We all have individuals who play an important role or have influence in our lives. I have often thought about the players who have influenced me. Of course, most of us would quickly think of our parents, an important relative, teacher or some friends who have built an important niche in our lives. Others. who at the time seemed important, sometimes fade away over time. But then there are those whose influence remain strong. I have probably had eight or 10 close friends or relatives who have influenced me regardless of when they entered or exited my life. I have longed to share one of them in particular, and the perfect opportunity occurs during Black History Month.
Dr. James Edmonds was a brilliant Black pianist and music professor. A man who taught me a great deal…certainly not as a pianist, but as a musician and as a friend. He had a brilliant mind and talent, which I had the privilege of experiencing for two years while I was in graduate school at Eastern Washington University.
While friendly, he was careful to get to know you well enough before opening his views on complex issues. In other words, he wanted to know you well enough to be able to trust you. When he trusted you, his friendship expanded to new levels. He also was one of the most humble, kind and unassuming individuals I have known. This, in spite of his great intellect and talent.
Jim was an eclectic human being who loved teaching students, performing at the piano, travel and conversation. He loved all of the arts and was highly thought of by faculty and students alike. Besides his amazing skills at the piano, he was a devotee of opera, ballet, symphony concerts, art shows, seminars and lectures on most any subject.
I had only one class from him dealing with musical interpretation and how that interpretation changed moving from one musical period to another. Beyond his thorough understanding of stylistic changes, as was the purpose of the course, his depth of knowledge along with his occasional demonstrations at the piano added a richness difficult to describe.
Jim occasionally invited several students to his home for conversation. It was in those quiet settings that Jim and I became friends. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and because of his wide-ranging interests, he would carry on discussions about a multitude of subjects. Of course, with those wide-ranging discussions he was sharing his knowledge with all who were present. Our friendship grew with the conversations at his home, the class I took from him and in my role as a graduate assistant at Eastern.
Early on, I was flattered when Jim volunteered to be my accompanist for any recital or other solo performance I did as a trumpet player while at Eastern. Understand, I was a fine trumpet player but to have the opportunity to work with a concert pianist at his level was an opportunity to grow musically, which I welcomed and will always cherish.
It was in rehearsal and performance where we became even closer friends. There he gave me the gifts of understanding commitment, focus, patience and the sheer joy of discipline and teamwork. He made the point to me that he often was exhausted at the end of a satisfying performance. Working with Jim, I too experienced his exhaustion! His gifts were valuably transformed to my conducting as well as performing.
After I finished at Eastern, we maintained our friendship. When I began teaching instrumental music at Shoreline Community College, Jim came to Seattle twice to solo with my Symphonic Band. He was one of the members of the wedding party when Susan and I were married. When he came to Seattle for opera or ballet, the three of us would meet up for lunch or dinner.
I was influenced by him in so many ways, but during his couple of decades at the college he influenced and inspired many with his talent and knowledge. What better legacy could he leave behind than changing others lives? We should all aspire to leave such a positive influence on those around us.
Tragically, Jim was killed in an automobile accident in 2002. I am honored to say he was a valued friend who taught many. I am proud to have been one of them.
— By Dave Earling
Former Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling is a music educator and business owner. He and his wife Susan have three adult children and four grandchildren.