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Friday, July 20, 2018

Music Lifelong Love for SMCC’s Garrison

When Jerome Garrison was a fifth grader, in the small Oklahoma town of Spencer, the band teacher came into his classroom and asked who would like to join.


Jerome decided to pursue the clarinet, despite that staying after school for band practice meant he would have to walk the six miles home every evening because his family only had one car. But desire outweighed pragmatism. He knew, even at that age, music was his future. In the small towns of Spencer, and the neighboring town, Jones, musicians were celebrities: they defined success.


“It was a dream I had–I knew that I would be teaching music,” he said.


Today that young boy holds a doctorate degree in music and has conducted the annual South Mountain Community College performance of Handel’s Messiah for the past 20 years. In February, the South Mountain/Laveen Chamber of Commerce honored his volunteerism at the 2008 Spirit of South Mountain Awards.


That young boy is Dr. Jerome Garrison, chair of Communications, Fine Arts and Social Sciences at South Mountain Community College.


“I got involved in music at a very young age,” Garrison said. He began singing in the children’s choir at church. After being asked to sing a solo, the choir director told his mother not to let him play the piano–he was so adept at picking up melodies by ear, the director worried that he might forego any interest in learning to read music if he discovered an easier way.


His parents took the director’s advice. Because they could not afford formal lessons, Garrison didn’t learn to play the piano until college, despite growing up with one in his home. But he did study the clarinet and saxophone–the first of many instruments he would eventually master.


“I was so eager to learn,” Garrison said of his college years. He took private lessons on every instrument he could: the flute, cello, trumpet, piano, drums … all of them. “I wanted to be comfortable with everything,” he added.


Garrison has taught at South Mountain Community College for 25 years and is known by faculty and students alike as an iconic figure who genuinely cares about kids. He begins building relationships with youth when they’re still freshmen in high school, encouraging their academics and interest in attending SMCC. He advises as many as 100 college students per semester and teaches classes, too, including jazz improvisation. He is also the director of music at Tanner Chapel AME.


Conducting Handel’s Messiah annually is one of his passions. Despite that it’s the same piece of music, every year it’s a different experience.


“The music is connected to the soul and the spirit, so each year there’s a different soul,” he said. The musicians have another year of life experience, too, and the world is a different place, he said.


If you could describe Garrison’s personality as a type of music, he would be a jazz improv himself. Mellow and soulful, he talks proudly about his wife, a pianist, and their three kids, Tamara, Victoria and Jerome, Jr., who are all musical, too. His kids bought him an Ipod, which he listens to on walks.


“I love walking, I love to go to the park and spend time,” he said. And he listens to all kinds of music, from classical to gospel, country to rhythm and blues.


“A lot of people are shocked that I listen to country,” he added, but the stories are compelling.

“’All my ex’s live in Texas, that’s why I live in Tennessee’–you can relate to that, you know?” he laughed, referring the famous song by singer George Strait.  “I like the rap music rhythms but I don’t like the messages. Even though they try to defend it, there’s no way. Lyrics either make you feel better or violent, upset and angry.”


Said Garrison: “Music is so great. You can always escape in music.”


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