An upbeat jazz tune travels through the air on a sunny afternoon. The Clark College jazz band is rehearsing outside, taking advantage of the day’s pleasant weather. The occasional breeze helps keep the heat bearable.
Rich Inouye stands nearby, protected from the sun by the shade of a tree. He watches the band play, arms crossed with his head leaning forward to hear the music clearly. Despite the heat, he’s dressed in a long-sleeve dress shirt and tie.
The band finishes the song, and Inouye walks towards them.
“Let’s do it again,” Inouye tells them, and the band starts up the same tune from the beginning.
This is nothing new for the band, as Inouye, who took over as director of bands in 2007, strives for members to play to the best of their abilities.
During the outdoor rehearsal, Inouye would walk up to students and whisper instructions to them.
“He focuses on the details,” said saxophone player Joe Howard.
“He is the most organized band director I’ve ever met in my life,” said Anna James, another band member.
Inouye said his attention to detail comes from his days of being in the Air Force Academy Band, where he was a member of the Falconaires Jazz Ensemble.
“I was the tour director of the group,” Inouye said. “I had no choice but to become organized.”
Inouye was in charge of scheduling tours, making sure they had lodging and finding venues for the band to perform in.
“I was in charge of getting that group literally around the world,” he said.
Inouye still travels around the world. He directed the 2009 Clark Jazz Ensemble in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the 2010 concert band in Washington D.C. and most recently the Jazz
Ensemble at the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Festival in Greeley in April.
“Travelling is highly important,” Inouye said. “It’s one of the things I think makes Clark stand out from other community colleges.”
With the recent proposal by ASCC to cut traveling and require program directors to submit one-time-funding request for out-of-region travel, Inouye and his students might be stuck performing in Washington and Oregon.
But Inouye remains optimistic.
“I hope ASCC recognizes the importance, and I have confidence that they will,” he said.
Along with being the tour director for the Falconaires, Inouye played saxophone and directed during performances. “It was one of the most important experiences to my development,” Inouye said. “I think it’s what prepared me the most to be a good instructor.”
Brendon Brower, a trumpet player in Clark’s jazz band, said Inouye’s teaching style can come across as strict. “He’s a military man, and you can tell,” Brower said. “It’s his way or the highway. But he’ll listen to you and make sure your thoughts are considered.”
Before focusing on music, Inouye had a much different passion.
“My whole life from fifth grade on was about motorcycles,” he said.
It wasn’t until after he finished a year at a tech school learning motorcycle mechanics that he realized he didn’t want to pursue a career in it.
“I went to band camp one summer and the rest was history,” he said.
Despite being proficient in jazz, Inouye doesn’t restrict himself to just listening to that.
“I love listening to 70’s pop,” he said. “That’s what I grew up listening to.” He also enjoys listening to country, but not “modern country music,” because he said it has lost the “meaning of what country was.”
Inouye didn’t always teach at the college level. After receiving his music education degree from the University of Northern Colorado, he was band director for the Boulder Valley School District from 1981 to 1983 and the St. Vrain Valley School District until 1987.
“I relate more to students at this level,” he said.
James noted how he goes out of his way to help students improve their skills.
“I’m actually taking private lessons with him,” she said. “If you need help, he offers the tools you need to help get better.”
Howard said because of Inouye’s teaching, he was able to “bring out his confidence” and grow as a player.
Music professor April Duvic remembers meeting Inouye when he started at Clark.
“He was very enthusiastic,” Duvic said. “He was very excited about the possibilities of working here.”
Duvic also said that when seeing Inouye direct performances, the results are “outstanding.”
“We want to make him proud,” James said. “We are try our best to live up to his standards.”
After his many years of experience, Inouye’s advice for anyone wanting a career in music is to practice.
“You have to want it,” Inouye said. “No magic button is going to make you a great musician. It’s hard work, and that’s all it is.”