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Ashley Daneman | Courtesy

With 40 students now participating in its jazz program, the music department hired a new trombone professor and vocal instructor this semester. 

“The program continues to grow and get better,” Director of Jazz Ensembles Chris McCourry said.

The music department is allocating more time and resources to the jazz program. McCourry said he is confident this growth will continue with the help of Rob Killips, who was hired after the previous trombone professor retired, and Ashley Daneman, who is expanding the vocal jazz field.

McCourry said he is eager to bring in Daneman, who has performed in various genres from opera to jazz to musical theatre. Daneman will train voice students in jazz and contemporary singing. 

“I’m very interested in helping students to discover their own potential and uncover musical strengths they have,” Daneman said. 

Last year, the jazz department brought an outside teacher three times a semester to work with students. Now, Daneman will teach students at least once a week.

Daneman started playing piano at age 6 and singing at age 10. After studying classical music and opera at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, she decided to pick up jazz for fun. Although much of her early experience in jazz was self-taught, she attended the Manhattan School of Music, where she had the opportunity to perform throughout New York City. 

This motivated her to become a songwriter, and she recently began a Kickstarter project for her new album, which was featured in Downbeat Magazine. 

Killips, on the other hand, will be teaching trombone lessons in addition to leading trombone choir and a jazz combo.

McCourry, who has performed with Killips a couple of times, said he is excited to have him teaching because of his diverse experience on the trombone, both in education and performance. Joining the faculty jazz band the Hillcats this spring, Killips will expand the group from a quintet to a sextet. Killips completed a master’s degree in jazz trombone at Central Michigan University, where he leads one of the big band jazz groups. 

At Hillsdale, even though many students are not music majors, Killips said he sees an excitement for studying music. 

“I find it extremely positive that there is such an interest in music for its own sake,” Killips said. “I am very impressed with the number of students at Hillsdale that are involved in music, simply because they see the value of it, even if it is not the career path they choose.” 

When he was in his twenties, Killips worked as a musical director on a cruise ship. Later, he toured the world playing in a salsa band. He spent eight years in London performing live and recording for TV and radio in many genres including jazz, rock, Latin, and classical. Killips has also toured with various big-name acts such as Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, and Arturo Sandoval. 

“I am really looking forward to starting work with all of my students,” Killips said. “I am sure it will be a good learning experience for everyone, including myself.”