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Jazz Combo to play at 2009 KMEA as long musical collaboration winds to a close

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A musical collaboration more than a decade old winds to a close with this school year at Bethel College.

Brett Jackson and Joel Linscheid are both Bethel music majors, completing their education licensure. Both are saxophone players. Both are student teaching this semester and applying to graduate schools for fall. They’re the same age and grew up in North Newton attending school and Bethel College Mennonite Church (BCMC) together.

“I think we first began playing together in 6th grade,” Linscheid says. “We were doing a youth fundraiser at church where, if we raised enough money, [then pastor] Darrell Fast would shave off his beard. Mike Jones [former Newton High School music teacher who attended BCMC] did an arrangement of Woody Herman’s ‘Woodchopper’s Ball’ that he called ‘Beardchopper’s Ball.’”

Linscheid and Jackson are members, along with Hesston High School graduate (and fellow BCMC attender) Benjamin Harder, NHS graduate Bradley McKellip, Nathaniel Yoder from Kalona, Iowa, and Ben Stucky from Moon Township, Pa., of the Bethel College Jazz Combo. Jazz Combo is the second consecutive Bethel jazz group to audition successfully for the Kansas Music Educators’ Association annual meeting and in-service workshop taking place in Wichita Feb. 26-28.

In the years after their church debut, Jackson and Linscheid continued to play together consistently. They took Keith Woolery’s summer jazz classes through middle school and played in Jazz I at Newton High School. McKellip first joined them in that setting when Jackson and Linscheid were seniors, so he has played with the duo now for four years.

So has Harder, who joined Bethel’s Jazz Ensemble I – of which Jackson and Linscheid have been members for five years – as a high school senior.

“Brett and Joel will be sorely missed for their motivational practicing,” Harder says. “They can practice for so long it makes me feel guilty.

“The first weekend of my Bethel career,” he continues, “I was wandering around with my trombone, thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ I had no idea how to organize my life. I heard Brett and Joel practicing and I thought, ‘I guess I should practice, too.’”

Linscheid picks up on the “motivating” theme. “I wouldn’t have gotten as much done or been as motivated to practice without Brett,” he says. “Having another saxophonist at the same level [helped push me],” as did, he says, playing for most or all of those years with his brother, Aaron, a trumpeter now in graduate school in Kansas City, and trombonist Andrew Toews, who is the same age as Linscheid and Jackson, is a Bethel music major completing education licensure and who also grew up in North Newton, NHS and Bethel College Mennonite Church. “That was a group of motivational musicians,” Linscheid says.

Despite the fact that, as Linscheid says, “Brett and I have had pretty much the same experience and atmosphere as far as education and playing,” both agree that “if you listen, you can tell the difference” between them.

Yoder says, with a smile, “Brett’s angrier,” while Jackson modifies that to “I play louder.” Their instructor and director of jazz groups and jazz studies at Bethel, James Pisano (who plays both jazz and classical clarinet and saxophone), says Jackson is following a more traditional route and Linscheid more contemporary, though the two note that there is a lot of musical nuance to those terms.

Jazz Combo will play for KMEA Saturday, Feb. 28, at 8 a.m. in Hyatt Regency Ballrooms F-H. Joining the six students will be guest artist Timothy Shade on trombone. Shade, Bethel assistant professor of music, is also director of instrumental music at the college. Jazz Combo will preview their program in Bethel College’s convocation Monday, Feb. 23, at 11 a.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium. That performance, along with their KMEA appearance, is free and open to the public.

Jazz Combo has “more emphasis on soloing and more space to improvise,” Jackson says. “We get to write and arrange our own music – it’s easier to do for four than 12” as in the larger Jazz Ensemble I. With Jackson and Linscheid on saxophones and Harder and Shade on trombones, McKellip (bass), Stucky (piano) and Yoder (drums) are the rhythm section.

Of the five pieces on Jazz Combo’s KMEA program, Linscheid arranged two (“All Blues” by Miles Davis and “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” by Charles Mingus) and wrote one (“Distraction”) and Jackson arranged one (“Recorda Me” by Joe Henderson).

Along with all the other parallels in their lives, this KMEA appearance also marks the sixth for both Jackson and Linscheid. They sang with the Bethel College Concert Choir and played with Jazz Ensemble I at last year’s KMEA. They also played at KMEA with Newton High’s Jazz I. In addition, Linscheid appeared twice with the Newton Community Children’s Choir and Jackson twice with state honor band.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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