Don Keller was born in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He is 78 years old and has had a very music rich life. After graduating from high school Don joined the Air Force. He had the privilege of being in the Air Force band with great musicians. They were affectionately known as the “groundhogs”. Don met his wife Phyllis in the Air Force and has 5 children. When they started their family Mr. Keller decided to go into music education for the financial stability of his family. Don received a full scholarship at College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.) Soon after graduation Don began teaching music for the San Joaquin County Schools.
He inspired many starting at the elementary school level to enjoy, play and appreciate jazz music. He taught there for over 40 years. He then created a music program for Escalon High School and quickly lead them down an award winning path in jazz, on the marching band field and symphonic music. He continued to make sure jazz music thrived in California when he took on the challenge of turning “layed back” surfers into jazz musicians and enthusiasts at Aptos High School in Aptos, Calif. The kids and the community bought into devoting time, fund raising and the hard work that it takes to build an incredible jazz program. Mr. Keller and his devoted wife took the band to Europe several times and Japan to perform at the World’s Fair. Some of you might remember reading an article written by Don Keller in the NAJE Journal.
While maintaining an exceptional program at Aptos High Don Keller continued to grace us all with his musical wisdom by giving clinics for Yamaha through the Monteray Jazz Festival. He later became a major force for the educational component of the Monteray Jazz Festival. Don and his wife also were the originators of the Santa Cruz Jazz Festival. This music festival continues to bring jazz to the Santa Cruz area. A unique approach that Don brought to Aptos was hosting musicians from Basie, Kenton, and Ellington’s bands.
The professional musicians would sit next to students and play down Ellington charts. It became an incredible experience for the pros and a priceless education for the students. Don Keller retired in the early 90’s at Lake Tahoe. Retiring meant teaching private music lessons at least 4 hours a day 5 days a week. Don has dedicated his entire adult life to advancing jazz not only in California but the world.