That Full-Time Vibe

A chat with the busiest music man in the mountains

Jason DeCristofaro pauses between multiple jobs.
Portrait by Clark Hodgin

Western North Carolina is overflowing with musical talent, but it’s a small number of people who draw their livelihood from the culture. Jason DeCristofaro is one of those few full-time players. The pianist/percussionist, who holds a doctorate in music education, teaches at two local colleges, plays in church on Sundays, and will add his talents to numerous recording projects in 2021, including an R&B album by Datrian Johnson, a jazz album by Dan Keller, and more than a dozen others.

You’ve been at Warren Wilson College since 2016. What do you teach there?

When I came on board, I was an adjunct, teaching jazz ensemble and Applied Piano. Since then, the music department has grown exponentially; now I also teach a new course, Applied Percussion. When I started, the college only offered a minor degree in music. About three years ago, we began to offer a music major; now we have 10 to 15 students working on a music major. I have about 24 Applied students — with a half-hour lesson for each — every week of the semester. And in May of 2020, I received a promotion from adjunct to instructor. 

I’m very active at Warren Wilson in service, too. I love the school; I want to see it grow, and I want to see the music department develop. Teaching there is a dream come true.

But you’re also adjunct faculty at AB-Tech, right?

Yes! I’ve been there since fall 2015: almost seven years. 

And you perform in the evenings. Tell me about that.

I’m the host/coordinator for [Jazz Night] at Southern Appalachian Brewery in Hendersonville. When the pandemic started, we did virtual shows where the musicians would individually record their parts. We’d work out arrangements ahead of time for three to five songs each week. It was a lot of work: For 15-20 minutes of music, it could take us as much as 48 hours to produce. 

When the restrictions were eased for venues, fortunately, jazz night returned at SAB, because they have a big outdoor space. We’re able to have live music safely, in an outdoor setting. And now we’re back to Wednesdays, 5:30 to 7:30.

The other weekly jazz thing I do is in a late-night jam every Monday night at One World Brewing in West Asheville. Guitarist Ray Ring is the coordinator and musical director for that, and I’m part of the house trio. I play drums, piano, or vibes.

Not to mention private lessons … 

Yes. I teach private students, and I play freelance gigs as a percussionist, pianist, and drummer. 

Wow. That covers weekdays and nights. What do you do on Sundays?

In March I started as pianist at Hope United Methodist Church [in Flat Rock]. 

If there were more hours in a day, what would you do with the extra time? 

I like to compose and arrange chamber works. The last thing I published was a piece for solo glockenspiel. So if I had more time, I’d compose even more. 

Jazz night happens Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm, at Southern Appalachian Brewery (822 Locust St., Hendersonville, 828-684-1235, sabrewery.com). Hope United Methodist Church, 2443 Spartanburg Hwy., Flat Rock, is open to the public: 828-697-6846. Keep up with Jason DeCristofaro’s gigs via updates on his Facebook page: Jason DeCristofaro Music.

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