Alumni Profiles

Jam Session

Jim Josselyn

The guitars were everywhere, hanging in store windows, slung over shoulders, strummed in the streets. Nogales, Mexico, was a city of guitars, and 11-year-old Jim Josselyn, who had traveled there on vacation with his family, wanted one.

His family wasn’t particularly musical, and he had never really thought about playing an instrument before. In fact, standing in the general store as his mother paid for the used acoustic guitar, Josselyn MGSA’94 still wasn’t thinking about actually playing the thing. “It was a new toy that I wanted impulsively, and nothing more than that,” he remembers.

He started to see its potential after a few lessons, when he mastered “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” A year later, a friend introduced him to his older brother’s Jimi Hendrix collection. “That was the first time,” he says, “that I’d heard anybody improvise with just a combination of everything: soul, technique, sound, fire.” After hearing Hendrix, Josselyn knew the guitar would always be a presence in his life, though he might not have imagined then the outsize role it would play. He would go on to forge a career in music, as a performer, a teacher, and a composer, all thanks to that first beat-up guitar from Nogales.

He initially enrolled at the University of Delaware, where he intended to study business, then made the decision to focus on guitar instead. (“I was naïve—I didn’t even know you could major in music,” he says.) But by that time, he had developed a passion for jazz, and Delaware’s jazz department was tiny. Mason Gross School of the Arts, on the other hand, had a full-fledged jazz studies program, with eminent teachers like Ted Dunbar and Kenny Barron, who became Josselyn’s mentors. “Those years at Rutgers were magic,” he remembers.

He went on to get a master’s degree in music performance at New York’s Aaron Copland School of Music. Meanwhile, he was developing an affinity for teaching music, an interest that had its genesis in his late teens when a friend asked for guitar pointers. Studying with Dunbar helped him see what a profound experience teaching could be. “Once I proved to him that I was serious, he gave me everything,” Josselyn says.

He says that, at some of the country’s most eminent music schools, a student might see a big-name professor a few times a semester. Dunbar, he says, “was there for me and his other students literally every day in the four years I was at Rutgers.” His time at Mason Gross helped burnish both his ability and his confidence. In 2003, Josselyn founded the School of Music & Drama in Little Silver, New Jersey, and continues as its director.

As much as he loves teaching and playing, though, he derives his greatest joy from composing. “The best way I can contribute anything,” he says, “is by creating new original music.” More than two decades ago, he released two original CDs, Full Circle, in 1994 and Brazilian Sunflower, in 1998. This past November, he was back in the studio, where he recorded the double album Blues from the Vault, comprising 12 of his original, blues-inflected jazz pieces. On it, he plays the Gibson Pat Martino Custom electric guitar he won in an online contest more than a decade ago, with Kyle Koehler on organ and Noel Sagerman on drums. By the beginning of December, he had finished mixing and mastering the album, which is available on Spotify. “It was a wonderful experience,” he says, “and I’m very proud of the music.”

But having poured so much of himself, not to mention his time and effort, into the album, he experienced a bit of writer’s block when the project wrapped. Recently, though, he has begun to experience stirrings of creativity. “It’s coming back,” he says.  “The real question is what to do next.” Whatever the answer turns out to be, guitar is sure to be at the heart of it.