Early in my life I had an appetite for great musical recordings. I think John Williams’ score for Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back had something to do with that. I loved recordings with strong brass such as the CSO section. In 1993, as a junior in high school, I visited Indiana University with some friends who also played trombone (including Eugene Montgomery). We went to hear the low brass section of the CSO present recitals, master classes, clinics, orchestral excerpt sessions, and coaching sessions. Jay Friedman (Principal Trombone, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1962-present), Michael Mulcahy (Second Trombone, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1989-present), Charles G. Vernon (Bass Trombone, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1986-present), and Floyd Cooley (Tuba, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1992-1993) were all in the section at that time and had worked closely with Arnold Jacobs. Charlie and Floyd had studied extensively with him. After hearing them speak, watching them teach, listening to their solo playing, and then hearing them play as a section, I knew I would do whatever it would take to become like them.
In the fall of 1994, I began my college education as a trombone performance major at Murray State University with Raymond L. Conklin (Chair of the Department of Music, Professor of Trombone and Low Brass, and Chair of the Faculty Senate, 1973–present). Lessons with Professor Conklin were the building blocks of my future as a performer. He provided me the needed structure and guidance that shaped my desire to learn and grow as a person as well a performer. His expertise and experience gave me a solid fundamental base that has held true throughout my career. He taught me what it meant to work hard and to focus on becoming the best player I could be. He has been a mentor and an example to me throughout my career. He knew that I was dedicated to becoming a professional trombone player and helped facilitate lessons for me with some of the best low brass players in the world. During my freshman year of college, I had my first lesson with Edward Kleinhammer (Bass Trombone, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 1940–85). Mr. Kleinhammer was the bass trombonist on many of my favorite CSO recordings. During my lesson with him he talked a great deal about the fundamentals of trombone and music in general, but he also spoke about the concepts of Arnold Jacobs. I realized quickly that Jacobs had taught a great many of my musical heroes. I knew that I wanted to learn whatever it was that he was teaching.