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'Meet the Band!' introduces audiences to Southeast Missouri State University's jazz ensembles
During the fall and spring, there's a little more variety injected into Cape Girardeau's live music offerings. It comes in the form of jazz.
Between two student bands and a group made up of music faculty and alumni, the jazz program at Southeast Missouri State University plays several live performances between the start of fall classes in August and the end of spring classes in May. Last week the faculty/student group, The Jazz Sultans, performed at Buckner Brewing Co., and tonight the student jazz bands take the stage at the Bedell Performance Hall at the River Campus.
The jazz program at Southeast is comprised of two big bands made of students; the Sultans play on their own time.
Dr. Robert Conger has been the jazz program director at Southeast for nine years. He directs the Studio Jazz ensemble and the Jazz Lab Band and formed the Jazz Sultans ensemble in 2006.
Conger said Studio Jazz is the premiere, top ensemble in the program. Students audition the first week of classes in the fall, and Conger assigns chair rankings so seniority in the program does not affect his decision. Students are expected to come in with previous experience in a jazz program.
The Jazz Lab Band is open to anyone who wants to play jazz and improve his or her skills. Each of the big bands has 19 members.
The Jazz Sultans is a group of classically trained musicians who perform bebop jazz, often at Buckner's in downtown Cape Girardeau. The Southeast faculty in the combo are Conger on trombone, Matt Yount on piano and Jay Contrino on drums. Also in the combo are Southeast alumnus Sam Godwin on bass and Mineral Area Community College professor Michael Goldsmith on tenor saxophone.
The Jazz Lab Band opens tonight's concert at the Bedell, "Meet the Band!" with Studio Jazz performing last. The Southeast Jazz Combo will perform at intermission.
"This particular concert, [there is] no guest artist because I've got some great band members who can solo, and I want to try to feature them," Conger said. "Thats why we call it ‘Meet the Band!'"
Student Kyle Clay, who is in his second year at Southeast, is in Studio Jazz and plays bass in the Southeast Jazz Combo.
Clay became a mortician but decided to come back to school to get a music education degree.
"Conger knows what he's doing, and Southeast has always had a pretty good jazz program, so I was pretty excited to be a part of that," Clay said.
Listening to a lot of music growing up, and involved in music programs in high school, Clay said music is much more fun than his previous occupation.
"I just thought I'd take a break and try something else," he said. "Performing music was definitely what I needed to be doing."
Southeast music education major Tim Hanak said the university's jazz program equates to the other programs at the River Campus such as theater and orchestra.
"I definitely think that there is a lot of talent in the jazz program for sure," Hanak said.
"The quality level of especially the top ensembles would compare favorably with any jazz band from the state, from any university," he said. "Compared to other ensembles on campus, we compare very favorably. I've had people tell me after concerts, ‘This is my favorite concert to come to all semester long.'"
Conger believes the community should hear the jazz performances because of the importance of the style in American music.
"Jazz is an American art form," he said. "Out of all the kind of music that you hear around this place. The art form of jazz was developed in America by Americans, some of African decent, but still it happened in America."
And Cape Girardeau, with its position on the river where jazz moved through the country up from New Orleans, is in a prime spot for more exposure to the American art form, Conger said.
Want to go?
* What: Meet the Band!
* When: 7:30 p.m. today
* Where: Bedell Performance Hall
* More info: www.rivercampusevents.com, 651-2265