William Flynn’s passion for playing guitar has led the young jazz musician on a journey that’s landed him right where he wants to be.
As a former Mitchell High School band student, he electrified Corn Palace crowds with his guitar during home sporting events. Now, at age 30, he is one of the youngest tenure-track music professors at Wichita State University, where he currently serves as the Director of Jazz studies.
“Jazz is what really got me obsessed with playing guitar and music, and it’s kind of odd that love of jazz developed growing up in Mitchell,” Flynn said.
While he learned guitar basics from his father Sean Flynn, a history professor at Dakota Wesleyan University, it was MHS Band Director Ryan Stahle who sparked the fire of Flynn’s guitar passion.
“Ryan Stahle really inspired me to make the guitar my primary instrument, because I used to play the trumpet and tuba before Stahle pushed me to go further with my guitar,” Flynn said. “I would definitely not be where I am without him.”
While Stahle has created a rich music program at MHS, he credits Flynn for helping build the culture.
“Will is a musically gifted individual, and where his music career has taken him is a testament to his talent and love for guitar,” Stahle said. “He isn’t just insanely gifted, he’s a very hard-worker, and that’s a rare combination.”
After graduating from high school, Flynn followed his guitar dreams and studied jazz at Capital University, a prestigious music college in Columbus, Ohio.
“Ryan (Stahle) would take us to a music camp in Illinois, and I met a guitar teacher that taught at Capital University, and he kind of recruited me to study there,” Flynn said. “I knew if I wanted to challenge myself in music and guitar, I needed to get out of South Dakota.”
Falling in love with the academia side of music, Flynn decided to advance his studies and enroll in a master’s degree program at the University of North Texas.
“That’s when I really began dreaming about becoming a music professor, and I was fortunate enough to play in the One O’Clock Lab Band, which is one of the more premier college bands in the nation,” Flynn said of his time at the University of North Texas, which is one of the first colleges in the country to offer a jazz degree.
In between putting in countless hours studying and learning guitar riffs, a representative for Princess Cruises -- a well-known cruise ship line based out of Bermuda -- was visiting Flynn’s campus to offer auditions for a summer job as a cruise ship music entertainer. Flynn’s guitar skills impressed the recruiter and landed him a job with the cruise ships, where he found himself performing for tourists and guests while traveling along the coasts of Southeast Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
“Life on the cruise ship was a great experience, but I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do long-term,” Flynn said.
With a year of graduate school left, Flynn began to think about his music future, which he notes as a difficult time in his life. Master’s degree in hand, Flynn was coming to the realization of how challenging landing a job as a music professor was.
“I really didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduate school,” Flynn said. “It’s very, very hard to find a full-time tenured track academic position in this field, so I was thinking about just moving to a city and looking for a job outside of academia.”
During that difficult time, Flynn caught his music break in the summer of 2013, when a former professor emailed him about an interim teaching job at Wichita State University.
“It was a great opportunity, and I didn’t think I would get the job, but I ended up getting the job,” Flynn said. “It totally landed in my lap, and I love this school, the faculty and the students I teach.”
During his first year as an interim music professor at Wichita State University, a full-time tenured track position opened up, and Flynn was the right man for the job. Currently in the middle of his fifth year teaching guitar as the Director of Jazz studies, Flynn’s found time to continue creating music of his own, which he performs once a month at a popular cigar bar in downtown Wichita. His most notable performances were at the Overture to Overtown Jazz Festival in Miami, Florida and the Charlie Parker Celebration Festival in Kansas City, Missouri.
Although he finds deep passion in teaching guitar riffs to college students, Flynn has fallen in love with the music making process. The young jazz professor has produced three full-length albums that are available on all streaming music services.
“I love the music making process, and taking a project from the infancy stages of an idea that’s in your head and putting to pen and paper is unlike anything in this world,” Flynn said of writing and producing songs. “When I listen to past songs I’ve made, it reflects what was inspiring me at that time, and it’s a way for me to always grow as a guitarist.”