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Jazz Professor George West passes away

Stetson Jazz Professor for 16 years, Dr. George West, passed away Jan. 19, after a lengthy illness.

Stetson Jazz Professor for 16 years, Dr. George West, passed away Jan. 19, after a lengthy illness.

George Addison West, 81, of DeLand, Fla., musician and jazz educator, died under hospice care on Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, after living courageously with myeolodysplastic syndrome (MDS) for several years. Influencing countless students and colleagues throughout an academic career that spanned over 50 years, he devoted his professional life to advocating for jazz education and celebrating a truly American art form.

West taught music theory and low brass and directed jazz ensembles at Stephen F. Austin State University (TX), the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada), and James Madison University (VA), where he established and directed the jazz program for 25 years before retiring in 1996. After being named Professor Emeritus at JMU, West joined the faculty of Stetson University’s School of Music, where as an adjunct professor he directed jazz studies and conducted the Stetson University Jazz Ensemble for 16 years, before recently retiring a second time.

Founder and director of the jazz program at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp (MI) for 35 summers, West led 14 Blue Lake International Jazz Ensemble “people to people” tours to Europe and directed the Blue Lake Monster, the camp’s resident faculty jazz ensemble. In recognition of his contributions, Blue Lake dedicated its 2005 summer season to “Doc West.”

Born March 11, 1931, to musical parents LeRoy and Grace Hunt West in Hightstown, N.J., West graduated from Hightstown High School and The Peddie School. He found his passion for jazz when as a 16-year-old trombonist he accepted a gig for a Christmas dance, organized a group from musician friends at school and wrote the charts they played that night.

He earned his bachelor’s degree at Oberlin Conservatory of Music (Ohio), where he formed and led a volunteer jazz band. At Michigan State University, from which he earned his master’s degree and doctorate in music theory, West established and directed MSU’s first jazz ensemble.

Before turning to teaching, West was trombonist and arranger with Kai Winding’s Trombone Sound Septet, the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, and “The Airmen of Note,” the premiere jazz ensemble of the U.S. Air Force. Later, as a fulltime professor, he continued to compose and arrange music for jazz ensemble and to perform on trombone and bass.  He was a life member of the International Association of Jazz Educators, serving as Mid-Southeast Region coordinator and publications reviewer. He was also a brother in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity.

Much beloved by his family, West is survived by his wife Jean, dean of Stetson’s School of Music; sons David (Lisa) of McKinney, Texas, and Andrew (Leia) of Winter Park, Fla.; daughter Robin (Steven) Markussen of Richardson, Texas; step-children Mary (Charles) Rickman of Palm Coast, Fla., and Andrew (Lisa) Rickman of DeLand, Fla.; grandchildren Hunter and Megan Markussen and Evan West; step-grandsons Kristopher, Benjamin and William; and sister Constance West of Bryn Mawr, Pa.

A Celebration of Life service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, at First Presbyterian Church, 724 N. Woodland Blvd., DeLand. Memorial gifts, in lieu of flowers, may be made in West’s name to James Madison University, Jazz Studies Program.