Eau Claire’s music man

Story by Emily Albrent, News Editor

For some, it’s all about that jazz. UW-Eau Claire has an exceptional music program that students flock to, and  senior Mike Malone is no exception.

Malone founded The Mike Malone Big Band his sophomore year at Eau Claire with the help of Robert Baca, professor of music and director of jazz studies.

“I started doing things with more of a set, set book of tunes, from a Big Bander, from the swing area so we could play dances,” Malone said.

Baca said he helped with resources and direction for the Big Band, but Malone handled promotion, the hard work and  earned the group’s success.  Baca said in the end, Malone gets all the credit.

“Let me just say Michael is one of the most entreprenuerial, project-oriented, success-driven human beings I have ever met,” Baca said. “He understands the definition of short and long term goals about as good as anyone I have ever been in contact with.”

Baca said Malone always has his parts prepared. He said it takes a special individual to take ownership of their part of the bigger picture and not always assume leadership.

“He is the best,” Baca said. “I think he has all the success traits to do extremely well, and those traits are to be respectful with the larger picture, to think about how one can contribute rather than to criticize the direction, to be as prepared as possible and hoping that the rest are on the same level to make the larger picture better.”

Malone said he has been playing music since he was very young.

“I took piano lessons when I was five, but I got pretty serious into music when I got into sixth grade band,” Malone said.

The Mike Malone Big Band isn’t his only musical endeavor. He also has other side projects such as Malonious Thunk and Chwerbel/Malone. He plays mostly drums and percussion but also piano. His big band consists of about 16 people, but that number fluctuates depending on the gig.

“Basically, what really got us going was doing the swing dances on campus at Higher Ground and now moving to The Lookout,” Malone said. “They have been really good to us and pretty much let us play every month since I was a sophomore.”

Not only does the Mike Malone Big Band play on campus, but it also plays in the community. He’s booked future gigs at Pizza Plus and Heyde Center for the Arts in Chippewa.

“We have been doing a swing dance that we will be doing our second year at (Eau Claire) Memorial High School because I think some of their students who are in the music area kind of heard about what we are doing on campus and they wanted to bring it to their high school,” Malone said.

Malone said the band is open to playing as much in the community as it can, but they do not get to play too often, usually just once or twice a month.

Junior Miles Plant has been playing in the Big Band since his freshman year and has been playing piano for 13 years, he said.

“I think the best part is getting to watch people have fun,” Plant said. “It’s like I’m playing music that is making people have fun, it’s being part of an experience, it’s great to see that music bringing people joy.”

Plant said he is happy the Big Band exists here at Eau Claire.

“It needs to happen,” Plant said.  “Things like this, they don’t happen that often, and they are dying out. This music is dying out.”

Malone is wonderful to work with because he is laid back, as long as everyone is doing their part, Plant said.

“He is a great guy and he is a fantastic musician,” Plant said.  “He can lead a band from the drum set without a problem, he knows how to play and how to play well and I love working with him; he is a really great entrepreneur.”

The growing music scene in Eau Claire is great, Malone said.

“I think the community really appreciates all the talent that’s in the area and they really make a point of supporting it and enjoying it,” Malone said.

The Big Band has given him and other students a chance to experience something that does not come often in the jazz world. Many times, he said people with a jazz career play in smaller groups of four or five.

“Having this group, we have all had this opportunity way more times than a lot of jazz players,” Malone said.

Malone doesn’t just play for the Big Band, he recently became even more involved.

“It’s kind of a newer thing I have been doing, writing music specifically for the band,” Malone said.

Tackling both school, work and the Big Band, along with his many other projects, takes up a lot of his time.

“I just have to be really organized,” Malone said. “I am definitely that kind of person who had four or five different calendars floating around on my computer or on the walls.”

Malone said he wants to continue with his musical career after graduation. Baca said he has high hopes for Malone and wishes him all the best.

“For him to be happy,” Baca said. “And for him to be happy would be to be involved with musical projects that take him to the end of his ability and beyond. For a musician, that’s as good as it gets.”