Studio Visit: Tito Carrillo

Studio Visit: Tito Carrillo

Studio Visit appears first in print, in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with Tito Carrillo, a professor of trumpet at the University of Illinois. In the Sept. 2 newspaper, we'll have a visit with Alan Mette, executive associate director of the University of Illinois School of Art + Design. 

Q: Do you still have a home in Chicago?

A: No. When I took this job (professor of trumpet at the University of Illinois School of Music) six years ago, I moved my family down here. I still make it up to Chicago quite a bit, primarily for performances of creative music.

Q: I read that you were a major figure in the Chicago jazz and Latin music scenes. The Chicago Tribune critics really like you too.

A: I've been able to enjoy some good publicity and press in Chicago. I went to school at Northern Illinois University and played in its well-respected jazz ensemble when it did quite a bit of touring in Chicago. I started receiving publicity as a student. After I graduated, my move to Chicago was very fluid, literally overnight.

Q: How long did you stay?

A: Ten years, freelancing. As a trumpeter, I played all kinds of music but was primarily known for jazz and Latin music.

Q: Why did you take the job down here?

A: I began teaching private students a couple of years after moving to Chicago. That started the process of not only developing a renown as a teacher but also developing a passion for teaching, as well as allowing me to pay the bills in the thin months. Now I see teaching as important to me as performing. I need to do both. Before I accepted the position here, I was teaching part-time at Northwestern, Roosevelt University and Ravinia, on top of my gigs. So the idea of teaching in one place appealed to me greatly.

Q: Your sound is often described as hard bop with a Latin feel.

A: I would say probably more hard bob, post bop, fused with Latin rhythms, but my foundation is definitely from mainstream jazz. Specifically, I'm coming from the Miles Davises, Clifford Browns and Freddie Hubbards, but Latin music, specifically Afro-Cuban music, was part of my upbringing. My dad's from Puerto Rico, and his salsa records played in our house constantly.

Q: You grew up in Austin, Texas, right?

A: I was born and raised in Austin, so I'm a Tex-Mexicarian because my mom's Mexican.

Q: Did you do any undergraduate work at University of Texas?

A: I actually did two years at UT-Austin, which I cherish — perhaps my most important trumpet teacher was Ray Crisara. That gave me my most important foundation on the trumpet. But after two years, I felt a strong need to leave home and I transferred to NIU, primarily to be closer to Chicago.

Q: Why Chicago?

A: It was actually at the urging of a good friend, Al Hood, a trumpeter now in Denver who had just done his master's at NIU. He told me how active the jazz program is, and sure enough, the first month I was in DeKalb, the NIU big band played with Tito Puente, Paquito D'Rivera and Claudio Roditi. The latter two I developed relationships with and have consistently given me jobs.

Q: How many CDs are you on?

A: More than 20 as a sideman including with artists Willie Pickens, Ryan Cohan and even Phil Collins. "Opening Statement" is my first as a band leader and as a composer. It's on Origin Records, a Seattle-based label that has a really nice connection with the Chicago jazz scene. They have great distribution around the country. At one point, my CD was being played at 56 radio stations across the country.

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