Elmhurst College: A Musical Career in the Navy

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A Musical Career in the Navy

For Thomas Eby, life in the U.S. Navy is all about honor, commitment, duty and really hot jazz.

Eby, a 2004 graduate of Elmhurst College, is a trumpeter with the Navy Band’s renowned Commodores jazz ensemble. A Musician 1st Class, Eby joined the Navy in 2014 after earning a highly prized spot in the band through a series of auditions. As a member of the Commodores, Eby represents the Navy in public concerts around the nation, in educational outreach efforts and as musical support for special governmental and diplomatic events.

“We serve as the public face of the Navy, representing all of those who are deployed around the world,” Eby said. “That’s a great honor and a great joy.”

Eby grew up in South Bend, Indiana, in a family of musicians and music lovers. He enrolled at Elmhurst at the urging of a high school music teacher, a move that he says turned out to be “one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.” At Elmhurst, he played in the College’s highly acclaimed and hard-working Jazz Band. Eby says the band’s demanding schedule of local gigs and international tours gave him a glimpse into the professional life of a musician.

“It opens your eyes to how much hard work and commitment is involved in being a musician. You see it in action every day,” he says. “You don’t get that at other schools.”

Eby credits faculty like Jazz Studies Director Doug Beach with guiding him through the rigors of playing at a high level. 

“The personal approach, the loving care the faculty demonstrate, that made Elmhurst a great fit for me,” he said. Eby’s younger brother Isaiah is now studying guitar at Elmhurst.

Eby went on to earn a master’s degree in the renowned jazz program at the University of North Texas and was selected for the highly competitive Disneyland All-American College Band in 2007.

Eby has since played in Top 40 bands, on cruise ships, as a recording-studio session player, in churches and in big band settings with jazz luminaries like Wayne Bergeron and Phil Woods. But the Navy Band offers a particularly unusual context for big band jazz. Navy Band musicians are active duty members of the Navy and meet the same fitness and conduct standards set for all sailors; they also happen to be among the best players in the business. The Commodores play major jazz festivals and appear with greats like Ray Charles and Branford Marsalis.

Eby jumped at the opportunity to audition for the Commodores two years ago, knowing how highly musicians prize positions in the band and how rarely jobs come open. Today he is proud to be playing the music he loves in the U.S. Navy.

“The qualities that are important to the Navy are the same ones that apply to professional musicians: honor, commitment, not accepting less than your best,” Eby said. “Those things go beyond music. When you do something you love with your whole heart, it’s amazing how many doors open for you.”

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