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UMD Jazz Ensemble I

Some UMD Big Band members. The group is currently in Europe, having been chosen to perform in two world-renowned music festival.

Big band tours Europe

UMD jazz ensemble plays at two international festivals

By Cheryl Reitan and Pauline Oo

July 7, 2006

The roster of artists who have played at Montreux Jazz Festival reads like a "Who's Who" of the music scene: Miles Davis, Santana, James Brown, Wynton Marsalis, Elvis Costello, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Los Lobos, The Manhattan Transfer, Tracy Chapman, and Van Morrison. This year, you can add the University of Minnesota, Duluth's Big Band.

The 20-member band, also known as Jazz Ensemble I, will be performing at the 40th Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on July 9 and July 10. Four days later (on July 14) the group heads to the Netherlands to perform in another world-renowned music festival: the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

The University of Minnesota, Duluth (UMD), was selected for both festivals by "blind audition," says Ryan Frane, who directs the band and the UMD jazz studies program. "We sent in a CD and the panel juried us, strictly by listening to the music," he explains. "[The] Montreux Jazz Festival is the most historic festival in the world and the North Sea Jazz Festival is one of the largest. It will make for an unbelievable experience, not only from a performing perspective, but also for the music that students will get to hear."

UMD will be one of only seven colleges represented among the more than 200 musical groups at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

The band, one of the two large jazz ensembles at UMD (Jazz Ensemble II, directed by UMD professor David Schmalenberger, is the other one), is made up entirely of students who audition to be part of the group. At the European festivals, the students will perform music by jazz musicians Bobby Shew and Tom Harrell, both of whom have performed with the UMD Big Band. The band will also perform work by Stan Kenton, Vince Mendoza, and other contemporary jazz masters.

The first Montreux Jazz Festival began in 1967. The festival lasted for three days and featured almost exclusively jazz artists. Today, however, it lasts about two weeks (this year it runs June 30 to July 15) and presents artists of nearly every imaginable music and style. It also attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people. The North Sea Jazz Festival, on the other hand, started in 1976 and draws more than 100,000 people over three days to its 16 stages. The 220 acts range in genres from soul and traditional New Orleans jazz to hip hop and Latin.

Did you know?

* The University of Minnesota offers a bachelor's in jazz studies at Duluth, Morris, and Twin Cities campuses. The degree is for students pursuing programs of intensive study to prepare for professional careers in jazz studies or for acceptance into a graduate degree program, to assist students to acquire high-quality jazz performance artistry, and to provide students advanced historical and theoretical knowledge of jazz music.

* The University of Minnesota, Morris, currently has fourjJazz ensembles and numerous jazz combos.

* There are three big band jazz ensembles and several combos on the Twin Cities campus.

* Traditional big band instruments are trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion. Jazz combos--dedicated to playing small group jazz--consist of a rhythm section (bass, drums, piano or guitar) and one to four other instruments, depending on balance and ability level.

"Jazz was created in the U.S. and some people describe it as America's only 'indigenous music,' although it has elements of classical, pop, and African music," says Frane. "Around the world, jazz means so many things. So be careful not to package it into a box. Jazz today is more than what people think--it doesn't sound much like Ellington and Miles [the two legendary greats]. But one thing's for sure: jazz is living. It's constantly evolving."

Hence, the draw of such music festivals as Montreux and the North Sea Jazz Festival.

The European tour is not a first for Frane and his students. Frane, a jazz pianist, has appeared as both a soloist and band member across the United States. He recently returned from performances in Russia with the UMD faculty jazz group. The UMD Big Band this year has performed at the Teatro Politeama in Palermo, Italy; the Minnesota Music Educators Association's annual conference in Minneapolis; and the 2006 UMD Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival.

"We have been traveling a lot," says Frane. "But that's a good sign. Over the years, we have managed to gain national and international recognition, and that external validation is great for the students [to have on their resumes] and for drawing more talent to our jazz studies program."

Frane and the UMD Big Band return to Duluth on July 16. Soon after, Frane will be performing at the UMD Weber Music Hall (July 24) and the band will be preparing for fall performances with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman on campus and in New York. In the spring, both teacher and students will be hosting and performing in the annual UMD Jazz Festival (March 1-3).

To learn more about the UMD jazz ensembles, see jazz at UMD.

For information about the UMD Big Band's European tour, visit Montreux Jazz Festival and North Sea Jazz Festival.