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UW-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I Still 'Jazzed'
after 'Phenomenal' Trip

RELEASED: March 8, 2005

EAU CLAIRE — It's been said that some of the most important kinds of learning don't happen in a classroom, and members of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I recently experienced that truth in a very real way.

Jazz Ensemble I
Members of Jazz Ensemble I posed last summer for this shot along the Chippewa River on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

Early in January the group traveled with Bob Baca, director of the jazz studies area at UW-Eau Claire, to the West Coast to attend the International Association for Jazz Education Conference in Long Beach, Calif. The group joined more than 8,000 musicians, educators, industry executives and students from 45 countries at the event, recognized as the largest annual gathering of the global jazz community.

That was followed by several days of learning and bonding with fellow jazz students at Mt. Hood Community College and local jazz musicians in Portland, Ore.

At the conference, the students heard some of what Baca called "the best of the best" of the Jazz World, beginning with Herbie Hancock, at hour-long concerts happening four times each day, and also attended jazz clinics with some of those same people. In Portland, the students studied and performed with jazz students from both Mt. Hood and the University of Oregon-Eugene and attended clinics and private lessons with some of Portland's best local jazz musicians, courtesy of donations directed to the jazz studies area through the UW-Eau Claire Foundation. The group also did a little sightseeing and topped the whole experience off with a visit to Jimmy Mak's, one of Portland's jazz clubs and clearly a highlight for many of the students.

Those who know Baca know he's a man of almost boundless enthusiasm, so it may not come as any surprise that he described the trip as "phenomenal." But in this case, his students agreed with him wholeheartedly. "Life-changing" was an adjective that several of them echoed.

"This trip really helped establish in my mind the idea of jazz as a community of artists, rather than just a genre of music," said sophomore Adam Braatz, Sun Prairie, a pianist with the group.

Braatz said it would be easy to be star struck, seeing people like jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco perform at the IAJE conference, but along with many of the other students, he expressed surprise and pleasure at how "down-to-earth" the musicians they met were and how supportive they were of the younger musicians.

Junior Steve Hobert, Hartland, agreed that meeting and talking with recognized musicians who were supportive and encouraging made his own musical goals seem more attainable. So did senior Tom Krochock, a trumpet player from Minneapolis.

"It really reaffirmed for me how much humility there is in being a jazz musician," said Krochock, noting that he'd heard this before but never really experienced it until this trip. "At Jimmy Mak's I heard one of the best tenor sax musicians I've probably ever heard, and there he was in his flannel shirt and tennis shoes. With jazz, it's just all about the music."

But the trip didn't just changes attitudes. Several students spoke about practical advice they were given that has changed the way they work.

Senior Colin Gilliland, Fond du Lac, who got to work with jazz trombonist Stan Bock, said Bock told him that to be successful in life, as well as in music, you need to do lots of goal setting.

"I wrote everything down," said Gilliland, "and he stressed planning and time management as much as learning tunes. That's how this trip changed my life. Now I plan what I'm going to do, and I stick to it because I have set goals. Since we've been back we've been getting together much more often, meeting for an hour each night to work on a tune."

Fellow trombonist James Yardley, a senior from Duluth, Minn., and president of the student IAJE chapter at UW-Eau Claire, agreed that he has realized like never before just how valuable it is to get together and play and support each other. He and several other students have been joining in with musicians performing at the Shanghai Bistro lately.

"I can't believe how comfortable it seems now to be up there in front of people, just enjoying myself," said Yardley. "The clinic we went to just motivated us to practice tunes and go out and perform more."

Junior Scott Currier, a pianist from Muskego, feels he also was changed in a big way.

"After this trip, composing has suddenly just clicked for me," said Currier, who admitted to having been frustrated at times before. "I suddenly realized that I already knew a lot of what I needed to know, I just hadn't understood how to apply it. Now I've written 10-15 tunes just since I've been back."

For two of the Jazz I students, going to Portland was going home. Seniors Kevin Bailey, Milwaukie, Ore., and Ben Herpel-Dobay, Salem, Ore., transferred from Mr. Hood Community College, which Baca said has one of the top jazz programs in Oregon, to study jazz at UW-Eau Claire. Herpel-Dobay, who plays tenor saxophone, used to patronize Jimmy Mak's when he was in high school and a student at Mt. Hood, so he'd had some experience with the musicians there and said they were so encouraging to younger musicians that they even moved the time of their performances to an earlier hour so under-age jazz students could come and hear them play.

"And they gave six or seven of our guys from Jazz I the opportunity to play with them while we were there," Herpel-Dobay said, noting that for him, part of what really made the trip experience great was being able to share it with the whole band.

"It gave us a real outlet — being able to express ourselves and talk over everything that happened as a group," he said. "That was a huge advantage."

Currier agreed.

"Being with and seeing so many people interested in the same goal — it just really reaffirmed what I do and why I do it," Currier said. "And you know — you can live on that for a long time."



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