As a teenager I dreamed of studying jazz- and pop music in the United States. Little did I know that one day I would work as a professor teaching music at a Chicago University. Life is full of surprises!
I had just received my master’s degree in teaching and performing jazz and popular music from the State University of Stuttgart in Germany, when I decided to visit Chicago for the first time. I was very impressed with this beautiful metropolitan city and what it had to offer, particularly with the many opportunities to hear live music all around the city every day of the week.
The Big Decision
On the last day of my first visit to Chicago I decided that I wanted to come back to Chicago for a longer duration soon. My decision was based on sheer intuition. I felt that this city had something to offer to me that I wouldn’t find back in good old Germany. Looking back, I really didn’t think it all the way through, otherwise I would have been too scared to follow through with it. I had to leave all my bands, my family and friends, my apartment, my business connections, my car, and many other things I had worked my entire life for. This was life-changing stuff!
How I Got my Visa
Once I made the decision to move, the question was now how I could obtain a work visa for the USA. A tourist visa, which I had traveled on before, gives you only a limited time in the country and prohibits you from doing any kind of business. I’d also need a sponsor for a work visa, which I didn’t have. After researching different options, I found out that one way to get an extended visa is through a student visa, so I decided to enroll as a student in the sound department at Columbia College Chicago. This gave me a chance to get to know the city better, make contacts with local musicians, and listen to a lot of great live music while working towards getting my work visa. This was a great time, by the way! Luckily, in those 3 months things started to happen for me.
A Window of Opportunity
One day I sat down and played a few tunes on the piano in the sound department of my college. After listening to me play, another student informed me they needed a pianist for a show entitled Pride Enjoy in the music department. After thinking about it briefly, I agreed to do it. This decision was the turning point of my career.
When I showed up to the first Pride Enjoy rehearsal, I found out that Orbert Davis, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic co-founder and jazz trumpeter, had just started to coach a small jazz combo at Columbia College. I was thrilled to meet him and train with him. Eventually, meeting him turned out to be one of the most influential moments in my musical career. By the way, a year after meeting Orbert Davis, I produced my CD The Windy City which featured him on trumpet. The Windy City also features Rusty Jones on drums, David Marr on bass, and my German collaborator and co-producer, Peter Lehel, on sax. You can listen to it here.
Meeting Bill Russo and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble
After hearing me perform in Pride Enjoy, Bill Russo, chair of the Columbia music department and founder and leader of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble, invited me to play in his ensemble. Of course I was thrilled, but my student visa only had two months left on it and I also would need some sort of stable income to commit to playing and living in Chicago. When I explained my situation, Bill offered me a teaching position at Columbia and as a pianist in the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. Still I wasn’t entirely set to stay in the States. I had a job offer, but no work visa. I still needed to find a sponsor.
Meeting John Blane
A few days after my offer from Bill Russo I was invited to play piano for a big band rehearsal in Evanston, Illinois. The show was conducted by John Blane, one of the finest music engravers there is. John gave me a ride home after the rehearsal. This gave me the opportunity to ask him if he needed some help with his business Blane Music Preparation, and if he would be willing to sponsor a work visa for me. I told him that this would be my only chance to stay in Chicago. After looking at my music samples, John thought about it and agreed to hire and sponsor a work visa for me. I couldn’t believe it. What a great guy… WHAT A GREAT GUY!
Waiting for the Work Visa
It felt like forever until the visa finally came and I almost gave up hope that it would ever happen. Of course, just when I decided to change plans it arrived in the mail and the adventure began, at last.
And the rest is history!