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Trumpet in hand, a Western jazz professor's story led him to perform for audiences all over the country

His latest show was much closer to home

Kevin Woods, director of jazz studies and associate professor at Western, stands in his office with his trumpet. Kevin Woods’ band, the In-Motion Quartet, played on Jan. 30, 2023, at the Blue Room in Bellingham, Wash. // Photo by Mathew Callaghan

From mimicking the tunes he heard on Saturday morning cartoons to performing for crowds across the country, Kevin Woods has always had an affinity for music.

Woods is an associate professor and director of jazz studies at Western Washington University. While he thoroughly enjoys teaching students, he still squeezes in a local performance or two when he has the opportunity. On Jan. 30, he joined Steve Treseler in leading the In Motion Quartet at The Blue Room.

The opening act, Western’s Jazz Combo II, concluded around 7:45 p.m. Following after, the In Motion Quartet hit the stage and performed for a crowd of roughly 75 audience members draped in a haze of violet lights. 

Jazz combo II.jpg

Western Washington University’s Jazz Combo II opens the show at the Blue Room in Bellingham, Wash. Jazz Combo II started at 7 p.m. and lasted about 45 minutes on Jan. 30, 2023. // Photo by Mathew Callaghan

For Woods, shows like these are a bridge between two worlds of jazz: one teaching at Western and one performing in Bellingham and beyond.

“I’ve been playing the trumpet since I was 5 and all by ear,” Woods said. “I couldn't really read music until college. I kind of faked my way through high school and got to college and kind of faked my way through the first year of college. But I’d been listening to Bugs Bunny cartoons every Saturday morning [when I was 5]. I’d play on my cornet and watch three hours of cartoons and try to play the song.”

After completing his undergraduate at Western, Woods earned his master's degree in jazz performance and pedagogy from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Upon graduating, he returned to Western and taught until the stock market crashed in 2008.

Woods said touring with bands can be grueling and demanding. The most time Woods ever spent on tour was 61 nights when he traveled from Seattle to Ohio.

After leaving Western, Woods' musical and teaching journeys continued. From teaching English in Korea for a year to teaching jazz in Spokane, Woods' love for teaching knew no bounds. Maybe it was fate that Woods eventually returned to his alma mater to teach jazz.

“This was always the goal to get this job. Miraculously, I got the unicorn, so I'm very happy to be here,” Woods said.

Woods loves teaching students at Western, but he still has a desire to perform jazz for crowds. When one of the owners of The Blue Room, Ben Hodson, asked if Woods would perform, it was hard for him to refuse.

“I've also been a trumpet player since I was 8 years old,” Hodson said. “I was actually in the jazz department at Western, so Kevin and I know each other pretty well.”

Hodson, Martijn Wall and Nick Hastings all co-own The Blue Room. They aimed to create an inclusive environment to revitalize the music scene in Bellingham after COVID-19.

“We just basically wanted to create a space that is great for live music, also a wide variety of different events to bring the community together and be basically a really good hub to spark creative careers and bridge connections with other artists,” Hodson said. 

Woods isn’t the only jazz instructor from Western who’s booked for a Monday Night Jazz show. Another jazz musician and drum set and percussion instructor at Western, Greg Williamson, also performed at The Blue Room with his band, Brushes and Bass, on Feb. 6. 

“Woods has a great energy about jazz,” Williamson said. “He’s really excited about showing students how to work in improv or soloing. He has a nice modern approach. He gets really excited about the music, which is great.”

Woods' has a special love for anything that involves jazz and teaching others. If you happen to stumble into his office during the course of the school week, there’s a high chance he’ll be watching one of his favorite jazz performers on YouTube. If not, he’s probably working with one of his students to help them better understand the music they’re playing. 

“[It’s] that aha moment,” Woods said, referring to his favorite thing about teaching. “That’s what does it for me when you can help someone have an epiphany.”

Woods described music as math with colors. His musical passion comes not only from what he can hear or play, but the effect music can have on the lives of people around the world. 

“Music is so powerful that when totalitarian ideas or ideals of fascism usually start creeping into a country, they either ban music, or they make it all propaganda,” Woods said. “Music has such a deep, moving power for people.”

Mathew Callaghan

Mathew Callaghan (he/him) is a senior sports reporter for the Front this quarter. He plans to major in journalism and minor in law, diversity and justice through Fairhaven. In his free time, Mathew likes to write, hike, read and play basketball. 

You can reach him at

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