With roots in drum and bugle corps and more than forty years in the activity, James “Jim” Campbell could be considered a marching percussion specialist. And with over four decades teaching at the collegiate level, he might be labeled an educator. But Campbell describes himself as a “musician.”
Already a member of two Halls of Fame (Drum Corps International and Bands of America), being inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame was a bit of a surprise. “I won’t say it happened quickly, because I’m 67!” Campbell says with a laugh. “But this is the highest honor I can get in my profession.
“It was serendipity that I was always in the right place at the right time,” he adds. “I had the right opportunities and enough good teachers that I was ready for whatever came my way.
“In addition to my career in the marching activity, I am so proud of my students,” Campbell continues. “More than three dozen are teaching at the college level, one student is a rock star, two are lawyers, another is a national sales manager. As a teacher, I’m honored that I’ve had an impact on placing people in their careers.”
“Jim is an incredibly successful teacher and mentor,” says Matthew Geiger, Assistant Professor of Percussion at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City and one of Campbell’s recent DMA graduates, “not by the number of graduates he has or the gigs they have won, but by the passion they all show for their art and the dedication they have for their craft.”
James B. Campbell was born on December 18, 1953 in Canton, Ohio and soon moved to Hoffman Estates, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. By the age of ten, he was intrigued by the local drum corps and joined the Guardsmen, originally based in Mt. Prospect before the corps moved to nearby Schaumburg.
Campbell’s first private teacher was Mitch Markovich, three-time National Snare Drum Champion. “He was teaching the Royal-Airs in addition to the Guardsmen,” Campbell explains. “I studied with him for three years during middle school.”
During high school, Campbell played in the concert and jazz bands as well as the marching band. He graduated from James B. Conant High School in 1971.
Campbell continued to march in the Guardsmen during high school and was soon studying with their new drum instructor, Al LeMert, who also worked for the Ludwig Drum Company. “Al was definitely a mentor through high school,” Campbell says, “and he recommended I continue my studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb. My main teacher at NIU was Al O’Connor. He was a big proponent of multi-percussion, and I have tried to follow in his footsteps. During my sophomore year, Al started the first university steel band, and I also played in a gamelan and did some African drumming. That same year, James Ross [who would later join the Chicago Symphony] was the graduate teaching assistant. Plus, the Blackearth Percussion Group started their multi-year residency at NIU, so I was able to study with Jim, Garry Kvistad, Allen Otte, Rick Kvistad, Mike Udow, David Johnson, and even drum set with Chris Braun.” During the summers, Campbell would study drum set with Shelly Elias, a studio drummer in Chicago, and James Lane, a percussionist in the Chicago Symphony.
“Jim Campbell was one of my first students after I graduated from college,” remembers PAS Hall of Fame member Garry Kvistad. “It was obvious that he had enormous talent, and my only regret is that I didn’t study with him!”
Campbell graduated from NIU in 1976 with a Bachelor of Music degree and stayed in DeKalb for another two years as a teaching assistant, earning his Master of Music degree in Performance and Pedagogy in Percussion.
A seminal year for Jim Campbell was 1979: he married Nancy, his wife of 42 years, and also took his first teaching position at Montana State University in Bozeman. “They wanted someone with drum corps experience, because they wanted to make the marching band bigger and better,” he explains.
In 1985, Campbell became an Assistant Professor of Music Performance at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, a position he holds to this day. “I remember building a program with almost no equipment,” he says. “They had only one marimba, and the glockenspiel was an aluminum marching model! Thanks to grant writing, we have been able to acquire a studio full of professional-level instruments.”
“I was his first freshman at UK in 1985,” states Dr. Brian S. Mason, Professor of Percussion at Morehead State University in Kentucky, “and one of three percussion majors at that time. I had a front-row seat to witness his influence. Whether I’m sitting in rehearsals with him at the Lexington Philharmonic or driving to Danville to perform with Aretha Franklin, there’s never an instance in which he’s not telling me about something new that he’s involved with — a new piece he’s writing, a new product I should check out, a new podcast that inspired him, or a conversation he had with a fellow artist. His life in percussion is the epitome of what we all dream about.”
“Jim has shown his students and colleagues how to be a life-long student,” emphasizes Glenn Kotche, former UK student best known as the drummer for the Grammy-award-winning band Wilco. “He has never been content with coasting on his achievements, but instead has a long track record of exploring new areas of percussion and novel approaches to performing, teaching, and sound development. He’s shown so many of us how to abandon our egos and become comfortable being a beginner again in a new area of study.”
How does Campbell think his students would describe him? “I hope they would say I was a thoughtful, caring teacher,” he replies. “I think of them as people and not just students. My job is to create opportunities for individual growth. I try to find the strength of each student, capitalize on that, and help them shore up their weaknesses. I treat each of my students differently so I can bring out the best in them.”
One of Campbell’s doctoral students, Dr. Brady Harrison, Director of Percussion Studies at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, remembers how each lesson began: How can I help you? “Those five words sum up Jim Campbell. What I learned from him was more than music: it was how to connect the dots between our craft and humanity.”
