Roger Letson, professor Emeritus from De Anza College, has been an internationally recognized educator for over forty years. Throughout that time, he has brought classical and jazz music to professionals and aspiring musicians alike in classrooms, workshops, and performances. Graduating with his Bachelor of Music Education degree from the University of Montana, he began his teaching career as vocal and instrumental director at Park High School in Livingston, MT. Upon receiving the Master of Music degree in Trumpet Performance, he moved to California and took a position at San Luis Obispo High School as Director of bands and choirs. In 1969, the opportunity to move to the San Francisco Bay Area presented itself with the position as Director of Vocal Activities at Foothill College. It was there that he established the well-known Vocal Jazz program with the Foothill Fanfairs, in addition to presenting programs at state and national musical conferences with his chamber and concert choirs.
He left teaching in 1975 for a position as Director of Publications at Hal Leonard Corporation. This position provided him the opportunity to work with many well-known classical and jazz composers and arrangers in instrumental and choral music. He was an industry representative to I.A.J.E. and presented frequent workshops and clinics throughout the United States and Australia. His work, publishing educational music for music programs of all levels, included recruiting and retaining composers and arrangers such as Woody Herman, Lennie Niehaus, and Sammy Nestico, Anita Kerr, Kirby Shaw, Gordon Goodwin, Dave Eshelman, and Don Menza. Producing audio recordings of professional quality for educators was also his responsibility. He returned to teaching in 1979 as Director of Vocal Activities at De Anza College.
Well known for his expertise with vocal jazz ensembles and pedagogy for the solo vocalist, he founded the vocal jazz program there. It became one of the premier college programs in the nation. Under his direction, Vocal Flight was selected as winner of the Down Beat Magazine award for College and University Vocal Jazz Groups eleven times. Mr. Letson also directed the chamber choir, Vintage Singers, and taught jazz solo voice, music theory, and classical voice classes. His ensembles have presented performances at the national conventions of A.C.D.A. and I.A.J.E., and numerous C.M.E.A. and M.E.N.C. conferences.
Former students have made careers of music including professional recording artists, recognized opera singers, and music teachers at the elementary, high school, and collegiate levels. The Vocal Jazz ensembles at De Anza performed at such places as Keystone Korner, Kool Jazz Festival, San Jose, Palo Alto, Santa Cruz, and the Monterey Jazz Festival. Ten European performance tours brought performances at jazz festivals in Montreux and Neuchatel, Switzerland, and Megev, Bonneville, Valence, Toulon, Grenoble, Crest and Paris, France. Additionally, often touring with Vocal Flight throughout France and Germany, he has spent each summer since 1989 presenting vocal jazz workshops in Paris, Crest, Aix-en-Provence, Grenoble, Frankfurt and Køln.
In 1991, Letson received the NISOD Teaching Excellence Award. In 1994 he was selected as one of two United States adjudicators for the 4th annual German Choir Competition in Fulda, Germany, and in 1999, he received the De Anza College President’s Award for outstanding professional contributions. After 40 years as a full time music instructor, Letson retired in 2007. Continuing to stay involved, in October and November of 2010, Roger was a featured jazz vocalist at the faculty jazz night at Contra Costa College, and in Paris at the Bleu Triton Jazz Festival.
He continues this schedule and is also teaching the Jazz Solo Voice class at Contra Costa College. His golf game is improving. Well, each day is another challenge! My sincere thanks to the California Alliance for Jazz who have bestowed upon me the honor of election to the Hall of Fame for 2011.