Ricky Lomeli, the Music Department Manager at UC Santa Cruz, started playing drums in 5th grade. No one in his family played an instrument, but he had some friends in bands and thought it would be fun.
It was fun. Lomeli liked it so much that he went on to major in Jazz Studies at Sonoma State University, where he studied drum set with George Marsh, who coincidentally, holds a concurrent appointment as a lecturer in UC Santa Cruz’s Music Department.
Lomeli, who grew up in Rohnert Park, right near Sonoma State, said he didn’t know much about jazz before he started the program, but he wanted to study it because of his instrument.
“Drum set is really foundational and tied to the history of jazz. It's kind of where the modern drum set was born,” Lomeli said. “I've always wanted to be a kit player, primarily, from when I was much younger. I think that's what drew me in that direction.”
Lomeli, who has traveled several times to New Orleans as well as to Mexico, says through jazz he can communicate with people anywhere.
“The community element of jazz has kept me interested in it as well. You can go pretty much anywhere in the world and go to a jam session and the language and the material they’ll be playing and the way you communicate to the musicians on the bandstand is kind of universal,” he said. “It feels like you’re always at home no matter where you are when you’re playing that music.”
Since 2019, Lomeli has been living in the South Bay. He was gigging and doing administrative work, mostly in music schools, such as at the San Francisco Community Music Center, where he worked as associate registrar. In 2022, he applied for — and got— a job as Department Assistant at UC Santa Cruz, and then became the Graduate Advisor there before getting his current role managing the department last April.
Lomeli says he loves the job.
“There’s so much problem solving and so much data tracking to do in this role. I’m really big on spreadsheets, so I like having the opportunity to put all this data together in a way that makes things, not only efficient for everyone, but a somewhat pleasant experience,” he said. “Putting that all together and translating it to my team members is a really satisfying process for me. I’ve always had that kind of analytical mindset towards my work, so having the opportunity to do that is rewarding.”
The music department at UC Santa Cruz is a special place, Lomeli says.
“There’s so much deep history and so much that is unique to the department. I think the research element draws some really interesting students to this school,” he said. “I’m grateful to work here just because of the diversity of what kind of music is being studied and what kind of specializations our faculty have.”
Lomeli says he credits members of the staff and faculty who have helped him.
“I’m relatively new to the role, but I’m jumping in with all of myself,” he said. “From the moment I got to the school, I’ve had some amazing mentor relationships, and I think that is what’s kept me afloat and helped me not only survive in the role but thrive in the role.”
With this job, Lomeli no longer has time to teach the private lessons and classes at schools like he was doing before, but he is still gigging, including with a professor at UC Santa Cruz in the cumbia Chicano rock band, Rasquache Liberation Front.
What Lomeli loves about music is everything.
“It has given me a career path, it has given me some of my closest friends, it has given me a sense of drive and purpose, especially in my younger years,” he said. “I’m just super grateful to have that as a part of my years growing up.”