The Next in Line: Students Move from Classroom to the Stage with HAPCO

HAPCO jazz camp students

Throughout the U.S have sprouted jazz education initiatives, often connected with schools, camps or other arts foundations. Most have been started by music devotees/educators who want to give students an extra hand up in realizing their potential in the field of music.

Joseph “Patrick” McMullen is founder, President and CEO of HAPCO, one such endeavor that serves students in the state of Florida. Inspired by the encouragement from own his band director when he was a student, Joseph decided to offer a program to young people who were just getting a glimmer of a bug for jazz. HAPCO’s mission is to bring out the confidence to play and improvise that lies just below the surface.

When and why was HAPCO established?

HAPCO Music Foundation Inc. is a non-profit organization whose mission is “Building futures through music and education for deserving youths.” In 1985, my senior year in high school, I applied to Florida A&M University College of Pharmacy.

The spring of 1985 I received my acceptance letter and shortly thereafter I received my financial aid papers that stated the financial aid I was seeking was pending. Coming from a single income family, I knew I could not afford to go to college without financial aid.

My mother told me to show Mr. Kenneth Tolbert (my high school band director and now Chairman of Board of Directors at HAPCO) my financial aid letter. Mr. Tolbert’s exact words to me were, “Son, you go to FAMU, and if your financial aid does not come through for you, call me and I will take care of the situation.”

I always think about what my band director meant to me. More than a teacher, he was family. Fortunately, my financial aid came through, and now I am a pharmacist because Mr. Tolbert gave me that security I needed to go to college. Just think of how many students are out there who don’t have a Mr. Tolbert as a safety net.

HAPCO Music Foundation realizes this and wants no student to ever wonder where his or her financial support is coming from. HAPCO aims to be that safety net for all deserving students. It was created because my own dream was almost not realized, so let’s not allow a student to lose their dream. The next student HAPCO Music Foundation helps may be our next president, develop the cure for AIDS, or our next billionaire entrepreneur. Thus, we have HAPCO Music Foundation.

Is this your full-time job?

Pharmacist with a healthcare company — Wellcare HMO.

What is your musical background?

I played baritone horn from 7th to 12th grade, and four years in college at Florida A&M University. 

How is it funded, besides tuition?

Grants, sponsors, donations.

How soon after camp is over do you start gearing up for the next camp?

We start mid-week of the current camp (typically in late June). Wednesday of that week we’re setting dates for the next year.

What is involved in planning each year?

Marketing material, coordinating the instructors’ calendars (the biggest task), predicting student participation and instrumentation, setting up activities, lodging and transportation. 

Do you have guest artists and music mentors? Give examples

2017 saw Wycliffe Gordon, Scott Wilson, Jeff Rupert, Bernie Hendricks, Dr. Otto Gomez, Jade Simmons, Leroy Lubin, Andrew Kennedy and Tyler Bonilla.

What ages are the campers?

This camp is for students who will be going into 7th-12th grade for the 2018/19 school year.

Do they need a musical background?

Yes, at least one year.

Do they have to audition?

 Yes, on day one.

How far away do the students come from?

All over the state of Florida.

How many campers can you accommodate each year?

No more than 100.

How do they learn about HAPCO in the first place?

Their grade school teachers, the Annual Music Conference we attend, our website and social media. 

What areas are the students most interested in?

Jazz education, history of jazz, improvisation. 

What is the average number of instrument by type? Are you ever short?

Usually 4-5 per instrument. Special instruments are sometimes short: piano and bass.

How do you keep the excitement alive during the course of the week?

The instructors are creative, but we have trips to Disney every year and nighttime activities. Plus, a mid-week performance.

When and how did you establish a relationship with Wycliffe Gordon for this program?

Wycliffe and I are college buddies. We entered FAMU and the band the same year, 1985.

Are all the counselors also musicians?


What do most of the staff do for their careers when not at camp?

Our instructors include university professors, middle and high school teachers, master, elective and lesson teachers, administrators, and undergraduate and graduate students. Together, their knowledge and experience support an extraordinary educational opportunity where campers build confidence and develop good habits and attitudes that shape their future.

Assembled for their talent, teaching ability, dedication and enthusiasm for music, the camp professionals ensure the young musicians learn in a positive and energetic environment.

Do you have a waiting list for students?

Not yet.

Do you have a waiting list for instructors and counselors?


What is the biggest challenge in running this camp?

Keeping these kids focused. Short attention spans.

Do you stay in touch with students and help them as they move onto college and careers?

Yes, through our scholarship and email blast. Some students come back and volunteer, which is so AWESOME. Tyler Bonilla (former student/camper), sponsored a kid at this year’s summer camp.

What is the most surprising thing you have learned from managing the camp?

These kids really want to learn and become better musicians. They feel great when someone shows they care. HAPCO prides itself on giving students the best experience and access to the best in the industry.

Other comments?

Our jazz camp has top-level educators. We at HAPCO are blessed with our partners!

​We want to support even more kids, and we look to our business community to help students obtain greater access to top quality music education. Donations are always welcomed.

We really pride ourselves on the educators who partner with us!

Wycliffe Gordon – Internationally acclaimed, top jazz professional

Jeff Rupert – Director Of Jazz Studies at University of Central Florida and top jazz professional

Scott Wilson – Director Of Jazz Studies at University of Florida, and top jazz professional

Dr. Otto Gomez – Top jazz professional  

Hapco header

For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Joseph McMullen.

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

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