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Boettger returns to alma mater to join jazz faculty

April 16th, 2018

by Sam Bertholf

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – There’s a new hand waving the baton for the Bethel College Jazz Ensemble II.

That hand belongs to Bethel graduate and Jazz Ensemble I alumnus Joel Boettger.

Boettger wasn’t expecting to end up back at Bethel after completing his master’s degree in jazz at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

“I certainly did not think that this was going to happen to me when I left to go to Rochester for graduate school,” Boettger says. Nevertheless, he couldn’t be more excited with how things turned out.

“It is really nice to be here,” he says, “and it is nice to start my [teaching] career as part of this community that is really supportive.”

Boettger made his Bethel jazz directing debut at Fall Festival earlier this school year.

The performance went well despite the inclement weather on Saturday that forced a move to Memorial Hall.

“I think the change of venue might have flustered some people. We might have had a better crowd if it was nice and sunny out,” he says.

While he wasn’t pleased with Mother Nature’s performance, the opposite is true for Jazz II.

“It was really good. I am really proud of them. They are continuing to work hard, and it is only going to get better.”

See Boettger and Bethel Jazz II next in action at the annual Christmas Gala Jazz concert, this year on Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center.

Jazz II will play “a really nice arrangement of ‘We Three Kings’ that is in the style of Count Basie, so that will be fun,” Boettger says.

“We’re going to play [the ballad] ‘Embraceable You,’ which features the saxophone section and different sections of the ensemble,” along with two pieces from the Fall Festival set list, he said.

Jazz Ensemble I is also on the program for Christmas Gala Jazz, playing arrangements that Boettger calls “difficult music that sounds really awesome,” including Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn’s arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite for jazz ensemble.

Jim Pisano, Bethel director of jazz studies, leads Bethel Jazz I.

Jazz I’s set list is: “Basie Straight Ahead” by Sammy Nestico; selections from The Nutcracker by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arranged by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn: “Overture,” “Chinoiserie” and “Dance of the Floreadores”; three by Duke Ellington: “Cottontail,” “Rockabye River” and “Jack the Bear”; “When the Sun Comes Out” by Harold Arlen, arranged by Tom Garling; and “Jingle Bells” by J. Pierpont, arranged by John Clayton.

The Dec. 8 program is free and open to the public, with a freewill offering taken to support jazz study and performance at Bethel College.

Jazz II personnel are: saxophones, Autumn Strecker, Goessel, Jacob Callison, Wichita, Jacob Anderson, Newton, and Jesus Martinez, Newton; trumpets, Isaac Dunn, Chloe LaCombe, Abilene, Adrian Rogers and Samantha Buffalo; trombones, Seth Larson, Wichita, Ben Abel, Paoli, and Brad Shores; bass, Jon Graber; and percussion, Shawn Bontrager, North Newton, and Bruce Rosario, Pollocksville, North Carolina.

Jazz I personnel are: saxophones, Neil Smucker, North Newton, Zane Richter, McPherson, Matt Lind, Newton, Caleb Abbott, Wichita, and Ben Wiens, Goessel; trumpets, Evan Koch, North Newton, Connor Born, North Newton, Alec Loganbill, Hesston, and Gabe Johnson, Abilene; trombones, Andrew Thiesen, Newton, Adam Kroeker, Augusta, and Brendan Ostlund, Mount Hope, with Nathan Kroeker, Augusta, on bass trombone; piano, Matt Lind and Ian Gingrich-Gaylord; bass, Eli Brockway, McPherson; guitar, Jayce Yoder, Topeka; and percussion, Chuck Lenley, Kansas City, Missouri, and Micah Miller Wyse, Hesston. Elizabeth Friesen Birky, Denver, is featured on vocals.

Bethel College ranks at No. 1 in College Consensus’ ranking of Kansas colleges and universities, and is the only Kansas private college listed in the analysis of top colleges and universities, the Washington Monthly National Universities-Liberal Arts section and the National Liberal Arts College category of U.S. News & World Report, all for 2017-18. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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