Editor’s note: This profile was written in October 2015, with its writer deciding to share it with the Free Press after the news of Professor Bo Eckard’s passing.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of beguile is to “charm or chant (someone).” Synonyms include charm, attract, enchant, and entrance.
Steven Eckard has a charm that allows him to intermingle with almost every sort of group he encounters. Whether it is a mariachi band, Ethiopians in charge of a parking garage, or the presence of Bill Gates at a Microsoft Christmas party, Eckard can feel at home in a myriad of environments.
If you called him Steven, however, it is likely that he would not respond. It could be that the volume on his electric bass amp is turned up to 10 or that the batteries in his hearing aids are dying, but most likely it is because his friends, family, and coworkers know him as Bo.
Bo is a Senior Lecturer of Music and Director of Jazz Studies here at McDaniel College. Born and raised in Westminster, Bo attended Loyola University in Baltimore. He returned to Westminster later in life and was the first to complete Western Maryland College’s World Music Pedagogy program.
Just from entering his office you can tell how important different styles of music are to him, because the space is absolutely cluttered with different types of string instruments.
“He’s kind of like a cultural chameleon,” claims his oldest daughter Anna Eckard, who is currently a senior at McDaniel College. “He always had these cultural phases.”
When she was twelve, Anna’s father casually wore a Dashiki, a type of African robe, around the house and listened to African Putumayo CDs. Putumayo World Music is a company from New York known for compiling music of different cultures.
His ability to engage with everyone he comes across is partially responsible for how he got his job as an adjunct professor over 30 years ago. According to Dr. Linda Kirkpatrick, the Director of Instrumental Music at McDaniel, there were so many students interested in joining the jazz band on campus that a second band had to be developed. After a single afternoon of chatting with the Director of the Music Department, Bo landed his first gig here at McDaniel.
However, there are other credentials that helped him secure a job as an adjunct professor besides his degree. Of course a music instructor must be book smart, but there is some knowledge that cannot be taught in a classroom. Bo would have to go out on his own in order to gain experience.
After earning his degree from Loyola in 1980, Bo stayed in Baltimore to take part in the nightlife as a bassist in various bands. Apparently playing at local gigs can be quite demanding on the body.
“I can think of a couple of occasions when we were up all night, until the sun came up,” said Bo. “3 o’clock [in the morning] was a usual time.”
In 1986, Eckard set out to Washington D.C. in an attempt to join the live music scene that is known for its successful musicians. He joined with four other people in the late 1980s to form Essentials, a Pop/Rock band that would go on to win “Best Local Pop/Rock Group” in 1991 and 1992. One member of the band was a lawyer as well as a musician, which helped the band financially. With the financial help of some of their wealthier friends, Essentials released their album Beguiled in 1990.
Despite being only a fifth of the band, Bo said he wrote half of the album’s lyrics and music. Songs of his include “Big World,” “Something’s Different,” and “Cause I Love You.” With an abundance of Bo’s love songs on the album, it is clear that his wife was quite an influence on his music. According to their daughter, she was one of Essential’s groupies and even convinced Bo to change the name of a song from “Nothing’s Different” to its current title “Something’s Different.”
Unfortunately, according to Bo, the band used its own label instead of waiting to be signed and suffered distribution issues. For this reason, only select stores chose to sell the album and it never reached its full potential. On the bright side, Bo was able to experience the nightlife of a bassist in D.C. and continues to offer his knowledge from these experiences to his students.
Bo tells all sorts of stories to his students ranging from comical to sentimental and most have an important message. Brandon Vallejo, a Music major and one of Bo’s students, has heard many of these anecdotes and will likely hear many more before he graduates.
One such story tells of when Bo was part of a wedding band and was driving with a friend the night after playing for newlyweds. The two stumbled upon a salsa club, but the bouncers refused to let them in because they were too underdressed. Luckily Bo and his friend had just been at a wedding and their tuxedos were still in the car! They changed right in the parking lot and the bouncers were so amused that they let the duo into the club without having to pay the $20 entry fee.
“It really shows the craziness of the touring jazz musician or wedding band player, or whatever he was doing at the moment,” remarked Vallejo. “He’s always doing seven different things.”
Bo has now been a Senior Lecturer at McDaniel for three decades and has many more responsibilities including two Jazz Ensembles, private lessons, and Bass Ensemble. He continues to write new pieces for Bass Ensemble today. He is also directing McDaniel’s brand new Pep Band, which will play at McDaniel sporting events. Its first practice was in October and the group made its debut performance of the season at Homecoming.