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Success is Not Where You Begin but Where You Finish

Conservatory of Music and Dance Alumni Achievement Award goes to James Mair

For James C. Mair (M.A. ’90) teaching and music have coexisted in his life since he was young.

“I started coaching sports at 10 years old. At age 12, I had my first job. I sold concessions at professional sporting events and at rock concerts up in Winnipeg,” Mair said. “With that money, I bought a lot of record albums. Albums by AC/DC, Rush and local rock bands. So, that’s how teaching and music came together.”

Mair, co-founder of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and professor of music and director of Instrumental Studies at Kansas City Kansas Community College, will be awarded the 2017 UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance Alumni Achievement Award this April.

“At 13, I started playing the saxophone by accident to sit near my friend who also chose the sax,” Mair said.

That’s when Mair discovered jazz.

“Our junior high band director was one of the top call trumpet players in town. He played for us in class every day,” Mair said. Among jazz musicians, a ’top call’ player is one in high demand among the community’s best musicians for session work. Mair added, “He inspired me and my buddies to start a jazz combo. That combo played gigs around town at festivals, nursing homes, shopping malls and a regional telethon.

“My best friend and I would go to the local library every Saturday and listen to jazz. Every dollar I made was saved to buy jazz records,” Mair said. “My quintet in high school took first place in Canada, and I was selected to play first chair tenor sax in the Canadian High School All Star Band. That validation made me believe that a career in music was viable.”

A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Mair chose to attend UMKC for two reasons: “My goal was to get a TA (teaching assistanceship) for grad school and to go to a city that had a ‘scene’ to play gigs. With my love of Kansas City jazz music, UMKC was the perfect choice.”

Mair started the “Basically Basie” big band competition, which brings young talent to Kansas City from across the region. He and his wife, Mary, also formed the Kansas City Jazz Alliance to focus more on education and less on concert presentation and fundraising.

Mair is also artistic director for the Kansas City High School All Star Jazz Ensemble, leader of the Kansas City Jazz Quintet, and producer of the Kansas City Jazz Summit.

“My most important ‘work’ is maintaining balance with career and personal life. First and foremost, I want to be known as a good dad and good husband. I love collaborating with my wife, Mary. We work well together. She has great ideas and vision.”

“Teaching is fun,” Mair said. “Sharing information is fun. Offering a real-world perspective has always been at the cornerstone of my teaching.”

As an educator, Mair’s tips for introducing children to a musical instrument is simple: “Success is not where you begin but where you finish.”

In a supporting nomination letter, UMKC’s William D. and Mary Grant / Missouri Professor of Jazz Studies Bobby Watson said, “Jim has accomplished major changes and additions to the culture of Kansas City. Last year, Jim took his students to Havana, Cuba for several performances. Clearly, Jim is truly one of our outstanding alumni. One who has had a great impact on Kansas City music and education.”

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Mair and other outstanding alumni at the 2017 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 20 on campus. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted more than 500 attendees and garnered more than $120,000 in scholarship funds.

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 20, 2017, Alumni Awards Luncheon.

Click here for more information on the 2017 Alumni Award recipients.


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