“Jim’s professional integrity and selflessness really stand out to me,” explains Dr. Andrew Bliss, Director of Percussion Studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “He taught me how to dress as a professional, how to act at a dinner party, how to handle my taxes in my late 20s, how to submit budget requests, handle guest artists, help students with problems, deal with other faculty and administration, collaborate with the music industry — all of it. During my five years at UK, I received an apprenticeship, not a degree.”
What is Campbell’s favorite instrument to teach? “Frame drum!” he says with a laugh. “During a sabbatical in 1991, I had the opportunity to study with John Bergamo in California. We’re always using mallets, so the frame drum opened me up to more visceral percussion. Because of the way your hand strikes the head, you can create depth and tone; you can get different sounds, and I like to teach that. I’m not a virtuoso on the frame drum by any means, but I like to give the students a connection to an instrument they can hold while they play it. And it’s fun!”
Both of Campbell’s sons also played percussion. Colin earned his BM degree at UK before going on to the University of Michigan for his master’s degree in jazz and improvisation. He is currently the studio manager for Third Coast Percussion and freelancing in the Chicago area. Sean played percussion through high school but pursued a career in criminal justice and is serving as a police officer at UK.
“Throughout his career, Jim has demonstrated empathy and equity as a teacher, championing the contributions of his female students and advocating for his students regardless of their ethnic, racial, or socio-economic backgrounds,” says Dr. Kyle Forsthoff, Artist/Teacher at the University of Rhode Island and R.I. PAS Chapter President. “He also celebrated diversity by welcoming many international students and guest artists into his programs.” The University of Kentucky recognized Campbell’s commitment to education by promoting him to Provost Distinguished Service Professor in 2007.
Campbell’s influence extended to non-music majors as well. “Professor Campbell prepared me to join The Cavaliers in 1998 and 1999, and secured an internship for me with Yamaha’s Band and Orchestral Division in 2001,” states Louis D. Kelly, Commonwealth’s Attorney (54th Judicial Circuit). “The most lasting thing he taught me is the power and importance of mentorship, and I have tried to imitate this behavior for young people I meet.”
When asked which were his most memorable UK concerts over the years, Campbell refers to the unprecedented five times the school won PAS’s International Percussion Ensemble Competition (in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2011, and 2014). “I especially remember our 2014 concert at PASIC, which included two world premieres,” Campbell says. They performed “Transferencia” by UK alum Glenn Kotche and “Bell Power” by Swedish composer and long-time collaborator Anders Åstrand.
Campbell’s ability to create a vast percussion family could be seen during the recent COVID shutdowns when he brought together numerous alumni and people in the percussion community to create weekly Zoom gatherings where they would discuss topics about teaching and playing in relation to the changing times. “We covered nine time zones,” laughs Campbell, “from Brian Archinal at the University of the Arts in Bern, Switzerland, to Ryan Nestor at the University of California San Diego!” By bringing this group of 50+ people together, Campbell created an outlet for people to learn, grow, vent, and survive during one of the most challenging periods in recent history.
“The most important aspect of Jim’s career is the amazing network of people he has brought together over several decades to create an unbelievably large and talented group of individuals who help each other at the drop of a hat, simply because they are a part of Jim Campbell’s percussion family,” states Dr. Brad Meyer, Associate Professor of Percussion at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. “He created a wonderful web of caring, selfless people in every genre of music, who will help each other for no other reason than we have all been so positively impacted by Jim. There is no way to pay him back for the knowledge and experiences he has given us other than to pay it forward to the rest of his percussion family.”
“Jim’s reputation as a ‘groomer of percussionists’ in the field of education is unprecedented,” states Scott Slocum, District Manager for the Yamaha Band & Orchestral Division. “He is well known as one of the best pedagogues in the country.” Campbell received Yamaha’s Legacy award in 2015.
In addition to teaching, Campbell performs with a variety of ensembles. He joined the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra in 1985 and is currently the Principal Percussionist; he is the drum set player in the Kentucky Jazz Repertory Orchestra; and he plays in the Skål Trio with Anders Åstrand and Evaristo Aguilar. Campbell has also performed with such artists as Ray Charles, Doc Severinsen, and Ben Vereen.
Although Campbell stopped marching with the Guardsmen at age 20, he did write charts for them in 1975 before joining their staff full-time in 1976. “We placed 31st at DCI in ’75,” he recalls, “but we jumped to 12th place in ’76. And we were finalists in ’78, ’79, and ’80.” Campbell also served as an adjudicator for the Central States Judges Association in the mid-’70s and was on the DCI World Championships judging panel (1981–83).
In 1984, Campbell joined the staff of The Cavaliers from Rosemont, Illinois as percussion instructor and arranger, eventually becoming percussion caption head, then program coordinator and designer before he left in 1997. During his tenure with the Cavies, the corps won two DCI World Championships (1992’s “Revolution!” program and 1995’s “The Planets”) and three “high drum” awards (1991, 1992, and 1995).
