Jazz Goes Pop: YSU alum balances teaching and rocking

This is a magazine article I wrote for a public relations class. It has not been published.


Pop music isn’t typically taken seriously, but John Anthony is trying to change that on stage and in the classroom.

Anthony, who graduated with a Master of Music in Jazz Studies in 2012, now teaches and performs full time.

“I do a lot of both. I do balance both,” said Anthony in a phone interview Oct. 1. “I would either be bored or go crazy without a little bit of both.”

Anthony is a member of The Vindys, made up of YSU alumni who play “pop in a serious way.”

“Our music is pop with a lot of jazz harmony,” he said. “Everyone had studied jazz. That pop sensibility, that’s what we grew up listening to. You have to get past the surface to the deeper harmonies and melodic content; we’re very subtle with the harmonies underneath.”

The band owes a lot of its success to the thriving Youngstown music scene.

“We just happened to be there at the right time,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges facing the band is just getting to see one another.

“We all do a lot of different things,” Anthony said. “It’s hard for all of us to be in a room together – teaching, college, full-time jobs. We have to be like ‘let’s meet for half an hour.’ Communication can be a headache.”

Although he plays guitar in The Vindys, at Slippery Rock University (SRU) he studied music education with a concentration in trumpet.

“When I was at SRU, I knew it wasn’t 100 percent what I wanted to do,” Anthony said. “I became a better guitarist by playing the trumpet, but I wanted to make guitar a very serious aspect of my education.”

After graduating from SRU in 2010, he started looking into graduate programs.

“YSU was looking for a grad assistant in the jazz program,” he said. “I started looking into it, and one professor was really into the same sort of thing I was.”

For Anthony, jazz studies was a “smorgasbord of everything,” including performance, composition and history.

“I had the ability to make ‘jazz’ a really broad statement,” he said. “More like [Frank] Zappa, rather than just something like [Miles] Davis.”

Similarly, when Anthony started teaching at McDonald High School, located about 15 minutes away from YSU, he had the opportunity to add a course to the music curriculum.

He chose The History of Pop, covering music that a lot of teachers don’t teach.

“Going through grad school and college, there was never enough talk on popular music,” Anthony said. “Music teachers are disconnected from students.”

The class covers the important people, genres, events and songs often left out of music studies.

“It encompasses blues, country jazz, hip hop,” he said. “There was no curriculum; this class has no boundaries.”

Anthony’s students are excited to learn about pop music, and he often incorporates newer artists into his lessons to make what he’s teaching relevant to their interests.

“I wish there would have been a music teacher I could have connected with,” he said. “Pop music should never been treated like candy with no value.”

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