Poindexter grew up in Greensboro, not far from the foothills of those fabled Blue
Ridge Mountains. He was raised in a house full of music and Southern storytellers.
His father played guitar in a country band and his grandparents sang jazz and gospel.
A Sunday afternoon in the Poindexter house meant gathering in the big living room
to play through classics of the Americana songbook.
“As a teenager, I really gravitated toward blues and roots music, but also jazz and
classical,” says Poindexter, who formed a band with high school friends and gigged
around town. As Poindexter dove deeper and deeper into his music, the University of
North Carolina School of the Arts was always on his radar.
“Both of my parents are from Winston-Salem and some of my older friends went to UNCSA,”
says Poindexter, who visited the campus early in high school. “I loved the open, collaborative
environment and really wanted to be part of that culture.”
Poindexter was accepted into the high school program at UNCSA in classical guitar.
He loved the rigorous classical training in guitar, but knew he wanted a college program
that would allow him to fully explore his eclectic range of musical tastes and influence.
That’s when he discovered the UNCSA composition program and the extraordinary composition teacher Ken Frazelle.
“All students love Ken — his energy and creativity,” says Poindexter, who switched
from guitar to composition his freshman year at UNCSA. “He didn’t talk to us like
we were kids, and he expected a lot out of us both musically and culturally, to be
aware of the history and complex connections behind the music. Ken was a huge influence
on me and really opened my eyes to the educational power of music.”
Frazelle encouraged Poindexter to explore his love for American roots music in his
writing and to take full advantage of the opportunity to collaborate with so many
talented young artists from so many campus disciplines.
“I wrote pieces for the UNCSA jazz ensemble and the orchestra, but also for dancers,
visual artists and theatrical productions,” says Poindexter. “The way UNCSA is set
up, you’re living side-by-side with all of these amazingly creative people. I really
wanted to be part of everything.”
Poindexter formed a five-piece jazz ensemble with some of his best friends at UNCSA,
and the school sent them gigging all across Winston-Salem, writing and arranging their
own music and having the time of their lives.
It felt like The Beatles in their early years,” says Poindexter, who still works with
the guys from his UNCSA quintet. “We were all super silly yet super serious about
It felt like The Beatles in their early years. We were all super silly yet super serious
Poindexter could have stayed in North Carolina forever, playing jazz and writing new
music for other artists and ensembles, but an opportunity presented itself in New
York City that the adventurous young musician couldn’t resist. In 2007, Poindexter
won the Kenan Performing Arts Fellowship to spend a year at Lincoln Center’s education
and outreach division, now called Lincoln Center Education.
“What’s really incredible about UNCSA is that there are guys like Tom Kenan, who helped
found the school,and who are still very active in creating these opportunities for
young artists,” says Poindexter, whose fellowship turned into a full-time job with
Jazz at Lincoln Center. “I always tell Tom that he’s responsible for everything good that’s ever happened
Since 2008, Poindexter has been the assistant director of education programming at
Jazz at Lincoln Center, home to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra led by the inimitable
Wynton Marsalis. Poindexter’s job is to take the amazing artists associated with Jazz
at Lincoln Center — including his own band, Silver City Bound — and visit communities
across America with a powerful message connecting American music to American ideals
like democracy and social justice.
“Our curriculum is based on a series of conversations that Wynton had with former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Conner,” says Poindexter.
“We go to schools, community centers and concert halls around the world and play shows
that tie the history of jazz to the civil rights movement and demonstrate how improvisation,
the foundation of jazz, is also essential to democracy.”
Poindexter knows that he’s living a rare version of the artist’s dream. Instead of
having to choose between performing with his band and devoting himself to community
outreach and education, he gets paid to do both. Silver City Bound is one of the official
house bands at Lincoln Center and — in addition to their own busy touring schedule — perform at least 50 concerts in New York public schools every year delivering foot-stomping
lessons on freedom, improvisation and cultural heritage.
“Back at UNCSA, Ken Frazelle taught us that great artists are aware of the history
of their art, and can be capable ambassadors for their craft.. All art is educational.
So when you listen to the Rolling Stones or Louis Armstrong or opera, you’re getting
cultural education,” says Poindexter. “I see my job as being a spokesperson for the
music, providing historical and cultural context, and using the powerful experience
of live music as an opportunity to better understand each other and ourselves.”