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January 9, 2004

Teaching Government and Playing Jazz are all in a Day's Work For One ULM Professor

Pearson Cross, a History and Government professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe leads a double life. During the day, he lectures students on the complexities of government and politics. By night, he can be found behind a keyboard playing Jazz tunes at local clubs.

Cross performs most every Thursday night at the Red Regalé Jazz Café in Monroe. He also makes an appearance at a number of other local hot spots and private parties.

Teaching comes first for Cross, though he has made a name for himself outside of the classroom as a professional Jazz Pianist. In fact, he says he stays so busy with gigs and teaching that turning down requests to perform is normal for him.

Piano playing for Cross is his personal expression time. "It is a good outlet where I am exercising my aesthetic sense. I don't paint. I play piano and Jazz." He firmly believes that everyone should have a developed sense of their artistic side.

Cross plays his music for personal and professional reasons. He says it is good to let the students know that he is just like them. "Professors are human too. I like to think that students will see me and say, 'I don't have to be pigeonholed in my career,'" he says.

Cross has taught at ULM just over 4 years and was teaching in the Boston area for 2 years before that. He admits that while he is first and foremost a teacher, he has spent more time in his previous career as a professional pianist than he has (so far) as a professor. His piano career began with touring and playing gigs whenever he could. He then got a steady job where he played in the San Francisco Bay area at Hyatt Hotels for over 6 years. Cross left his performing occupation behind as he went on to receive his BA from San Francisco State University and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University.

As a musician, Cross feels right at home on the stage and as a professor, his interaction with the students is also second nature. He says, "Seeing the students, for the first time, understand a viewpoint other than their own and showing them the complexity of the world is a rewarding experience. So many students have not yet come to the realization that there is more than one perspective"

There is an interesting juxtaposition to Cross' two passions. He loves playing the piano, yet does not enjoy teaching it. Just as he loves teaching government, but would not want to be a part of it.

He says he has spent a lot of his time playing and teaching, but in the end, "Hopefully I am a better teacher than a Jazz pianist."

You can reach Pearson Cross through email at

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