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June 17, 2010: Latest News
(Article written by Cam Fuller, SP Arts & Life Editor)

U of S alumni get to groove again

A decade of musical history will juke and jive on Saturday when former students return to the University of Saskatchewan music department for a reunion concert of the U of S Jazz Ensemble.

"It's the first time we've had an alumni band of this sort," says director Dean McNeill.

About 30 alumni are confirmed. They'll play music from the Ensemble's five CDs, Bumper Crop I, II, III, IV and V. A CD is professionally recorded every two years to capture the group's work and serve as a fundraiser. The new one, called Bumper Crop V/Watercolors, features a watercolor by U of S artist Alisa Baldwin.

Lord knows how McNeill is going to handle seven trumpets and six trombones, but maybe it's a good problem to have.

"I didn't realize how big a job this was until I was fully committed to it. But, in retrospect, it's worked out really well."


The new U of S Jazz Ensemble CD (top left) and director Dean McNeill in a music classroom.

In order to get everyone ready, McNeill used an Internet resource called DropBox to make music and sheet music available to each player - much more practical than email, he says.

Once everyone is in town, there will be time only for a couple of rehearsals, so the performance should definitely be fresh, McNeill says.

"It'll be in no danger of being over-rehearsed," he laughs.

Since graduating, the players have gone on to various careers. Some are professional musicians, composers and private teachers. Others are in professions like law and medicine.

"It will be a cool homecoming for a lot of them."

Students get course credit for playing in the jazz ensemble, but the benefits go beyond that, from sight reading to, yes, playing on limited rehearsal time.

"It's a training ground of skill sets that are very transferable."

More than two dozen alumns will perform at various times and places during this summer's SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. (McNeill himself has a high-profile gig opening for Joshua Redman).

Jazz in universities is still a relatively new phenomenon when you consider how far back classical music goes. The oldest program in North America, the University of North Texas, celebrated its 50th year when McNeill was there in 1997. Now, of course, you can get your doctorate in jazz.

"There's been a whole broadening of what is music in post-secondary institutions," says McNeill.


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Article courtesy of The Star Phoenix. Click to visit The Star Phoenix website.

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