- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - After 16 years teaching at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith and 21 years serving in the Army, professor Charles L. Booker Jr. has decided to bid farewell to Fort Smith and head into retirement.

Booker, associate professor of theory and composition at UAFS, teaches conducting, music theory, orchestration and composition. He has previously served as the director of bands, director of jazz studies and the chair of the Music Department.

Born in Mississippi, Booker moved to live with his mother in San Antonio when he was a teenager, where he eventually met his wife of 43 years, Claudette.

Booker said his mother was a huge influence in his becoming interested in music - she loved to dance and bought him his first cornet.

His mother urged him to study jazz and classical music, and from there he played trumpet in rock and Motown bands, Booker told the Times Record (http://bit.ly/1juiPod).

“From classical music, I think I get my structure and my understanding of the elements of music, and the foundation,” Booker said. “Pop music and jazz gave me that passion that I enjoy.”

Shortly after getting married in 1971, Booker joined the Army at age 19 as a trumpeter with the Fifth Army Band. At 22, he won the position of staff arranger for the Army Field Band in Washington.

Booker decided he wanted his own band, became a warrant officer and went on to conduct the Fifth Infantry Division band, Third Armored Division band, the Army band in New York and eventually returned to Washington and became director of the Jazz Ambassadors.

“The DC gig was probably the most musically satisfying gig,” Booker said. “I was working with all professional musicians who came into the Army to be in the jazz band.”

For seven years, Booker and the Jazz Ambassadors traveled the world, playing gigs in India, Japan, Europe, Mexico, the far East and other places. The Ambassadors were the first military jazz band to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

After carting his family all over the world, Booker decided to settle down and get into teaching. In 1998, Booker was hired as director of jazz studies at UAFS.

Soon after becoming jazz director, Booker dually served as band director at the university. He also was named chair of the Department of Music in 2002.

From 2006 to 2009, Booker served just as band director before becoming an associate professor.

“I love my students. I work hard with them and develop them so they can be successful,” Booker said. “That’s very important to me - that they’re successful. It’s not just about the grades, it’s about learning to be successful as a human being and to develop good habits.”

Aside from teaching, Booker has written several published works - he had eight pieces of music published last year. He also has released five CDs since 2007.

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