As Bill Yeager reflects on his 30-year career at San Diego State University, he has a lot to be proud of.
The jazz trombonist and director of SDSU's jazz studies program has built the program into a national powerhouse, attracting talented musicians and training them to take their musicianship to the next level.
Under Yeager's direction, SDSU's Jazz Ensemble #1 has won the National Collegiate Jazz Competition and has been featured at the Monterey Jazz Festival at Sea, Hawaii International Jazz Festival, Ensenada Jazz Festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival (Holland) and the Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland).
Through the years Yeager has amassed an extensive collection of music, which he recently donated to the university.
The collection — which is valued at more than $370,000 — dates back to the 1940s and includes historical TV shows (such as Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley to name a few) and many of which Yeager played trombone on. The complete music libraries of famous band leader Les Brown and drum great Louie Bellson are included, as well as the library of the Los Angeles Jazz Workshop that Yeager was owner and director of before coming to SDSU.
The likes of George Gershwin, the composer of "Rhapsody in Blue," are included in the collection, as well as original works by himself, top LA musicians, SDSU students and faculty, and other various collections Yeager has obtained throughout his 46-year career.
A wealth of information
The collection took around 25 years to organize, but Yeager considered the arduous process to be a labor of love, with an emphasis on the labor.
Despite the painstaking effort, he enjoyed sifting through the lot, as it brought back memories of past students, collaborations with well-respected musicians and compositions.
“There are stories behind each piece of paper in this assemblage,” Yeager said. ”There’s real value in this collection.”
At first, Yeager had no idea some of the pieces were so valuable.
"I looked at the collection from more of a practical standpoint — I didn't realize some of the pieces had such historical value."
Progression through history
Yeager chose to donate the collection to SDSU with the hopes of bringing more music-focused scholars to the university.
“We want SDSU to have an impressive collection to bring top-notch graduate students to study here,” he said.
Yeager envisions the collection as serving as a library both for those studying musical history and for musicians.
“I hope this mass of music goes to good use for the next few decades," he said.
Since coming to SDSU, Yeager has been instrumental in building one of the largest jazz programs in California, offering both a bachelor and master's degree in jazz studies. His groups are considered some of the best in the country and have recorded six studio albums.
Yeager has performed and recorded with the likes of Ray Charles (two Grammy winning recordings), Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Bellson, Les Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Frank Sinatra, to name a few. He has recorded and toured extensively with Westwind Brass, San Diego’s premier brass quintet.
Jazz saxophone great Pete Christlieb will be featured with his SDSU Jazz Ensemble on Thursday, November 6 at 7 p.m. in the SDSU Smith Recital Hall.