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Jazz alumnus finding his way home

| Matt Halverson, UW-Eau Claire music and journalism major

If you haven’t experienced the exciting jazz scene in Eau Claire, you’re missing out on one of the city’s best-kept secrets.

Every month, jazz giants are finding their way in and out of Eau Claire, a city of just over 67,000. These artists serve not only as entertainers, but teachers for local student musicians. Consequently, Eau Claire itself has seen many of its own go on to reach the national stage. This December, Eau Claire is lucky enough to welcome UW-Eau Claire alumnus and nationally renowned jazz musician and composer Aaron Hedenstrom back into town.

"I'm looking forward to being back in Eau Claire,” Hedenstrom said. "Just being around the music community there and being able to give back to the program that shaped and developed me means a lot."

Hedenstrom graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2010 as a composition major, later going on to study under Richard DeRosa at the University of North Texas. DeRosa has arranged and composed for Wynton Marsalis as well as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

During his time at UW-Eau Claire, Hedenstrom mainly studied with jazz studies head Robert Baca, former composition professor Ethan Wickman and piano professor Namji Kim. He also played in Jazz Ensemble I and the Wind Symphony.

Before leaving for grad school, Hedenstrom met his wife Alyssa, also a music major at UW-Eau Claire. The couple moved to Denton, Texas, following graduation to pursue their respective master's degrees at the University of North Texas. He is currently finishing his doctorate in jazz studies with an emphasis in composition.

Hedenstrom has won multiple Downbeat awards, as well as the ASCAP Young Jazz Composer Award and first place in the Detroit Jazz Festival Arranging Competition. Along with being a critically acclaimed jazz composer, Hedenstrom also is a top-tier saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist, and has performed at venues stretching across the country.

"Don’t get stuck in the bubble of college," said Hedenstrom in regard to professional performing. "In other words, don't just think that because you're playing in the top jazz band that you’re ready to be a professional musician."

Hedenstrom is a musician who strives to be as well-versed as possible and is constantly looking for new ways to make himself as versatile as possible.

"The more things you can do, the easier it is to carve out a living," he says.

Compositionally, Hedenstrom believes that remaining open-minded is absolutely vital. Prior to beginning any work, he sits down to get a loose layout of how he wants to go about his writing. He then progresses into motivic development by recycling themes throughout each work.

"For me, part of the fun is that the process can change from piece to piece," he says. "Sometimes I’ll start with one melody and then try to take that melody on throughout the whole piece."

He notes a prime example of this is his work "Honeybee," which he wrote for his wife.

Hedenstrom is very much looking forward to his return to Eau Claire to work with jazz students on the final piece in the fall Jazz Studies Artist Series.

He will be leading a tour with UWEC's Jazz Ensemble II before coming to campus on Dec. 2. Later that week, on Friday, Dec. 4, he will perform in concert with both Jazz Ensembles I and II at 7:30p.m. in Gantner Concert Hall of the Haas Fine Arts Center.

"I look forward to the environment in the music department at UW-Eau Claire" he said. "I feel that there's a real sense of community there."

While Hedenstrom currently resides Texas, he and his wife hope someday to return to the Midwest.

View related story about Aaron Hedenstrom.