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March Monday at Mojo's features Bethel jazz, original compositions

April 16th, 2018

by Sam Bertholf

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College senior Westen Gesell is fairly new to composing.

So he was pretty excited when nationally known drummer Pete Zimmer expressed interest in one of his pieces.

Gesell, of Winnipeg, Manitoba, is a double major in biology and music performance. For the latter, he enrolled in Jazz Composition with Jim Pisano, Bethel director of jazz studies.

Though based in New York City, Zimmer plays in the group Organique with Pisano, and has given jazz clinics for Bethel student musicians.

“Pete Zimmer heard my piece at a clinic for Bethel’s Jazz Combo 1 and asked me to e-mail him the score,” Gesell says, adding that Zimmer plans to use the piece in the future, though he doesn’t know the specifics.

Gesell’s piece is entitled “Jaunt.” He wrote it last fall as an assignment for Jazz Composition.

“‘Jaunt’ is a contrafact,” Gesell says, meaning it is an original melody written over existing chord changes (in this case, from the song “There Will Never Be Another You”).

“The melody line draws from a mixture of melodies, typically from other jazz tunes, snippets of improvisational solo lines that I thought were particularly awesome, and jazz language I had been working to integrate into my own playing,” Gesell says.

Having Zimmer single out “Jaunt” is even more impressive when you consider Gesell had never composed anything before taking Jazz Composition.

“I never imagined I would write a piece I actually liked,” Gesell says.

He credits success to Pisano’s guidance. “Jim is an amazing teacher, helping me to realize the potential in some musical ideas and develop my pieces from there,” Gesell says.

You can hear Bethel College Jazz Combo I play “Jaunt” as part of their set list for the annual “Jazz at Mojo’s” joint performance March 12.

Three Bethel jazz groups will play at Mojo’s Coffee Bar on the Bethel campus, beginning at 7 p.m.: Jazz Ensemble II, Jazz Combo I (fresh from their performance last month at KMEA) and Jazz Combo II.

Jazz Ensemble II will play “Banquet Scene” by Duke Ellington, “Days of Wine and Roses” by Henry Mancini, “Blues for Clyde” by Sammy Nestico and “Easy Money” by Benny Carter.

Joel Boettger directs Jazz Ensemble II. He said he specifically picked the pieces to challenge the group: “I chose these songs because I thought we could play some harder material than last year.”

Senior Abby Phillips, a member of the Jazz Ensemble II trumpet section, says she’s looking forward to playing in “a very informal [setting],” and Boettger adds, “I like the Mojo’s venue. It’s good to play for people who are having a good time.”

Jazz Combo I member Neil Smucker, senior echoes Boettger’s sentiment. “It is a good venue for live music and it is a popular stopping place for students and community members anyway,” he says.

Smucker adds, “We will hopefully be swinging pretty hard [Monday night]. If you want to support local jazz, then you should come out.”

Jazz Ensemble II personnel are: saxophones – Jacob Anderson, Newton (alto), Jacob Callison, Wichita (alto), Ryan Fritz, Salina (tenor), and Aaron Long, Wichita (bass); trombones – Seth Larson, Wichita, and Brad Shores; trumpets – Chloe LaCombe, Newton, Abby Phillips, Maple Hill, and Adrian Rogers; piano – Kano Yanagidaira, Nagano, Japan; bass – Angus Siemens, Newton; drums – Shawn Bontrager, North Newton, and Bruce Rosario, Pollocksville, North Carolina.

Jazz Combo I personnel are: Neil Smucker, North Newton, alto saxophone and flute; Westen Gesell, tenor and soprano saxophone; Evan Koch, North Newton, trumpet and flugelhorn; Ian Gingrich-Gaylord, piano; Eli Brockway, McPherson, bass; Jayce Yoder, Topeka, guitar; and Chuck Lenley, Kansas City, Missouri, drums.

Jazz Combo II personnel are: Zane Richter, McPherson, alto saxophone; Matt Lind, Newton, tenor saxophone; Caleb Abbott, Wichita, tenor saxophone; Matt Graber, piano; Thor Bonner, bass; and Micah Miller Wyse, Hesston, drums.

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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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.