Thirty-seven-year-old trumpeter Daud El-Bakara is a freshman jazz performance major and has returned to Temple after leaving in 1995, before he even completed one semester.
“I wasn’t mature,” El-Bakara said. “I had to fulfill all the other requirements of classes, and I was frustrated that I didn’t have enough time to spend, or what I thought was enough time, on my primary instrument, which was frustrating. I wasn’t too good with time management and some of the classes I didn’t really like at that time.”
Growing up as a jazz musician in Philadelphia and as a student of Northeast High School, El-Bakara said his environment helped shape him into the musician he is today.
“I think this city is very critical of its natives, and I think that helped to shape me,” El-Bakara said. “You want to be at a certain level before you present yourself to the audience. That’s how it was for me.”
After leaving Temple, El-Bakara spent his time playing gigs, as well as practicing and touring with different bands like The Stylistics.
Dizzy Gillespie, Arthur “Art” Blakey and Donald Byrd are a few of the names El-Bakara rattled off as part of his repertoire.
“Favorite moments, there’s too many,” El-Bakara said. “I got a chance to do a gig with Donald Byrd. That was very, very joyous. He shared a lot with me in a little bit of time. You know, showing me different techniques and what to play over certain chord progression and things of that manner. Showing me how to construct musical sequences using numbers.”
As a trumpeter for 25 years, El-Bakara said getting the chance to experience mentorship with talented musicians outside of school was especially helpful and memorable for him.
“They had a jazz series over at the Hershey Hotel, I think it’s called the Double Tree now, they had a jazz series they were running,” El-Bakara said. “One Sunday they were featuring Art Farmer and I just asked to sit in. He was such a classy, classy, man. He was so nice. He had this video called ‘Live at the Smithsonian’ and I would watch that every single day. One summer I would just watch it and play along with the video every day, trying to figure out how he was improvising over these songs and sounding so good. I just couldn’t play along. It wasn’t quite right. When I had the opportunity to meet him and play with him, that was a good feeling. I was definitely ecstatic.”
El-Bakara said his time as a jazz musician in Philadelphia has been “humbling” as he finds himself out of work because of the changing jazz scene in the city fairly often.
“There aren’t a lot of venues that cater to jazz anymore,” El-Bakara said. “Once upon a time, there were a lot more, now there are very, very, very few. So the experience is humbling and I’ve learned a lot.”
This changing jazz scene, he added, can mainly be attributed to this lack of space that caters to jazz music.
“You don’t have the mentorship anymore like we once had at the highest level,” El-Bakara said. “It’s not as much of that anymore because of the lack of venues. You’re not going to get certain wisdom from the elder stage men of music. A majority of your learning is going to come from college, as opposed to before where it was learned from a conservatory and then experience through venues and things like that.”
As a musician today, El-Bakara said he still believes that getting experience on stage is one of the most valuable elements to being a successful and knowledgeable artist.
“If you don’t go out and seek those jazz greats or people with a great deal of experience, if you don’t seek their instruction, you could be shortchanging yourself,” El-Bakara said.
Now, as a 37-year-old freshman, professors who he played shows with in the past are teaching El-Bakara in the classroom.
“I’ve worked with pretty much a majority of them,” El-Bakara said. “I played with them. So it’s kind of strange. I’ve done some gigs with some of the professors. It’s very different, definitely weird. But it hasn’t affected our dynamic so far.”
Being back at school has posed certain challenges for him, however he said he’s enjoying being back at Temple.
“I thought I just needed to go back to school so I could have more opportunity to play and ultimately have more earning potential to make money,” El-Bakara said. “Plus, I’m very interested in science. I just kind of acquired that interest maybe about four years ago. I’m glad I came back to school. I like it the second time around.”
Emily Rolen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.