Arts & Culture 

Into the blue(s)

Diversity Military SOM

Jazz musician Eric Nakamoto launched from NAU to a career in the United States Air Force.

Eric Nakamoto charted an unusual course to a musical career. Graduated in spring 2021 with a Bachelor of Music Performance, Eric joined the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West, a prestigious military band stationed at the Travis Air Force Base in Northern California. Military service may be an odd trajectory for a musician, but Eric has always been enigmatic.

Raised in Phoenix, Arizona, in elementary school Eric started on violin then switched to double-bass. His focus was classical until his sophomore year of high school when he found inspiration through a video game.

“When I was 14, I bought this game called Grand Theft Auto IV, and in the game, they have fictional radio stations you can listen to,” Eric told The Lumberjack. “There was one called Jazz Nation Radio and it was like my introduction to jazz because they played artists like Duke Ellington, [John] Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Count Basie.”

This chance introduction launched a fascination, and Eric explored blues and jazz performance with vigor. As a bass player, he stretched his wings playing in combos and bands that included the Young Sounds of Arizona, The Nash Legacy Ensemble Blue, and All-State jazz bands. By the time he left high school and decided to pursue a musical degree from Northern Arizona University, Eric was already a veteran performer.

But after landing in Flagstaff, Eric realized how much he still had to learn. Fortunately, he was met by an expert faculty member that helped him reach toward music as a whole person, not just a performer.

“My bass teacher Chris Finet has been the greatest influence to me musically and as a role model for going into adulthood,” he said. “He not only teaches me great musical techniques and repertoire, but has also taught me responsibility, discipline, and patience, especially when it comes to reaching my goals.”

Eric steered toward his goals in multiple creative ways that soared beyond the mere requirements of his education. In his time at NAU, he was an active member of the Flagstaff music scene and worked alongside musicians of all walks. One of his contributions was the organization of annual Sun-Ra celebrations, free-jazz performances to commemorate the life and music of Sonny Blount, a famous American jazz composer and philosopher. He also hosted jazz and poetry nights that invited passersby to engage with the art form.

“My career aspirations vary but one thing for certain is that I aspire to play with many great musicians of all genres around the world,” he said.

To that end, he decided to audition for an Air Force Band with the knowledge that, if accepted, he would have the opportunity to travel, hone his performance, and make more connections to help his career take off.

Eventually, Eric expects he will alight from the Air Force far from the place where he took wing. As he casts off from NAU, he feels confident that he has the momentum to go the distance.

“A life goal of mine is to start a jazz club or coffee shop in Japan when I’m satisfied with this whole music career thing,” he said. “NAU has helped me prepare for these things by allowing me to take diverse classes in various subjects and by providing me with excellent teachers to broaden my understanding of this world.”