By Craig Manning
This holiday season, Western’s internationally acclaimed Jazz Orchestra is wrapping up its busiest semester yet for the ensemble, said Dr. Scott Cowan, a member of the WMU School of Music faculty and director of the orchestra.
Since the start of this year’s incarnation of the 17 member big band, complete with saxophones, trumpets, trombones and a rhythm section, their collective schedules have been packed with rehearsals, gigs at the Union, and high profile concerts alongside jazz greats like Mike Crotty and Paquito D’Rivera.
That busy performance schedule will culminate this Friday, Dec. 16, when the WMU Jazz Orchestra takes the stage at the prestigious Midwest Clinic in Chicago.
“The Midwest Clinic is one of the premiere music conventions in the United States today,” Cowan said of the event. “It is a great honor to be selected to perform.”
The Jazz Orchestra, known for their eclectic and innovative approach to jazz music, has had quite the semester, not only in regards to their schedule, but also to their repertoire, which has ranged from Swing Era classics to spiced up Christmas standards. Friday’s set list will include some of these, as well as more sides to their ever expanding musical palette.
“We will be presenting a 60 to 75 minute performance Friday evening featuring Grammy nominated jazz artist Bob Mintzer,” Cowan said. “We will play two of his original compositions and feature him on a third piece as well. The rest of our repertoire will be a diverse set of jazz compositions and arrangements that spans from the 1930s Swing Era all the way up to current contemporary composers and arrangers for the Jazz Orchestra.”
The Jazz Orchestra is an integral piece of the WMU School of Music Jazz Studies Department, one of the most unique and widely respected programs of its type in the world. The group has drawn rave reviews for its performances, both locally and internationally, and has performed everywhere from the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival to Carnegie Hall. Along with the rest of the Jazz Program, the Jazz Orchestra is regularly recognized by Down Beat Magazine, one of the country’s premiere jazz publications, and has won the magazine’s annual award for best collegiate big band on three occasions.
Cowan has nothing but good things to say about his students and the semester they have spent working together and is excited for what the group has planned for this spring: a schedule that includes a concert that will not only give the students a chance to show off their performing chops, but their compositional and music arranging skills as well.
“I’m exceedingly proud of the student jazz composers and arrangers that we are consistently turning out at WMU,” Cowan said. “Many of our jazz undergraduate majors are regularly accepted at the most prestigious jazz graduate schools in the country. Much of this is due to the quality training that our students receive from our Jazz Studies Program.”
Those students are just as ecstatic about the group as Cowan is.
“It’s a great experience,” said Neal Endicott, a junior studying saxophone performance and music education who plays alto sax in the Jazz Orchestra. “Everyone in the group is a fantastic musician and Dr. Cowan has a knack for bringing music to the highest possible level without alienating people or sacrificing the enjoyment that comes with playing jazz.”