Mike Titlebaum is the director of jazz studies in the Ithaca College School of Music. Born in Rochester, New York, Titlebaum has a lifelong love of music. He taught music at Florida A&M University in the 1990s before working as a freelance musician in New York City. After Steve Brown, the previous director of jazz studies at Ithaca College, retired in 2008, Titlebaum took over the role. Titlebaum also leads Music Because Music, a band that brings together students, professors and off-campus talent.
Music Because Music’s first performance of the semester is at 7 p.m. Sept. 11 in the Hockett Family Recital Hall the James J. Whalen Center for Music.
Life and Culture Editor Jake Leary talked to Titlebaum about his love of music, the reasons music matters in daily life, and his performance group, Music Because Music.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Jake Leary: I wanted to talk to you today about your band, Music Because Music. Could you tell me a little about the group?
Mike Titlebaum: Music Because Music is a project I started a couple of years ago as a means of playing music with my friends. And my friends are a combination of colleagues here at Ithaca College, local professionals, local music teachers, some students here at the school — basically, anyone who likes playing my music. A lot of people have been part of Music Because Music.
JL: Do you remember the moment you fell in love with music?
MT: I always loved music. Growing up in Rochester, there was a tremendous amount of fantastic music coming through town. My mom would take me to see the Eastman Jazz Ensemble when I was very young, and I just remember being overwhelmed by it: the beauty and the brightness and the quality and the swingingness. And I just thought this is perfect music. … I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think music was an amazing thing I needed to have in my life. … I knew I loved playing records and tapes, and I knew I loved everything about music but didn’t know anything about it at that point … As hard–working and as diligent a study music requires at the end of the day, we still call it “playing music” because we’re supposed to have fun doing it with our friends.
JL: Jumping back to now, jumping back to Music Because Music, could you talk about how the current group came together?
MT: So I’ve been on sabbatical for the past year, and the first half of my sabbatical … I started booking gigs with Music Because Music. We would play at the Rongovian Embassy up in Trumansburg, which has since closed. But they let me bring the band there every couple weeks, and so I just started writing music because I was on sabbatical, so I wrote as many arrangements as I could, as many new compositions as I could for this band. … I don’t know if I could put together a long tour with nine or 10 musicians, but I’ve gone and played this music in other places. I went to Arizona for a couple days. … We did it all out there with a slightly different instrumentation. That was part of the idea of the music was, “Well, what if instead of a trombone, I had a tenor saxophone?” … So I wrote the music in a way that it would be fairly easy to change instruments and slot other people in depending on who was available.
JL: What can people expect from a typical Music Because Music performance?
MT: Sheer joy.
JL: Do you have anything else you’d like people to know about Music Because Music?
MT: Sometimes we find ourselves overwhelmed by work, school, life, politics. So I hope people will come and enjoy and remember that we make music because music. We just want to bring beauty and joy and positive energy as often as we can to as many people as we can.