A Musician’s Journey from CWU to Everywhere

Once Gary Hobbs graduated from high school in Vancouver, Washington, he knew he had to chase his passion for drumming wherever it took him.

He enrolled at Mount Hood Community College in Oregon and began making a name for himself as a drummer in the school’s jazz band in the late 1960s. Hobbs’ teachers found his love of competition to be a key motivator for growth, and soon he was earning praise on the band festival circuit.

“I had a sports background growing up, so I thrive on competition,” he said. “The teachers I had saw that and used it to push me to grow.”

Gary Hobbs backup

Gary Hobbs has been involved in music for over 50 years.

After defeating Central Washington State College’s jazz band at a festival in Bremerton, Hobbs was approached by former CWSC Director of Jazz and Percussion John Moawad—his primary mentor—about enrolling. His decision to attend classes in Ellensburg in 1971 was the first step in what would become a globe-trotting 50-year career in music.

Hobbs looks back on his time at CWSC with a sense of awe.

“I have literally hundreds of really fond memories of my time there,” he said. “My mentors and peers really helped shape who I am as a musician.”

At CWSC, Hobbs found a music department dedicated to the collaborative element of the art form. As a music education major, he worked alongside fellow students to create the atmosphere necessary to move the medium—as well as how it was taught—forward.

“The whole atmosphere at Central was just so creative at the time,” he said. “The friendship and mutual support within the music department was just really conducive to absorbing everything around you and making huge strides, both musically and intellectually.”

During those years, the inclusion of the jazz genre in academia was being reevaluated on a national scale, and CWSC was no exception. Hobbs witnessed the birth of the legendary CWU jazz program firsthand, and its continued success is a point of pride for him.

“I remember thinking what a phenomenal cultural shift I got to witness,” he said. “In the time I was there, jazz became much more accepted, both within the music department and in the Ellensburg community. We putCentral on the map in that genre, and that was really special.”

In 1974, Hobbs left CWSC to pursue a spot in Stan Kenton’s touring big band. That opportunity evolved into a decades-long career touring with some of the biggest names in jazz, until Hobbs turned his focus to education in the ’90s.

He had decided to keep traveling to a minimum so he could spend more time close to home and not miss time with his daughter.

The Portland area offered a healthy environment for playing creative music with great musicians without touring. By the time he received an offer to teach music at Prairie High School in his hometown, Hobbs found himself emulating his college professors.

“Even though I didn’t finish my degree, I was able to draw on what I’d learned at Central to help run that program,” he said. “Not just the education classes, but the kind of hands-on support that my own professors had modeled for me during my college years.”

Hobbs then accepted an offer to teach percussion at the University of Oregon, a job which lasted 22 years.

Having spent the last 30 years teaching a variety of workshops, masterclasses, and clinics around the world, Hobbs now keeps his life closer to home. He visits CWU occasionally to mentor students, and he enjoys supporting his grandson as he learns to play the trombone.

Following a career that has taken him across the world and back, Hobbs is content to watch the new guard continue his work.

“I started to realize that I didn’t actually enjoy taking 18-hour flights to Beijing or Shanghai anymore,” he said. “I love those places, but the travel is just not in the cards anymore. I stay local, playing and doing a few workshops here and there, but mainly,
I watch as the next generation takes over and takes the music in a new direction, just like we did.”


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