Nate Winn was ready to be done with school.
After a 10-year hiatus from pursuing his undergraduate degree, the Detroit drummer was back at Wayne State University and on the cusp of earning his bachelor’s in music. At 31, he was also a newlywed and ready for the upcoming post-school chapter in his life and music career.
But when Grammy Award-winning Panamanian pianist virtuoso Danilo Pérez personally invites you to audition for one of the most prestigious music schools in the world? Well, Winn had some thinking to do.
“I was floored by it. I told my wife, Lauren, and she said, ‘Let’s make it happen,’” said Winn, now 34. “But to be honest, I had only come back to close this chapter and that was it. I wasn’t thinking bigger picture, about the opportunities that would come later on."
Pérez’s formal invitation came in 2016 as Chris Collins, professor and director of jazz studies at Wayne State, and the Detroit Jazz Festival Foundation expanded their international outreach with performances and workshops at the world-renowned Panama Jazz Festival. Winn was one of 10 Wayne State students who played as part of the Pan-American Detroit Big Band in front of 15,000 jazz fans from around the world.
After the concert, Pérez, artistic director at the elite Berklee College of Music’s Global Jazz Institute, looked at Winn and said he needed to come to Boston. With only 20 musicians accepted each year, Winn applied, auditioned, and that following fall he and his wife made the move.
“I built great relationships, especially with Danilo,” Winn said. “I toured and traveled with him to Italy, Haiti and Puerto Rico. He and his family have been very instrumental in our life. I’ve been really blessed to have these relationships with him, Chris, and everyone at Wayne and Berklee.”
In between that time, aside from earning a master’s in jazz performance from Berklee, Winn and his wife moved back to Michigan in 2018 to raise their 3-year-old daughter. “I wouldn’t have went back to school, if it weren’t for her,” Winn said of his wife. “Having her in my life is what I needed.”
When he’s not touring or recording, Winn teaches at the Detroit Institute of Music Education. In addition, he, Collins and the rest of the Detroit Jazz Festival All-Stars also serve as ambassadors of Detroit culture, performing annually in Japan, Panama, and at jazz festivals and clubs around the world.
“I had dreams and hopes, but you never know until it happens,” Winn said. “I never could have imagined that I would perform in these places. To this day, it blows my mind. I’m grateful for it and enjoying the journey.”
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Warriors magazine.