Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Steve Zegree

Entrepreneur of the Month

Steve Zegree

Internationally Renowned Vocal Jazz Conductor, Educator, Pianist, and Arranger

Meet Steve Zegree, Project Jumpstart’s December Entrepreneur of the Month! Dr. Zegree is the Pam and Jack Burks Professor of Music, director of Singing Hoosiers, and director of the Down Beat Award-Winning IU Vocal Jazz Ensemble I.

Between teaching, performing, arranging, holding clinics, writing books, recording albums, developing music programs, directing a large scale show choir ensemble as well as other choral groups, Professor Zegree exemplifies the power of versatility of a highly successful musician an ever changing artistic world.

As we look forward to the 2014 Chimes of Christmas performance by the Singing Hoosiers and guests, we invite you to enjoy an interview with this incredibly successful musical entrepreneur.

Project Jumpstart: Your skillset, interests, and knowledge are immensely versatile. Could you talk about creating a diverse career in music?

Steve Zegree: There are some teachers who advocate focussing on one musical skill and doing it as well as you can. My experience has been different and I have become an advocate for students developing as many skills and abilities as they can. My early training was as a classical pianist and, even though I was pursuing a masters degree in classical piano performance (and perhaps was an OK pianist,) I somehow knew that I was not going to have a career that included solo recitals at Carnegie Hall - nor would I have wanted that. So, I decided to be open to other options and opportunities, even if I did not know what those opportunities would be.

Steve Zegree

Steve Zegree leads the Singing Hoosiers in the
2013 Chimes of Christmas performance at the IU Auditoirum

PJ: What were the musical models and mentors that shaped your life as a professional musician?

SZ: I was fortunate to have wonderful, smart, dedicated, and committed teachers who not only influenced my thinking in my formative years, but also functioned as role models, providing guidance that I use in my teaching today. I am fortunate to have had a multitude of wonderful professional performance opportunities, and also to be able to share what I learned (and did not learn!) and pass that on to my students.

Enjoy an Interview with Steve Zegree - About Joining the Singing Hoosiers

Steve Zegree

Teaching and leading a young ensemble at the
Steve Zegree Summer Camp in Bloomington last year

PJ: As you’ve mentioned, it seems that we’ve shifted from an era of mastering just one craft to exploring, studying, and pursuing various crafts. This in mind, what advice would you give music students (and young musicians in general) as they prepare for a life in music?

SZ: My first advice to students is to develop a love for hard work and to develop an ability to work hard. Without a solid and focused work ethic, success and survival in the “real world” of music is challenging. This is where versatility and flexibility meets opportunity and a potential professional career. If someone had told me, when I was majoring in classical piano performance that my future career would include developing university vocal jazz programs, writing books, touring the world as a guest conductor, publishing and writing hundreds of choral arrangements that have been sung all over the planet, performing and collaborating as a pianist with a list of celebrities that I would have never ever imagined—from Bob Hope to Nick Lachey—I wouldn’t have believed them. But having an attitude of “yesness,” a term that I attribute to my colleague Duane Davis, will go a long way to achieving goals. Not only having music skills—a lot of people are really fine musicians—but also having non-musical skills that are just as important, if not more so, than your highly-developed musical skills. These skills, among many others, include: fostering a fun personality, being responsible, returning phone messages, emails, and texts promptly, being reliable, punctual, mature, receptive, and cooperative. These points are all covered more thoroughly in my book “The Wow Factor.”

Steve Zegree

In his 2010 book, The Wow Factor, Steve Zegree offers fundamental philosophies and concepts that are essential to a person's growth and development and will contribute to a successful professional life in music.

PJ: You’re innovative, you’re driven, and you’re a visionary. How would you define entrepreneurship?

SZ: Entrepreneurship has to do as much with who YOU are, what YOU want, and what YOU are willing to do to make it happen for yourself. I suppose I am somewhat driven and I don’t like doing things half-way. If I enter a project, it is with 110% energy, focus and enthusiasm, especially if this project involves students and their experiences. One of the biggest gifts that I can offer my students is the feeling they get as they walk off-stage after a highly successful performance for many people, where perhaps they have earned an extended standing ovation. Their own hard work and discipline teaches them the most important message: HOW, through their hard work and solid ethic, combined with a positive attitude, they were able to achieve success in performance. In theory, this sounds easy, but in reality it is hard; otherwise everyone would be experiencing these things and unfortunately this is not the case.

Steve Zegree

Steve Zegree accompanies Distinguished Professor Timothy Noble in performance with the Singing Hoosiers in Auer Hall.

PJ: How do you manage your career and time while juggling so many projects and teaching as a professor at the Jacobs School of Music?

SZ: Finding balance in a career is a constant challenge. I have always made dedication to my students the top priority in my professional life. I often schedule professional (external) gigs at times that my students won’t even realize I’m away. As for my music writing, that often happens very late at night when most normal people would be sleeping. I suspect I don’t sleep quite as much as most normal people! Finding true balance between career and family requires great discipline, especially in the area of time-management and meeting deadlines.

PJ: You are director of the Jacobs School’s Singing Hoosiers and the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. What do you strive to communicate to the students? What has been the most impactful experience as director of the ensembles so far?

SZ: I get great joy and satisfaction on a daily basis when I can see a light-bulb has gone off; when they are becoming smart.

PJ: It seems that a huge part of your career is centered around education, particularly jazz education. How does teaching factor into career fulfillment for you?

SZ: For me, teaching is everything. If I had to make a choice between my teaching career and my performance career, it would be a no-brainer. I could easily walk away from my performance career. But I am still motivated by and interested to see the growth, development and change in my students—all for the better!—with the hopes that I can teach to their futures as opposed to my past.

Steve Zegree

Professor Steve Zegree in Auer Hall

Project Jumpstart partners with the Johnson Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation at the IU Kelley School of Business.