Grade-A Jazz



Article Published: Feb. 11, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Experience isn't always found in a classroom; sometimes it takes a venue.
As director of Appalachian State University's Jazz Studies Program, saxophonist Todd Wright would prefer to see his students on a stage, rather than behind a desk.

They'll have that opportunity at the Meadowbrook Inn in Blowing Rock on Sunday, Feb. 14, for the Blowing Rock Jazz Society's Valentine's Day concert.

Every February, the society hosts a concert featuring Appalachian's Jazz Ensemble 1, a student-based 18-piece big band, directed by Wright, while also contributing generous portions of its membership fees to the jazz studies program.

"We figured some time ago that it would be a great treat to have ASU's big band come in and play," Blowing Rock Jazz Society (BRJS) founder and president Fred Germann said. "The quality of the jazz studies students is outstanding - it's amazing how good some of these kids are, who really have a knack for professional performance."

The concert will feature Jazz Ensemble 1 playing big band tunes from traditional to contemporary, Wright said, including works by Horace Silver, Gordon Goodwin, Bob Mintzer, Henry Mancini and Thad Jones.

Students will also break from the ranks to perform in four- to five-member combos.
"And it's a Valentine's event, so I'll probably perform 'My Funny Valentine' there, as well," Wright said.
"The idea of hosting this concert is to give the students a chance to perform before a full audience, to let them know they're on the right track, doing what they want to do, and perhaps become professional jazz musicians in the future," Germann said.

Since the BRJS was founded nearly 10 years ago, the organization has made annual contributions to ASU Jazz Studies, with students performing there every February for the past seven years.

"The organization was kind of put together with the hopes and intentions of supporting the jazz department at ASU," Wright said. "They do a lot of that, and we're certainly appreciative of all they do for us."

Much of this involves performing outside of the classroom, he added, with the BRJS sponsoring several of his students to perform regularly in Watauga County public schools. "So, we'll be going out in the spring to various schools in the county to spread the jazz gospel as much as we can," Wright said.
Since many of his students intend to become music educators, the jazz society gigs - be they at the Meadowbrook or a school auditorium - offer them an invaluable opportunity.

"Most of the students are going to be educators, so they're in the business of public relations," Wright said. "They're going to be teaching youngsters one day, so there's no better way to learn than to go and play in front of the public. They get the chance to shape their skills and crafts, and there's nothing better to do that than a live performance."

This Sunday's concert kicks off at 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15 for general admission, $5 for students and free for jazz society members.

Membership to the Blowing Rock Jazz Society costs $75 per year, what Germann called an affordable price for a year's worth of concerts, which are held every month at the Meadowbrook Inn restaurant, except for December.

The Meadowbrook Inn is located at 711 Main St. in Blowing Rock. For more information, call (828) 295-4300 or visit brjs.blogspot.com.

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