Skip to main content
2023 "40 Under 40" Educator Dr. Joseph Jefferson

Dr. Joseph L. Jefferson

Director of Jazz Studies,
Associate Professor of Trombone and Euphonium
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Helping students find their passion and accomplish their goals are the best parts of being an educator, according Dr. Joseph L. Jefferson, Associate Professor of Trombone and Euphonium and Director of Jazz Studies at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO). This comes naturally for him because he is a high-energy educator who is passionate about what he does!

“When I arrived at SEMO, participation and interest in the jazz program was very low,” he explains. “The situation at SEMO was unique on multiple fronts. In addition to recruiting current students for the jazz ensembles, I also had to recruit high school students to build a trombone and euphonium studio to support all the other instrumental ensembles at SEMO, and find ways to grow the jazz program.”

Jefferson first provided solid fundamental basics in jazz, which gave students insight on how to play jazz music and understand the culture of the genre. “My goal for jazz students is to offer them a comprehensive learning experience in both instructional and performance situations,” he says.

As interest grew, the school decided to expand jazz offerings. A jazz minor was approved in May 2020, and Jefferson started recruiting. “Rather than trying win students over, I take a genuine interest in their goals and overall fit for our music program,” he says. “One-on-one interaction with students is very meaningful during the recruiting process because it shows them that I am interested in them and their potential.”

The biggest recruiting strategy, Jefferson says, is the good work your current students do. “Their hard work is ultimately reflective of the program and the teachers who have helped them during their development,” he explains. “Potential students want to see themselves as part of your program, which is extremely critical when recruiting for the trombone/euphonium applied studio, jazz studies or the program as a whole.”

SEMO’s annual Clark Terry Jazz Festival is now in Jefferson’s capable hands. His goal for the festival is to continue to grow it in size and number of guest artists and educators who provide high-quality jazz education for local students and middle/high school directors. “We are in a rural area, so providing access in this region is critical,” he says.

Another annual performance, the Big Band Holiday Jukebox, is one of Jefferson’s favorite collaborative events. He plans to increase the quality of performances on the jazz front and to make it the premier holiday production for the region and state.

On top of his work in the music department, Jefferson is the chairperson as well as one of the founding members of the Holland College of Arts and Media Diversity Committee, which was formed in 2018. The goal of this group is to intentionally foster equity, diversity and inclusion within the college, university and service area through recruitment and retention efforts, curriculum advocacy and development, and creative activity.