Kris Tiner

let us know about your current career, education, and background. Whatever you would like to share!

 I am a trumpet player, composer, and music educator originally from Wasco, CA. I attended CSUB from 1996-2000, graduating with a BA in trumpet performance. After that I attended California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) from 2001-2003, and graduated from the performer-composer program with an MFA in African-American Improvisational Music. I’ve toured internationally with my own groups and many other side projects, and I’ve recorded over 60 albums, plus music for TV and motion pictures. Since 2004 I’ve been the director of the jazz program at Bakersfield College, and I’ve been an adjunct faculty member at CSUB, teaching trumpet, jazz appreciation, and other courses in the music department. I am also currently teaching in the Jazz Studies program at CalArts. More info is available at my website,

 How did your experiences at CSUB help you find your first position after graduation? 

 I came to CSUB to work with Dr. Doug Davis. He heard me play when I was a high school student, and right away he encouraged me to get involved with some of the players in the CSUB Jazz Program. Doug gave me opportunities to write music and lead my own group at CSUB Jazz concerts when I was still just a kid. It meant the world to me that someone whom I respected so highly had the confidence in my abilities to put me out front like that and call me a “composer”. That gave me the confidence to push forward, to get a band started, find opportunities to play around Bakersfield, and eventually record my own music and make a CD. When I got to grad school I was surprised to learn that many of the students my age had never acquired that kind of practical experience. They performed at school events but rarely did anything off campus or in the community. So I was able to immediately organize a group, and we began recording our music and playing all over Los Angeles. After a year or so that group morphed into the Empty Cage Quartet, a project that I’ve toured with for almost 15 years. We’ve made ten albums together, and it has all been completely original music.

 What career advice would you give our students?

 I try to impress upon my students that the only way to grow is to immerse yourself in musical experiences - practicing, performing, listening, teaching, rehearsing, recording… basically, never pass up an opportunity to do more music. 21st century musicians need to cultivate a very diverse skill set. Jobs for professional musicians are far less specialized than they were even a few decades ago, and this is especially the case in a smaller community like ours. So the more dynamic your experience and abilities and interests are, the more opportunities you’ll have, and that’s also how you improve and eventually find your own voice as an artist. It will never happen if you isolate yourself. You have to learn to collaborate with other musicians, listen and learn from artists who have been around longer than you, and eventually you will find a pathway that allows you to express yourself AND make a contribution to your musical community. 

 How did you decide to pursue the career that you are working in today? Was there a pivotal moment? 

 I heard Louis Armstrong’s music when I was about 12 years old and that was it. It was like an electric shock! There was so much joy, love, and personality in his sound. All I could think about was learning how to unlock the secret of what he was doing - it eclipsed everything else I had been interested in to that point. I’m still trying to figure it out.

 How do you foster creative and innovative thinking within your organization? 

 I try to model the kind of mentoring relationships with my students that helped me to thrive when I was in school. I look for opportunities to encourage and showcase their creativity, whether that means writing original music, playing in a certain style, in a certain kind of group, venue, or whatever. My job is to help them find their own voice.

 What are the most important decisions that you face daily as a leader in your organization? 

 I have a lot of plates spinning all the time - teaching at three or four schools, performing with my own ensembles as well as dozens of side projects, and trying to be a decent husband and a father to two energetic little girls. It’s a constant process of figuring out where my focus needs to be at any given time. But most teaching artists I know are in a similar situation. You have to get used to the constant, frenetic pace of it all and find a way to maintain your center.

 What have you accomplished or overcame in the past that you thought was impossible at the time? 

 Making my first album, first out of town gig, first national tour, first international tour… each of these milestones were exciting in their own way, because the big opportunity always seems so far removed from the daily grind of just dealing with the instrument, practicing, writing, rehearsing. It’s a struggle most of the time, and the trumpet can be a very cruel and unforgiving companion. You have to remember the extraordinary experiences and carry them with you, so that you stay motivated to push through all of the other stuff.

 What hardships did you face, and how did you overcome them?

 There have been some really lean times, particularly during the recession when my teaching work seemed to dry up for awhile. I am lucky to have a strong support system. My wife Kim and I are both from this area and all of our family is here. So I was able to be the stay-at-home dad for a while, and take whatever work came along, usually night classes and evening gigs. Thanks to that family support, we were able to make it work.

 Who is a person that you considered as a role model early in your life? 

 My dad was my first trumpet teacher. He was one of those rare people who could do just about anything. He played several instruments and had a very artistic, creative mind. He was a machinist and a welder by trade but for fun he would create these wonderful metal sculptures that were just incredible, entirely from his imagination. And he could fix anything. He was from that generation that didn’t replace things when they broke down - you'd just fix it until it can’t be fixed anymore. The older I get, the more I appreciate that. 

 Which accomplishment are you most proud of? 

 When I see my former students doing it right - writing original music, putting bands together, and finding their own opportunities to play - that is the best feeling. Because the whole community benefits from that growth, far beyond what one person could accomplish alone. The key to having a rich, vital local culture is collaboration - artists respecting each other, supporting each other, and sharing what they know. If my students figure that out, then my work is done.