While Billie Eilish won big this year at the 2020 Grammy’s, taking home the awards for best record, song, album, and best new artist, another musician was recognized and awarded a little closer to home. Earlier in January, UNO’s own professor Steve Masakowski was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Music Education by OffBeat Magazine, a publication dedicated to showcasing the music and culture of New Orleans, at their Best of the Beat Business Awards.
“Of course, I’m very honored and quite surprised that OffBeat Magazine selected me for a Lifetime Achievement Award in music education. My initial response was ‘why did they award this to me?’ I can think of some other very deserving people including two of my former teachers Hank Mackie, and Dr. Bert Braud,” says Prof. Masakowski. Sharing the stage that night was also Peaches Records’ Shirani Rea who earned the Lifetime Achievement in Music Business, and the Positive Vibrations Foundation recognized Clarence “Big Chief Delco” Dalcour of the Creole Osceola Mardi Gras Indiana Tribe as a culture bearer, and Margie Perez, a New Orleans vocalist.
“My experience began in New Orleans as a kid growing up on Magazine St,” Prof. Masakowski says when asked about his beginnings as a musician. “My mother, Ruth, was always singing around the house and playing great records on our turntable. Also, I remember listening to Paul Crawford’s traditional jazz band rehearse down the street from us. Hearing the marching bands play in the Mardi Gras parades had an impact on me. There is always music in the air in New Orleans.”
Receiving his education at the Berklee College of Music, Prof. Masakowksi began teaching at UNO in 1992. He also holds the Coca-Cola Endowed Chair of Jazz Studies, a title once held by Ellis Marsalis, his mentor. “I’ve always been inspired by my mentor Dr. Ellis Marsalis. Ellis had a great way of bringing his life experiences and musical knowledge to the classroom and inspired so many of the great young jazz musicians of today.”
Though he’s played music all over the world with some of the biggest names in music, his own style of jazz fits just right in his hometown of New Orleans. “I’ve been playing jazz all of my life so I would say that’s my preference. But, I’ve always been open-minded about all forms of good music, and I listen to lots of different things including classical, funk, blues, and rock. I’ve also been influenced by my daughter and son, Sasha and Martin, who are both UNO alums and are up on the most cutting edge trends in music.” Graduates of UNO themselves, Sasha and Martin have followed their father’s footsteps in music. Prof. Masakowski has performed and recorded a number of pieces with Sasha, a vocalist, and Martin, a bassist.
“Everyone has a unique personality,” says Prof. Masakowski. “My goal is to help students discover who they are musically and to encourage them to develop their strengths as aspiring artists.” Having spent nearly 30 years teaching at UNO, Prof. Masakowski continues to instruct his students in advanced composition, jazz theory, and applied guitar.