Jazz Festival to feature performances and education clinics


Photo courtesy of NMU Department of Music

PLAY ON — Members of the NMU Jazz Band play during a performance. The NMU Jazz Festival will be returning to campus this week for its annual celebration of music, performance and education.

Joad Blaauw-Hara

High school bands from around the state will be attending the annual NMU Jazz Festival this week, which runs from March 22-24. The festival will feature prolific jazz composer and trombonist Dean Sorenson in addition to several other performances by local artists.

Mark Flaherty, professor, head of the NMU Music Department and organizer of the jazz festival, said the event will be friendly for newcomers to jazz.

“The festival is a great place for someone to dip their toe in and find out what jazz is all about,” Flaherty said.

Tickets to the festival are free for students, faculty and staff. These tickets include access to performances by the NMU Jazz Band and the Jazz Faculty Combo Band, which consists of faculty members like Flaherty in addition to Sorenson.

Wednesday’s events are mainly dedicated to middle and high school jazz bands, with a 12:10 p.m. performance by the NMU Jazz Band. The official opening concert takes place on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Reynolds Recital Hall. 

More high school bands will receive clinics on Friday, followed by the final concert at 7:30 p.m. in the recital hall. Friday’s concert will feature the NMU Jazz Combo and the NMU Jazz Band.

When looking for special guests for the festival, Flaherty tried to target those who are skilled players and have experience teaching others.

“That’s kind of a special niche that somebody is able to do both those things,” Flaherty said.

A yearly NMU Jazz Festival has been a tradition on campus since 1998. The festival has featured a variety of prominent guests who both perform and work directly with Northern students.

“When you get to see people doing things at the very top of their profession, that’s kind of mind-blowing,” Flaherty said.

Special guests in the past include world-class trumpet player Clark Terry, Grammy-nominated jazz violinist Regina Carter and Dean Sorenson. Sorenson’s return to the jazz festival this year will make him the first returning guest in the festival’s history.

Sorenson is an associate professor and director of jazz studies at the University of Minnesota. He is an experienced trombonist who has performed solo and with a variety of bands across the world. He is a prominent figure in the field of jazz education and works to create teaching materials that make jazz more understandable to educators and students. 

Sorenson has also composed and arranged for a variety of ensembles including the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the United States Air Force Band and the United States Navy Band. He will be premiering a new piece, titled “Below Street Level,” during Friday’s performance with the NMU Jazz Band.

This year’s jazz festival is dedicated to the memory of Carson Needham, an NMU student and percussion player in the university’s jazz band. Needham passed away earlier this semester as the result of a car accident. One of Needham’s favorite pieces will be played during Friday’s performance in his memory.

For more information on the jazz festival and NMU’s Music Department, visit the department’s website and the jazz festival site.