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Leali joins Bethel jazz groups for concert in Wichita Jazz Festival lineup

April 16th, 2018

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College jazz fans always wait eagerly for the spring workshop concert featuring a special guest – and this year it’s also part of the annual Wichita Jazz Festival.

The Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble workshop takes place April 5. The clinician is saxophonist Brad Leali, who appears in concert that evening in Krehbiel Auditorium in Luyken Fine Arts Center with the MKJE and Bethel College Jazz Ensemble I, an official event of the 2018 Wichita Jazz Festival.

The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. It is free and open to the public, with a freewill offering taken to support jazz study and performance at Bethel.

MKJE is an auditioned high school honors group based at Bethel College and directed by Jim Pisano, Bethel director of jazz studies, who also leads Bethel Jazz I.

MKJE will play “Recorda Me” by Joe Henderson, arranged by Mark Taylor; “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” by Sigmund Romberg, arranged by Robert McCurdy; “Prelude to a Kiss” by Duke Ellington, arranged by Dave Wolpe; and “Play it Back” by Lonnie Smith, arranged by Ben Markley.

Bethel Jazz I’s set list is “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane, arranged by Mark Taylor; “My Shining Hour” by Harold Arlen, arranged by James Pisano; “Three for ‘D’” by Brad Leali, arranged by Claus Raible; “I’m Old Fashioned” by Jerome Kern, arranged by Drew Zaremba; and “2 Down & 1 Across” by Kenny Garrett, arranged by Sherman Irby.

Personnel for the Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble are: saxophones, Eli Regier (alto), Newton High School, Hannah Holler (alto), Norwich High School, Joel Lewis (tenor), Derby High School, Blake Crawford (tenor), Newton, and A.J. Dugan (baritone), Newton; trombones, Justin Koegeboehn, Maize High School, Sam Bartel, Hesston High School, Jackson Ellis, Derby, and Blake Davis, Maize; trumpets, Stephen Brubaker, Buhler High School, Camden Baxter, Andover Central High School, Josh Bergman, Newton, and Adam Schmidt, Derby; and rhythm, Talin Goebel, drums, McPherson High School, Jimmy Higgins, drums, Wichita East High School, Brady Volkmann, guitar, Bishop Carroll High School, Wichita, Douglas Ragon, piano, Newton, and Peter Porcaro, bass, Wichita Collegiate High School.

Bethel College Jazz Ensemble I personnel are: saxophones, Neil Smucker, North Newton, Zane Richter, McPherson, Westen Gesell, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Matt Lind, Newton, Caleb Abbott, Wichita, and Ben Wiens, Goessel; trumpets, Evan Koch, North Newton, Connor Born, North Newton, Alec Loganbill, Hesston, and Chloe LaCombe, Newton; trombones, Andrew Thiesen, Newton, Adam Kroeker, Augusta, Brendan Ostlund, Mount Hope, and Nate Kroeker (bass), Augusta; piano, Matt Lind and Ian Gingrich-Gaylord; bass, Eli Brockway, McPherson; guitar, Jayce Yoder, Topeka; and drums, Chuck Lenley, Kansas City, Missouri, and Micah Miller Wyse, Hesston.

Brad Leali’s love affair with the saxophone began when he was a boy growing up in Denver, looking at high school yearbook photos of his dad playing sax in the jazz band, and opening the horn case to admire the instrument – the horn his father then had repaired so he could sign young Leali up for the Denver Junior Police Concert Band.

Raised in the Baptist church, Leali also spent countless hours listening to his parents’ records of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Nancy Wilson. From a young age, his own playing showed the influence of gospel, jazz and R&B.

Another early influence was the Denver jazz scene, particularly the legendary El Chapultapec. Owner Jerry Krantz allowed young musicians to sit in on, listen to and learn from the professional musicians, so it was here Leali encountered many of his early mentors and local legends like Billy Tolles, Billy Wallace, Homer Brown and Nat Yarborough. He also heard and studied with jazz greats Clark Terry and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent.

Leali received a B.A. in music education from the University of North Texas, Denton, where he was part of the world-renowned One O’Clock Lab Band. The Harry Connick Jr. Orchestra recruited Leali as soon as he graduated and he played with them from 1989-94, serving as lead alto saxophone and musical director.

In 1995, Frank Foster invited Leali to join the Count Basie Orchestra. During his tenure with that group, it won two Grammy® Awards. Leali became one of the top jazz musicians in New York City, a staple in legendary jazz venues like the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, the Jazz Standard, the Iridium and Birdland.

In 2005, earned a master’s degree from Rutgers University, and was soon appointed director of jazz studies at Texas Tech University, Lubbock.

In 2008, Leali returned to his alma mater, UNT where, as professor of jazz saxophone, he directs small group ensembles and teaches jazz performance fundamentals and jazz saxophone. The UNT Creative Impact Award in 2014 recognized him as a distinguished faculty member for his outstanding contributions as an educator who perpetuates the value of creative development and performance.

Leali’s first solo recording was Priority Soul! (1998, New Jazz Renaisssance Recordings). When the Count Basie Orchestra won a Grammy® for Count Plays Duke in 1999, Leali received his own nomination for his solo work on the classic Billy Strayhorn composition “The Star-Crossed Lovers.”

His discography also includes Live in Europe (Brad Leali Quartet, 2004); Brooklyn Soul Organization (also produced by Leali, 2004); the critically acclaimed Maria Juanez (2006), which features his own compositions and an 18-member jazz orchestra; and DA’s Time (Brad Leali-Claus Raible Quartet, TCB, 2008).

Leali’s numerous television appearances include NBC’s TODAY, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Arsenio Hall Show and “The Harry Connick Jr. Christmas Special.” For many years, he performed annually as part of the Kennedy Center Honors program, and he also played at President Barack Obama’s inauguration celebration “We Are One.”

In addition to his teaching at UNT, Leali frequently performs, tours and records. He has been touring with Lyle Lovett & His Large Band since 2013. Leali also enjoys working as a guest artist, clinician and adjudicator at other educational institutions.

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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About Bethel

As the first Mennonite college founded in North America, Bethel College celebrates a tradition of progressive Christian liberal arts education, diversity within community, and lifelong learning.