NMU Celebrates 17 Years of Wildcat Jazz

Nolan Krebs

Jazz bands from around the region will be coming together to celebrate one of America’s original art forms on Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12 for the 17th Annual NMU Jazz Festival.

The event will feature performances from not only the NMU jazz band and jazz combo, but also middle and high school bands from the region. Junior music education major Nathan Selfridge, who plays tenor saxophone in the NMU jazz band, said there is a considerable amount of preparation from both the ensembles and organizers.

“The student organization NMU Friends of Jazz and [jazz band conductor] Mark Flaherty start preparing for the jazz festival almost a year in advance,” Selfridge said. “We started rehearsal in January this year.”

Selfridge said the NMU jazz band will be performing several blues standards, as well as collaborating with this year’s guest musicians, saxophonist Jim Snidero and vocalist Kathy Kosins.

Snidero, a bandleader and recording artist, is known for performing with popular icons such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, as well as renowned jazz musicians Frank Wess and Toshiko Akiyoshi. According to the festival website, Snidero is also an adjunct faculty member at the New School and New Jersey City University, and wrote three “Jazz Conception” textbooks that are widely used today.

Kosins, a Detroit native, is the past recipient of The Michigan Council for the Arts Jazz Composer of the Year Award. Kosins also teaches clinics and workshops for independent artists, including performance skills and business strategies.

According to alto saxophone player Abbie Beekman, performing with Snidero and Kosins is a welcome opportunity for the NMU jazz band.

“Having guest artists is a really cool thing,” Beekman said. “Getting to play with a professional and see their take on things is always a good experience.”

Director of the NMU jazz band Mark Flaherty said both the big band and the jazz combo are working on music that will feature the guest artists.

“The big band will be performing Bob Brookmeyer’s arrangement of the Hoagy Carmichael tune ‘Skylark,’” Flaherty said. “It has some quirky moments and dark, dissonant passages.”

Flaherty said the big band is also working on a tune called “I Was There,” which will feature Kosins and flaunts an Afro-Cuban groove.

According to the music department’s website, the festival officially began in 1998, when the student organization NMU Friends of Jazz invited musician Clark Terry to perform with the NMU jazz band. In addition to the performances, local high school bands held clinics and a large volume of positive responses led to the creation of an annual event.

“It’s a great way to celebrate jazz,” Flaherty said.

The inclusion of the middle and high school bands is one of the festival’s highlights, Selfridge said.

“That’s always really exciting to see these high school and middle school level musicians performing at the clinics,” Selfridge said. “It’s a cool learning experience for them and it’s good to see them enjoying themselves and trying to get better.”

Selfridge said the festival itself is something of a rare opportunity for people in the area.

“It’s a unique experience here in the U.P., where you don’t have opportunities to see really good jazz band,” Selfridge said. “It’s a chance to hear some really good jazz music.”

Beekman agreed the festival is something that both new and longtime jazz fans should check out.

“[The festival] is definitely something that students should try and come see,” Beekman said. “There’s a lot of energy and we play all different kinds of music — there’s something to take away for everybody.”

For more information about the NMU Jazz Festival, call the music department at (906) 227-2563.