Gettin' Saxy with Darren Rahn '94

(01-03-2018)

Adams State alumnus Darren Rahn (center, with saxophone) with members of the Adams State Uptown and Downtown Jazz Ensembles.

A silver saxophone gripped in his hands, Darren Rahn '94 filled the room with jazz at the Homecoming jazz concert. A jazz artist, producer, and mixing engineer, Rahn has over 25 number one radio singles and multiple Grammy nominations. He returned to his alma mater and took the stage with students.

"The students were playing at a different level," said Dr. James Doyle, associate professor of music. "Darren's presence on stage and his embracing spirit clearly inspired the ensembles to play great."

Rahn spent Friday afternoon with students, dispensing inspirational advice in the classroom and rehearsing for the evening. On Saturday, he also delighted the audience at halftime of the football game with a jazz solo.

According to Dr. Angela Winter, director of bands, the students were excited after rehearsing and performing with him. "Someone with that much commercial success coming from the ASU Music Department made several of the brass students I teach see their future possibilities in a different light. They were excited and energized to go practice."

Cheyenne Hopkins, a music performance and education major, performs in the Adams State Sunset Brass Quartet and Alpine Back Beats Drum Line, as well as the wind ensemble and the jazz band. She appreciated Rahn suggesting that a solo between multiple people should seem more like a conversation than like a standard solo. "He really had me pay more attention to listening than trying to play the best solo I could."

A lot of time, energy, and hard work are needed to become successful in any field, and that certainly applies to any of the arts - especially the music business. While attending Adams State, Rahn held two work-study jobs, taught 10 private saxophone lessons, and took 25 credit hours per semester. "I spent a lot of time in the practice room. When everyone else went home or out, I was in there practicing."

Although he is well-known as a jazz musician, Rahn works with many different styles of music. As a student, he participated in all the ensembles on campus, including concert band, marching band, jazz and jazz combo, and even concert and chamber choir. "I developed a wide skill set at Adams State. It plays a big part in how I write and produce now. I dabbled in all of it in college. All different facets of the music program I experienced in the different areas were integral to my career."

In Doyle's Music Business class, Rahn shared his experiences and path to success that started at Adams State. "Darren's time at Adams State provided him with a diversity of opportunity and, combined with his hard work and dedication to music, he has had success," Doyle said. "Hearing from an alumnus who practiced and studied in the very same classrooms, practice rooms, and rehearsal rooms is a very powerful and tangible experience."

Larger universities attempted to recruit Rahn. However, he connected with Dr. Benny Ferguson, former Music Department chair. "He made sure the big schools did not whisk me away." Ferguson helped Rahn receive a small scholarship and helped him secure his work-study positions.

"We had schools looking at us (Rahn's twin brother, Jason '94, also graduated from Adams State) but we wanted opportunities to grow and develop, and we believed Adams State could better provide those chances. I had friends attend big schools and they got lost in the crowd." Rahn didn't let limitations hold him back. Despite the fact Adams State had no jazz program, an "excellent" adjunct, Mark Israel, traveled from the Colorado Springs Air Force Academy to teach trombone and jazz. "He was a great force to learn all about jazz. So many instructors laid the groundwork and planted the seeds for my future career."

Rahn eventually taught a jazz improvisation class. "When you have to develop the skill set to teach and explain to other students, it deepens that area for you, as well. From my perspective, rather than push students through the system, Adams State allowed us to develop our own music personalities. It was key to the experience."

He extended his past teaching experience to current music students. "Before he visited, I never really enjoyed playing jazz," Hopkins added. "I love listening to it though. Darren Rahn helped me realize that I just need to add more of my personality into the music I play. He inspired me to not only take chances, but to also make standard music my own with my own flavor."

After earning his degree in music education and performance from Adams State, Rahn received a master's degree from the University of Northern Colorado and started working on a doctoral degree. "I realized I did not need a paper to perform. I wanted to risk it all and go for a professional career as a musician and recording artist." He continued to enroll in clinics and workshops which were beneficial throughout his early career.

Notes of success

It took 10 years of persistence and dedication to his career before the record label Rendezvous Music provided a wonderful opportunity. Rahn had submitted a song and, although the label admired his work, it was unable to sign him. Instead, they put him in touch with Wayne Tisdale, a jazz bass guitarist and former member of the 1984 United States Basketball "Dream Team." Rahn produced a radio single for him, a remake of Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now. Within nine weeks, it was number one on the Billboard charts. "Then the phone started ringing with requests for me to record, produce, and play. It is grace, trust me."

That opportunity was not simply a lucky shot. Rahn spent 15 years prepping, and his belief system has always sustained him through the more challenging aspects of his life. "My faith is the core of who I am musically. God's grace has carried me through."

When advising young musicians, Rahn says: "Don't look for any big doors to open. Just go through all the small doors with excellence and preparation. You have to have a servant's heart and be the person everyone wants to work with. Check your ego at the door. Say what you are going to do and then do what you said."

Rahn and his wife, Priscilla, continue to live and work in the Denver area. They enjoy traveling and experiencing many different cultures. For more information about Rahn, visit darrenrahn.com.