Student musicians are attracted to the University of Houston's Moores School of Music (MSM) by their desire to perform and create beautiful music. Graduate student Henry Darragh long had musical aspirations but cites other reasons for bringing his talents to the university.
"Honestly, I needed a new transmission for a broken down Ford Explorer," he said laughing. "If I got back into college, I was eligible for a loan that could help me pay for that."
Darragh has since sold that Explorer, but remains invested in UH and the Moores School. He is in the second year of his master's degree in conducting with a jazz emphasis. His experiences at the university, directing and playing with the Moores Jazz Ensemble prepared him for the role of producer and performer on his debut CD "Tell Her for Me."
Darragh released the disc in September. 2009, and it continues to receive positive reviews from local music critics. Some have likened his smooth voice to that of jazz great Chet Baker, and the CD made the list of "favorite albums of the decade" on 29-95.com, the Houston Chronicle's entertainment Web site and was positively reviewed on the Web site AllAboutJazz.com.
"It's a pleasant debut that many who are looking for a pleasant vocal romp with a jazz edge will find appealing," wrote AllAboutJazz.com critic David Rickert. "If this is any indication his next record promises to be even better."
He sings and plays piano on 10 of 11 tracks and composed six of the disc's numbers. He also recruited all of the musicians and oversaw its production.
While recording "Tell Her For Me," he discovered that it's tough to be the boss in the studio, but his graduate work eased him into that role.
Another factor contributing to Darragh's musical growth is mentorship from Noe Marmolejo, director of jazz ensembles. From one-on-one coaching to classroom instruction, Darragh credits Marmolejo as an invaluable resource.
"Working with him has been a great experience," he said. "I've taken his jazz history class a number of times. He really knows his stuff. It's also been helpful that he brings masters of the craft to campus annually through the Moores Jazz Festival."
Music has been present throughout Darragh's life. While growing up in nearby Pasadena, Texas, Darragh was inspired by his mother , a veteran church music director, and his school band directors.
"I've always sang," he said. "I sang in the choir at different churches, and I picked up the piano and trombone. I thought leaving high school I wanted to be a classical trombonist and maybe go the path of trying to get a symphony gig but I turned to jazz."
His musical interests intensified as a student at San Jacinto Community College and ultimately at the UH Moores School. In 2004, he arrived to the campus in that infamous Ford Explorer and received a bachelor's degree in music in 2008. He expects to graduate with his master's degree this semester and doesn't rule out the possibility of returning to earn a performance certificate from the Moores School of Music.
While Darragh contemplates his academic future, he will continue to promote "Tell Her for Me" and perform around Houston. Audiences can expect to hear selections from the disc, as well as a host of jazz standards.
"It's kind of a new experience for me," said Darragh of his new role as jazz front man. "I am still getting used to it. During performances, I usually play a supportive role whether it's playing at weddings or restaurants. Now that audiences are showing up to hear the music on the CD, I am learning more about being both a musician and entertainer. That's not such a bad thing."
For more details on Darragh including local appearances, visit www.henrydarragh.com. "Tell Her for Me" is available on digstation.com, iTunes and other outlets.