Getting Personal: Jeff Helgesen

Getting Personal: Jeff Helgesen

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Melissa Merli chats with Jeff Helgesen of Champaign. He is the production manager for Research Press Publishers by day and a freelance musician by night. He also maintains a jazz calendar at

So ... what's new with you?

I just received a trumpet that I had customized with an "upturned bell" in the style of the horn that jazz trumpet great Dizzy Gillespie played for much of his career. It's a fun instrument to play with, and I've been looking forward to receiving it for some time.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I'm usually up at 6:40 a.m. and at work by 7:20. In the first hour, I drink as much coffee as is necessary to keep me from falling back asleep.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

I was honored to tour with the Ray Charles Orchestra for three years in the late 1980s.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

Whichever trumpet I happen to be holding at the moment.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

I'm an ice cream addict. I can't have it around the house.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I'm currently in the middle of Marc Myers' "Why Jazz Happened," an interesting take on the historical and sociological factors that drove the development of jazz in the 20th century. The book I've probably read the most times is Stephen King's "The Shining."

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

I've never visited Mexico; I'd love to taste real Mexican cuisine.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

I haven't had a pet for many years. I suppose my favorite was a dog named Jack; he was an Alaskan malamute. Nice dog, kinda dense.

What's your favorite sports team?

The Chicago Bears.

What would you order for your last meal?

One treat I seldom afford myself is a good steak dinner. Why, do you know something I don't?

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

This is making me nervous. OK. ... I've always thought it'd be neat to be a hawk or other bird of prey.

Who are your favorite musicians and why?

I really enjoy listening to the late, great trumpeter Woody Shaw right now. He was a genius and perhaps the last great innovator of jazz trumpet. But the number of jazz musicians I admire are far too numerous to mention.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

The happiest moments of my life have been when the people I care about have been rewarded for hard work with well-deserved respect.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? What would you serve?

Musicians tell the best stories. I'd probably invite folks most people haven't heard of — trumpet players like Bobby Shew, Clark Terry and Wayne Bergeron, just to hear tales of the road and the recording studio. I'd probably cook up lasagna.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

I'm in awe of the intellect of scientists like Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people? Most hate in yourself?

I hate to see myself or others being ungrateful for opportunities or efforts put forth by others.

What's your best piece of advice?

Try not to pass up any chance to do something you love doing.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

I was taking on work as a musician when I was still in high school, so I suppose that was technically my first "job." I worked at Karmelkorn at Market Place Mall while a senior in high school. I don't recall what I made; I'm sure it was minimum wage.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

Deciding to leave a day job to go on the road to play music was difficult. I had to weigh the benefits and security of a desk job against what I thought might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

It always seems like the best musical experiences escape every effort to anticipate and document them.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

Poorly. I tend to fret a lot and waste nervous energy. And, usually, there's no reason to be stressed out!


Sections (1):Living
Topics (2):Music, People

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