Rick Haydon, a professor emeritus for the music department, has had an impressive career as a Jazz performer, meeting celebrities such as Morgan Freeman and Ella Fitzgerald. 


Still, he said it all started at home, here in the Metro East, as he was born and raised in Alton, Illinois.


“It's kind of a wild story. Because I'm from this area. I'm from Illinois. To do everything that I did, here, right in my own backyard. That's unusual. That doesn't happen everywhere,” Haydon said. 


Haydon said he started playing music as a young teenager, playing mostly in rock bands, until he came to SIUE for music education and became interested in Jazz. He graduated with his bachelors in 1982, becoming the first person to graduate from SIUE with a jazz performance degree. 


Haydon said he was hired on as a part-time guitar professor shortly after graduation. He said he was then hired on as a full-time professor and taught at SIUE until he retired in 2015. He still teaches guitar as a professor emeritus. 


“I just kept teaching guitar. So I still teach classical and jazz guitar and run a group guitar ensemble I call the wire choir. It's a little less than a wire choir right now, but it'll come back,” Haydon said. 


Haydon said one of the greatest influences on his career was the Mississippi River Festival, which SIUE used to host every summer. He said he had the opportunity to speak to Ella Fitzgerald who was the headliner for the Pablo Jazz Festival. 


“One of my best friends was the editor of The Alestle and they would give out tickets and a backstage pass for the shows that were here at the MRF. Nobody would take the jazz tickets, they were always available,” Haydon said.  “So one time I took them. It was the Pablo Jazz Festival. And Ella Fitzgerald was the headliner. I think I was like 19. I interviewed Ella. And she was eloquent. It was quite an experience.”


Haydon said since then he has had the opportunity to work with other famous jazz musicians, including his most recent, playing with Morgan Freeman at his birthday party. He said he was invited down for the weekend to Louisiana, where he played at a joint birthday party for Freeman and one of his friends. 


“There's a billionaire, one of his best friends. His name's James Davidson and he threw this party. It was about 300 invited guests,” Haydon said. “We did the show that night and it was great. [Morgan Freeman] was everything. He's really a lot like a lot of the characters in his movies. [He’a] got an incredible sense of humor.”


Zack Woodall, a sophomore biology major from Taylorville, Illinois, said he has been taking guitar lessons with Haydon for about a year and a half now. He said he is grateful for the chance to be taught by Haydon. 


“He's very personable, and it is very clear that he knows so much about the instrument and about his craft. He talked about [playing with Morgan Freeman] so normally and nonchalantly that sometimes it's hard to believe,” Woodall said. 


Will Saxton, a senior classical guitar performance major from Hazelwood, Missouri, said he appreciates being able to see that someone from the local area is able to make it as a musician without having to move to California or New York. 


“Jazz people that have come from, you know, small Illinois and Missouri towns. And he makes a point to drive that home. So it's just nice to know it's, it's a thing of possibility,” Saxton said. 


Haydon said he believes all things are possible and that things will happen if you prepare yourself. 


“You know… a good friend of mine, Reggie Thomas says, ‘We are a sum of our experiences.’ I just would try to get as much experience playing music and, and knowledge about how to make great music. Because whatever situation might show up — the phone rings and somebody goes, ‘You want to fly to Louisiana and play with Morgan Freeman?’ I'd say yeah,” Haydon said.

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