywhere I go.”