Wes Hawkins is a percussionist and music educator in Phoenix, Arizona, with a diverse array of experiences. He earned undergraduate degrees in Music Education and Percussion Performance (University of Arizona, 1997) and a master’s degree in Music Education with a Jazz Studies emphasis (Arizona State, 2003). Wes teaches Jazz History and Percussion at Phoenix College, and he is the Regional Director for UpBeat Percussion, a hand drumming and rhythmic literacy program for Title I schools in Phoenix. He is the owner of the Rhythm Is Life Percussion Studio and maintains an active roster of private students of all ages. Wes performs regularly with the Rhythm Is Life Steel Band, the Phoenix Children’s Chorus, Quijada (a Latin Jazz trio/quartet), and Owning November (a rock/pop cover band from the 1990s on). He has served as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Arizona PAS Chapter since 2002.
Rhythm! Scene: If you weren't a percussionist and educator, what career could you see yourself having pursued?
Wes Hawkins: When I was on drum corps tour (Arizona Sun 1991–92), I thought it might be cool to get a CD and drive trucks around the country for a living, maybe even driving for one of the top-12 corps. I would put a killer sound system in the rig and keep myself awake with groovy music during the long hauls. Seriously, this is as far as I ever got with considering a career outside of music education.
R!S: As a freelance artist, what's one of the weirdest gigs you've taken or oddest jobs you've had outside the industry?
WH: That would have to be playing marching percussion for a "pub crawl” in Tempe to promote a certain brand of Caribbean rum. It was a Saturday afternoon, game day for the ASU Sun Devils, and we visited at least a half dozen different bars spreading rhythmic revelry while the captain and a few models were distributing free shots to the already inebriated patrons. It was pretty gross, but the paycheck was decent for a night’s work.
R!S: What's one thing about you that your colleagues or students would unanimously proclaim?
WH: I’m a real stickler for ensemble awareness, with regards to timing, balance, and blend in an ensemble. It’s not good enough to just be able to play your part in isolation. Even with private students, I’m always emphasizing being able to play "in context." I’m sure most of my students and colleagues will frequently imitate my “Wes-isms” such as “Listen louder than you play,” “Don’t be a groove killer,” or “Where’s one?"
R!S: What is your favorite percussion instrument and why?
WH: I was introduced to steel pans at the University of Arizona in 1993, and I have been playing and passionately advocating for the instrument as a vehicle for music education and community building ever since. I’m excited that we are finally getting a set of pans at Phoenix College this fall, so I’m looking forward to building a unique program to serve the central Phoenix community.
R!S: Where did you grow up, and what’s one interesting thing about your childhood (musically or otherwise)?
WH: I am a Phoenix native, and my childhood was filled with dreams of becoming a BMX racer. I started playing the trumpet in fourth grade because that’s what my dad played when he was in school, but I got braces a year later and promptly switched to percussion. I pursued the BMX thing until I turned 16, at which point I sold my bikes to pay for car insurance so I could drive myself to drum corps rehearsals and all the honor bands I found myself in, and that was about the time that I realized that music was likely to put me through college. Coming full circle, I now teach UpBeat hand drumming classes in the same district where I began my music education and, whenever possible, I ride my bike to work.