“Shortly after I joined the staff, our repertoire shifted towards symphonic and wind ensemble music,” he explains. Campbell is known for expanding the marching percussion palette through the integration of unusual world music elements into the section. For example, the ’92 bass line adapted frame drum techniques (usually applied to Irish bodhrans) by using “tipper” sticks on the drums in the music of Sir Malcom Arnold.
“We had kids from UK marching in the corps, and we also had kids who marched in the corps come to Kentucky,” recalls Campbell. “Brian Mason wanted to march in The Cavaliers because I was teaching there, and others — like Scott Kretzer, who won Best Individual Snare in 1990 — decided to come to UK.”
During his years with the Cavies, Campbell worked with numerous drum staffers, including Mason, Kretzer, Bret Kuhn, Dave Dombek, Kevin Lepper, Brad Halls, and Leif Marwede, among others.
Campbell also served as a consultant with the Toledo (Ohio) Glassmen (2005–06) and the Boston Crusaders (2016). In 2008, he was the program coordinator/percussion arranger for The Cavaliers Alumni Corps, the same year he was inducted into the DCI Hall of Fame.
Over the years, he has been affiliated with numerous companies — Yamaha, Zildjian, Evans, Innovative Percussion, Meinl, Silver Fox, Ludwig, Slingerland, and LP, among others — contributing to education and product development. “He has helped direct marketing choices and product advancements that have benefitted percussionists all around the world,” adds Brian Mason.
PERCUSSIVE ARTS SOCIETY
Campbell joined PAS in 1971. During his half-century with the organization, he has served in a variety of capacities: from Kentucky Chapter President (1985–97) to Marching Committee Chair (1991–93), from Associate Editor of Percussive Notes to the Board of Directors (1992–98) to the Executive Committee (1997–2004). Campbell was President of PAS from 2001–02.
“Jim’s love for PAS is infectious,” recalls another former student, Dr. Kenyon Williams, Professor of Percussion at Minnesota State University Moorhead. “No student has ever passed through his studio without becoming a member of PAS, no graduate student ever believed skipping PASIC was ‘acceptable,’ and all have graduated with the belief that they must be a part of this world-class organization and give back to it.” In fact, one of his students, Dr. Julie Hill, Professor of Percussion at the University of Tennessee-Martin, also served as PAS President (2015–16).
“I always considered my term as president as being a steward of the organization,” Campbell explains. “PAS is a great opportunity to get leadership experience, but it’s really a collaboration of all the great people on the Executive Committee. I was fortunate to have Michael Balter as Treasurer because he made sure that PAS was financially sound and vibrant. I am so grateful for his leadership and financial wisdom.”
In 2019, Campbell received the Lifetime Achievement in Education award from PAS. Also at PASIC 2019, he served as the artistic director and conductor for the All-Star Percussion Ensemble. He commissioned two pieces from former students for the concert: “trick” by Brian Nozny and “Time Dilation” by Francisco Perez.
Campbell also won the PAS composition contest in 2005 for his piece “Garage Drummer” (for multi-percussion and tape). He has written more than four dozen solos and chamber ensemble pieces, published by Alfred Music, Bachovich Music Publications, C. Alan Publications, Innovative Percussion, Meredith Music, Row-Loff Productions, and TapSpace. He has also penned 75 articles and blogs.
How would Jim Campbell like to be remembered by future generations? “As someone who embraced all of percussion,” he replies, “and someone who left a legacy of great students and professionals. I tried to be a good role model for people to follow in their careers.”
“Professor Campbell delivers on being extremely organized, professional, approachable, and highly musical when giving clinics or performing with an orchestra,” states Dr. Michael Gould, Professor of Music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “He is a proud professor of an enormous flock of successful students, both in higher education and in professional bands and careers.”
“Jim has a unique talent in connecting the dots of seemingly disparate areas of percussion performance techniques, sound production, and musical concepts,” summarizes Kotche. “He’s able to bring these elements together in a way that forges fresh and unexpected results. His example and encouragement have guided my entire approach to drum set performance. Watching Jim assimilate non-western sounds and techniques into marching and concert percussion has had a lasting impact in illustrating the countless benefits of a cross-disciplinary approach in percussion. Most importantly, he has demonstrated to me how to stay curious and keep asking questions as a catalyst for new and exciting musical discoveries and growth.”
“I always wanted to be a college teacher,” Campbell concludes. “My dream job was to live in a city that was big enough for me to play professionally, have a university job, and host touring musicians. The last thing I remember wishing for was Nexus having a glass of wine in my living room after a concert — and I’ve done it all!”
“A ‘Time Machine’ for Your Drumline” by James Campbell.
“Arranging for the Rhythm Section Sound” by James Campbell.
“Dark Flight” by James Campbell, performed by the University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble.
“Garage Drummer” by James Campbell, performed by Ryan M. Smith.
James Campbell, “Multiple Percussion: An Overview.”