Doug Gately

Doug-GatelyDoug Gately’s fingers glide over the keys of the baby grand crammed into a corner of his Pollard Hall office.

After years of training, UMW’s director of jazz studies makes playing music seem simple. But there’s nothing easy about juggling a saxophone, two clarinets, and three flutes, like he did when he played with Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable tour. At such high-caliber events, Gately has to be flawless, but in the classroom, he asks students to be persistent, not perfect.

He had to work hard, too, practicing as many as seven hours a day at Berklee College of Music, where he studied classical music under the late master woodwind player Joe Viola. Berklee has produced more than 200 Grammy Award winners, among them Branford Marsalis, Bruce Hornsby, and Diana Krall.

“They were blowing up a storm,” the New York native said of the students who came from across the globe to the esteemed Boston college. “I’m just a kid from a rural high school.”

He caught up quickly, though, and a few years after graduation landed a spot with the U.S. Air Force’s premier jazz ensemble, the Airmen of Note, playing foreign embassies, officers’ clubs, even the White House.

After 20 years with the military, he earned a bachelor of liberal studies degree at Mary Washington, where he became full-time faculty in 2005, and a master of arts at George Mason.

All the while, stars – Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations – tapped him to jazz up their orchestras. Gately has recorded soundtracks for Disney, written music for commercials, and played fancy affairs including a Cartier anniversary party in New York and a show in London for the crown prince of Greece.

Married, with three grown children, Gately performs with local bands, including his own Doug Gately Trio. He teaches a medley of classes at UMW, where he started jazz, flute, and chamber music festivals. And he stays focused on students, writing original pieces for them to perform, lining up gigs they actually get paid for, and pushing them to pursue their passion for music.

“I can really turn them into professionals,” Gately said. “That’s the joy.”

How would you describe yourself? I’m pretty laid-back, believe it or not. I’m busy. I have high standards. One of my best attributes is I understand. I’ve been there, done that.

What do you like most about Mary Washington? A student could come here and get more individual attention than they would ever get anywhere else. And they’re getting it from highly skilled faculty. You won’t find any better.

How do you feel about the state of the arts in education? I’m concerned about the arts – in high schools, everywhere. One of our most important stops when we travel, when we go to Italy, Paris, Greece, we look at their art. We don’t go to study what their math table was. The arts are where we really find our humanity.

If you were stranded on an island, what one instrument would you want to have with you? The piano. It’s a complete orchestra. It has all the notes. You’ve got rhythm. You’ve got harmony. You’ve got the whole thing. 

What would you do if you could no longer play music? Life’s full of all kinds of challenges. I’m used to that. I’d find something else. Other than being a quarterback for the NFL, I think I can do most things.

Who has been your biggest musical inspiration? As a kid playing the clarinet, Pete Fountain. In college, Phil Woods. For piano, Monty Alexander.

If you could go back in time, in which era would you most prefer to play music? The ’60s, as a jazz musician. There was a lot of high-level jazz playing going on. It was the heyday of the great players, like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Phil Woods.

How would you describe your dream job? I would be happy to just sit home and write music.

What is your pet peeve about music? We’re bombarded with it! I go to pump gas and someone’s singing to me. I reach for my Cheerios and I hear Sting or Cher. It won’t be long before you’re reaching for pork chops and hear Taylor Swift, and I hope she makes your shopping experience all that much better.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you? I’m a world-class black belt in tae kwon do.