Carroll Dashiell Carrying on the Proud Tradition of Jazz at HU

DC Jazz Festival and Howard University recently celebrated the rich legacy Professor Fred Irby established at Howard University. On the cusp of his retirement after 50 years directing the Howard University Jazz Ensemble and the jazz program first established by NEA Jazz Master Donald Byrd and Dr. Arthur Dawkins, bassist-educator Carroll Dashiell,Jr. has been appointed the Chairman of the Howard University Music Department, tasked with the next step in the exceptional legacy of jazz at HU. Serendipity is rich with this appointment of a NW DC native, HU jazz alum, touring and recording jazz artist, decades-long university jazz educator, and proud father of two very talented emerging jazz artists. If you’re seeking to know who’s next in the jazz vocal pantheon, look no further than daughter Christie Dashiell, and son Carroll Dashiell lll (aka C.V.) is one of the busiest drummers in the DMV. Both will be on the world stage with a quickness. I caught up with dad Carroll recently for some Independent Ear questions.

I first heard you as a member of Bobby Watson’s band Horizon. From that point in the late 1980s you’ve evolved your career to music education. Talk about your evolution in this music.

Bobby contacted me in 1987 or 88 and asked me to join the band.  I was introduced to Bobby by [tenor saxophonist] Willie Williams and TS Monk.  Willie and I were on tour with Maurice Hines and Willie told Bobby about me.  The first hit I did with Bobby was somewhere in Philly and the band was Bobby, Roy Hargrove, John Hicks, (whom I had played with previously), Victor Lewis and myself.  I remember Christian McBride came to the show just to check us out and hang.

Fred Irby came over to McKinley Tech HS to recruit me coming out of high school.  We sat in those tiny practice modules and just talked for hours.  I had played at the Kennedy Center in several shows with Irby and Dr.  Arthur Dawkins while in high school and met Irby at the KC.  I had also performed with HU Faculty and played union performances at the HU Chapel and various other theaters in and around DC.  Prior to being at Tech with Peter Ford, I was at Rabaut Junior High with Arthur Capehart and was principal bassist in the DC Youth Orchestra under Lyn McClain’s direction. I studied string bass with Carolyn Kellock, in the DCYO Program.  Carolyn Kellock was also the bass teacher at Duke Ellington and bass teacher of Ben Williams, Corcoran Holt, Ameen Saleem, Eric Wheeler, and Kris Funn

I attended Meyer Elementary School where Gus Sims switched me from viola to string bass in the 4th grade.  His reasoning was that I was the only one large enough to bring the bass to rehearsal from the 3rd floor storeroom.  I always wanted to tell that story.  Said all of that because I wanted to share that I’m a proud product of the DC Public School System and the DCYO. I studied some and played with Calvin Jones and Bobby Felder back when they were in the downtown building of University of the District of Columbia, (I think it was still named Federal City College) at that time.  Met them both when I won the Joseph Feder Memorial String Competition.  I won a full-ride scholarship to Tanglewood Institute for three consecutive years and also played with the Boston Pops.  I was one of three blacks in a full symphony orchestra and full festival chorus while at Tanglewood. 

While I was in undergrad at HU, I was the Strings Professor and Bass Instructor at Saint Mary’s College of Maryland, Calvin Jones hired me as the Bass Instructor at UDC while I was a Music Consultant and member of the Ambassadors Band, DC Department of Recreation, Mayor Marion Barry’s Band led by Dr. Gilbert Prior all while I was playing with the Moonlighters Band, led by Dr. Bill Clark, my surrogate dad.

Following coming off the road with Maurice Hines and now a member of Bobby Watson and Horizon, I accepted a position at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina as the first Black Professor of Music in the ECU School of Music in 1989 where I was named the Director of Jazz Studies and served for 33-plus years until HU called in April 2023.  Greenville, NC was also the birthplace of Dr.  Billy Taylor who was also one of my mentors.  I grew up on Fairmont Street, NW DC, next door to his mom.  Dr.  Taylor always shared with me and he got me and my family tickets, passes etc., to shows whenever he was in town;…shows that I would never have been able to afford or attend.

During the recent HUJE programs honoring Fred Irby’s pending retirement, at one point you referred to your new HU position as a home coming of sorts.  Talk about that aspect of your consideration for this HU job?

I always said:  “I wanted to give back what little I know to the music community.”  30 years ago while at ECU I said:  “I have been blessed and my music has saved my life.  The neighborhood that I grew up in…there were bullets always flying around and I know that one or some of those bullets had my name on them, but I was at a rehearsal somewhere and the bullet(s) missed. I want to give back to an institution, organization and Black and Brown people who have invested in me.” Fast forward 33-plus years later, as [wife] Rhonda and I were planning an exit strategy, retirement from ECU, HU calls.  Forty years ago, I didn’t know it was going to be HU.  But all of the people that I mentioned in an earlier question are connected to Washington, DC, HU, Family and HOME…They have all invested in me so I hope I can make a difference and help shape some of our youth and musical community; give back.  I feel that I sit at a unique vantage point having attended HU, having 2 of our children [vocalist Christie Dashiell and drummer C.V. (Carroll lll) Dashiell attend HU, having performed with, worked with HU Music Faculty and even having a father attend HU on a baseball scholarship in the 1950s.

Please detail your responsibilities – and specific title – with this new Howard University appointment.

I accepted the position of Chairman, HU Music Department.  I serve the students and faculty as the executive officer of the Howard University Music Department in the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts.

What would you say are the essential elements in a successful jazz education?

I like to say: “99.9 percent of it all is listening.  We only hope to add that additional percent….but if we don’t listen, we will never hear and learn.”  I feel that HU has one of the most incredible faculties anywhere.  We just really need to publicize it more and let everyone know.  Having faculty members that are all practitioners of the highest caliber, practitioners that are all in, committed, and can not only explain but demonstrate what happened on the hit last night, practitioners that are open and willing to share the history and information, practitioners who are the history of this music… INCREDIBLE!

What are some of your primary goals at HU?

I’d like to address some curricular and course offerings, modernize some of the infrastructure, really honor and pay homage to the great legacy and lineage of the department including the offerings and faculty, yet address the present while focusing on the future.  I’m just naive and motivated enough to wholeheartedly believe that we can do this all without forsaking one for another.  But…it has to be done strategically and as I say all the time: “Baby Steps”

Are you still actively performing, and if so what aspirations do you have in that regard here in DC?

I’m still actively performing and recording. I’m in pre-production and discussions with artists for multiple recording projects. I hope to contribute to the music scene in the DC area and involve HU Music more into not only the music/arts community but also the societal/neighborhood community.

As a media person and a presenter in this DMV community I’ve long seen musicians who’ve evolved from the Howard University Jazz Ensemble as the beating heart of the community of musicians here. How do you see the jazz program at HU contributing to the overall DMV music scene?

Community outreach initiatives, being more actively present and interacting with the already established festivals, concerts and programs, not only jazz oriented but classical and world music orientations.

Ultimately, what is HU’s jazz legacy?

Quality in all endeavors, honoring and paying homage to the history while being in the present with efforts focusing on the future, with emphasis on the lineage and legacy of the African Diaspora. FAMILY.

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