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Elite high school jazz group comes back to Bethel

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – From Bethel College to Wichita State University and back again, the Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble will perform Monday, Dec. 14, in Bethel’s Krehbiel Auditorium.

The concert, which also features Bethel College’s Jazz Combo, is at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

The Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble is a high school honor group consisting of students from various high schools throughout the region. The students, selected by audition early in the semester, have been rehearsing each Monday night for several weeks under the direction of James Pisano, Bethel College assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies.

“This ensemble actually has its roots in Bethel College, beginning in the 1970s under the direction of Mike Steinel, [who was] then Bethel College jazz artist-in-residence,” Pisano says. “When Mike accepted a position at North Texas State University, Tom Fowler, [then] director of jazz studies at Wichita State University, took over the directorship of the ensemble.

“For many years, the Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble maintained residency at WSU,” Pisano continues. “Upon Tom’s announcement of his retirement last spring, I expressed my interest in taking over the directorship of this ensemble, thus returning it to its original [location]. Wichita State University supported my decision to direct, and also retain the name Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble.”

There has been “a tremendous amount of support from the Bethel community, especially from the Bethel College Women’s Association,” Pisano says. “Valerie Klaassen, a member of the BCWA, approached me upon learning that I was directing the ensemble and suggested that the BCWA provide the students with snacks to be enjoyed during rehearsal breaks each week. These snacks have included homemade, heartfelt gifts that the students have greatly appreciated. Leanne Toews’ homemade salsa should win an award.”

The Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble’s Dec. 14 program will include four numbers and feature two Bethel College music instructors.

“‘But Not For Me’ by George Gershwin, arranged by Bob Mintzer, is a contemporary swing-style chart, but includes the neat harmonic twists that Mintzer applies to all of his music,” says Pisano. “‘A Time for Love’ by Johnny Mandel features the five-member trombone section. ‘Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,’ arranged by Bethel College Instructor of Trumpet Robert McCurdy, is a swing-style tune that contains a Latin-influenced ending. This is an exciting chart that will feature student soloists trading with one another, as well as with Mr. McCurdy, who will perform as a guest artist on this number.”

The other number is “Chronometry” by Fred Sturm, “a straight contemporary arrangement that has a middle section featuring free improvisation between the soloist and drums,” says Pisano. Timothy Shade, Bethel College instructor of music and director of instrumental studies, will join the ensemble as trombone soloist on this number.

Members of the Mid-Kansas Jazz Ensemble are: trumpets, Cameron Genteman, Goddard High School, Dezuan Hill, Wichita East High School, Rachael Osborn, Goddard, Richard Paugh, Goddard, and Braden Unruh, Wichita Heights High School; trombones, Matt Davis, Goddard, Zach Rich, Maize High School, Alex Russi, Wichita East, Joel Tieszen, Hesston High School, and Alex Whitesell, Goddard; saxophones, Daniel Barrera (alto), Newton High School, Lance Ponder (alto), Wichita East, Lindsey Regier (tenor), Newton, and Luke Young (tenor), Wichita Heights; piano, Autumn Nance, Goddard; guitar, Dustin Chan, Wichita East; bass, Eric Perkins, Goddard; and drums, Rami Stucky, Wichita East.

The Dec. 14 concert also features the Bethel College Jazz Combo performing four works either written or arranged by members of the combo: Joel Boettger, Hesston, and Paul Voran, Newton, on saxophones; Benjamin Harder, Hesston, on trombone; Austin McCabe-Juhnke, North Newton, on trumpet; Landon Bartel, Newton, on bass; Bradley McKellip, Newton, on guitar; Benjamin Stucky, Moon Township, Pa., on piano; and Nathaniel Yoder, Kalona, Iowa, on drums.

Jazz Combo’s program will include “a Ben Harder arrangement of Victor Young’s ‘Stella by Starlight,’” Pisano says. “Nate Yoder provides his arrangement of Thelonius Monk’s ‘Straight No Chaser.’ This is a very interesting arrangement, because Nate reharmonizes the tune, which is a blues tune, and provides a new 12-bar chord structure that is quite interesting.

“Austin McCabe-Juhnke’s composition, which I believe is still untitled, is a complex sequence of chords in an ABA form. Finally, there’s Brad McKellip’s tongue-in-cheek arrangement of ‘If I Only Had a Brain’ from The Wizard of Oz.

“I am really excited about the work of these combo musicians this year, because they are all working on originals. However, the group also continues to learn and perform standards from the Great American Songbook, greatly bolstered by their already high level of improvisatory and group playing skills.”

“This will be an exciting concert with varied styles and textures,” Pisano concludes.

Krehbiel Auditorium is located in the Fine Arts Center on the Bethel campus. For directions or more information, call 316-284-5265 or visit the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. 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 2009 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09.

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