Student Success Story, Tom Lehman
May 12, 2015
Fate sometimes looks like a genius.
In spring of 2013, Firestone High School senior Tom Lehman was on the brink of enrolling at the University of Akron with an undeclared major. But as fate would have it, he visited Cuyahoga Community College with an ensemble from his school. After the band played, Lehman was pulled aside by Stephen Enos, director of Jazz Studies at Tri-C, who encouraged him to join his program.
Lehman started at Tri-C that fall, and followed a curriculum designed to prepare him to transfer to the Berklee College of Music as a sophomore. Now Lehman has a choice to make; he has been accepted to Berklee in Boston, as well as Oberlin College and the Hartt School in Connecticut. It’s just a matter of which path will lead to his dream of making a living as a jazz musician.
“In 10 years, I’d like to be surrounded by five like-minded musicians,” Lehman said. “Everybody in the group writes and creates a very personal approach to music. And that’s it. We start touring the world.”
After two years at Tri-C, Lehman looks like he is at home on stage, where his main instrument is trumpet, though he also sings. He has been part of several Tri-C jazz ensembles, including with bassist Christian McBride in 2014. This summer, his Akron-based band, Acid Cats, will play on the outdoor stage at the Tri-C JazzFest. And for two years, has played regular gigs with Ernie Krivda’s Jazz Studies Workshop at the Barking Spider Tavern in University Circle.
That, he said, has been tremendously valuable and also probably the most challenging part of his education because it meant memorizing music. The first time he played, Lehman said, he showed up with sheet music and started setting up a music stand. Krivda asked him what he was doing. “You can’t be doing that. I need you over here, looking at me,” Krivda told him. “But it’s OK this time.”
“After that, it was like, this is the gig. I’ve gotta [practice] for it,” Lehman said.
For his part, Krivda credits Lehman’s “ability to understand what being very good meant and his desire to be very good as quickly as possible. It is not possible to be all you can be overnight. But the desire to become a meaningful musician should include an impatience that makes you go after it with a fury, and Tom does that.”
In the time Lehman has spent at Tri-C — honing his trumpet and vocal chops, studying theory and ear training — he has discovered a passion for the music that he didn’t have as a high schooler.
“Tri-C made me fall in love with this music,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what to listen to, or what I enjoyed hearing. But my teachers were always saying, ‘Hey, listen to this. Check this out.'"
Once involved in the program, he said, “It wasn’t like school anymore. It was just wanted I wanted to do hour after hour.”