Jeff George is the Professor in charge of the highly popular guitar program in the UL School of Music. ultoday.com interviewed him recently.

Tell us about yourself

I come from Indiana, I was born in Indianapolis. My dad was a cinematographer with Eli Lilly, my mom was mostly a housewife, but she also sold real estate for a few years.

I started playing guitar when I was really young, maybe 6 or 7. I used to take lessons down the street, and I really liked my teacher. But I went into lessons at the music store one day, and they told me had quit. So I quit.

When I was 13, I picked up the guitar again. Most guitarists in North America came up in pop and rock styles, and only later became more "serious" musicians. So I took lessons again in later grade school and in high school, and I played in the jazz ensemble at Broad Ripple High School there in Indianapolis. It's now an arts magnet school.

I was playing in a couple of bands on the side, too. Along the way, I discovered classical guitar, and decided I wanted to study music in college. That pleased my parents a lot. Before that, I had expressed zero interest in college. I was playing with these bands in bars where we had to sit in the kitchen during breaks, because we weren't old enough. So my parents were extremely supportive.

I was lucky, a lot of my students' parents haven't been all that supportive.

Where did you study?

Indiana University didn't have a guitar program at the time, surprisingly. There were only two programs in the state then. I went to Ball State, David Letterman's alma mater.

I had a very good teacher, and I was still able to play in bands, do the wild college thing. But I had a good experience at Ball State.

My senior year, my major professor asked me if I wanted to stay for a graduate assistantship, and get paid to go to college. At the time, I thought the last thing I wanted to do was teach at the college level. So I politely declined, and graduated.

I just wanted to get out and play. I played with a lot of people, and moved around a lot. I got to play with some well-known musicians as a side person-- Richie Havens, Joe Henderson, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Taj Mahal. Along the way, I started doing some teaching on the side, and came to the realization that I really enjoyed it.

About that time, my wife and I were dating, and she was really pushing me into going back to school. By that time Indiana had a guitar program, so I auditioned, got accepted, and got an assistantship there. It's a huge program, something like 100 undergrads, 15 graduate students. It was really fun, and I got to do some more teaching.

After my Master's, I went to the University of Arizona to get my doctorate with Frank Koonce, a well-known guitar program and a great teacher.

While I was getting my degree, I taught for Phoenix Community College, and I loved it. It was great. A good friend of mine, now at IUPUI, told me about the job opening here at UL. At the time, I wasn't really looking for a job. But he thought it would be a good fit because UL was looking for someone who could teach both classical and jazz. When I was having my fun, I studied at the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, so I did have a legitimate jazz background, too.

There was this guy who was in the doctoral program at Arizona, from the Philippines. He was a good musician, but he was a pessimist. He would always ask, "Why are we wasting our time, there are no jobs out there." I told him I had applied for the UL program. I saw him after the interview, he said he was sorry I didn't get the job.

I told him that I did get it. He was shocked. So I tell my students to avoid negative outlooks, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies.

I've been here at UL going on 8 years this January.

The program is rather large.

We have one of the largest programs in the School of Music-- 27 students this fall. I have three grad students who help with the teaching load.

When UL moved to selective admissions, I thought it would shave the size of the program down. But actually it's still large, and the quality of our students has gone through the roof. Now we're getting kids with a stronger work ethic, and because they know what it takes to get in, they don't drop out.

How do you feel about that?

I'm proud of the program, I have really talented students, and a fairly good balance between jazz & classical students, about 50:50. I enjoy seeing the students do well, either by continuing in graduate work, by teaching, or by playing professionally. I love my students, and I'm really proud of them.

And Lafayette's just a great place to live.

Talk about Lafayette.

Just the people here, some of the nicest, most caring, friendly people on earth. And they have just an incredible support for music. We have a very strong cultural identity here, my wife and I love the food, some of the best food I've ever had in my life.

What about UL?

I'm proud to be a part of the School of Music. I think the faculty are outstanding, and with Garth as the new Director, we've already seen a positive progression in terms of updating our facilities. For not having been at this level of administration for very long, Garth has a great perspective on the future of the school.

We also have a guitar company here in Lafayette.

Yeah, CA Guitars. I actually have a student from one of my classes for non-majors who works there. He would always tell me what's going on.

Talk about the future.

I'm just excited for the future of the program. It seems that every semester we're able to provide more educational experiences for our students. We've had some great guitarists in for concerts and master classes. I think it's going to be a great semester for the fall, and I'm really looking forward to it.

Tell us something about you that most people don't know.

I love old horror films, the old black & white Universal Pictures stuff. Not just the traditional Dracula and Frankenstein, but also the "B" movies, with Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff.

I probably have 100 of those old movies.