Meet Dr. Gai

Faculty Profile
by Daniel Mollenkamp

Photography by Emily Jordan

Please use Professional bio for programs and publications

Decades ago, before he embarked on his career as a teacher and musician, Dr. James Gai was actually a plumber for a while. One thing he learned was a work ethic that has served him well in music. He learned that you get the job done. You work an eight-hour day, and at the end of it – nothing leaks. Many times as a musician he has worked longer hours, and the same philosophy applies. Just listen to Jim Gai play and you’ll hear, even after a long day, nothing leaks – his performance is tight.

As a kid James Gai chose the clarinet with the naïve hope that it would be easier to play because it had more keys to make all the notes. As he pursued his education, he not only mastered his musical skills on clarinet, saxophone, flute, oboe, and bassoon, but also the people skills necessary to be a great teacher. He was a public school band director and a professor at Northern State College in South Dakota before joining the UCM faculty in 1985.

While his long career and status as a Doctor of Arts in Woodwind Performance naturally commands respect, when he performs alongside students, he considers himself another fellow musician, telling them that “Doctor” doesn’t mean anything when he’s got an instrument in his hand. The camaraderie that develops between musicians is something Dr. Gai has valued throughout his career.

Dr. Gai encourages his students to discover their own inspiration or spark within themselves, and emphasizes fundamentals. As a result, they have found success at every level, with careers in education ranging from middle school through higher education, and performance careers that include symphony positions, military bands, cruise ships, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra. His students consistently rank among the top collegiate artists in the state and region, most recently placing 1-2-3 at the state level. His students have won the Missouri Music Teachers Association Outstanding Woodwind Performer Auditions Lower and Upper Division, Honorable Mention Saxophone Quartet, and numerous Alternate and Honorable Mention ratings to soloists. His students have also won the prestigious Federated Music Clubs Auditions, with one saxophonist competing nationally.

Dr. Gai is the Principal Clarinet of the Lee’s Summit Symphony, and a regular sub with the Kansas City Symphony. In the world of jazz, he leads the After-hours Trio, and the eight-piece Jim Gai Big Band. He has performed with numerous symphonies across the U.S., has performed in the pit orchestras of nineteen musicals, and has played for such diverse artists as Bob Hope, Red Skelton, The Lettermen, the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, Roberta Peters, Ben Vereen, Tommy Netherton, Myron Floren, and Bobby Layne. The demand for his work as a performer and clinician has taken him across the Midwest, to the Bahamas, and to Canada’s International Peace Garden.

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