Oregon jazz ensemble

Oregon Jazz Ensemble in Europe: Jamming and Learning Abroad

University of Oregon students showcase Oregon jazz and experience the touring life


After a 25-hour journey that included crossing nine time zones, some lost luggage, and an airline-damaged baritone saxophone, the award winning Oregon Jazz Ensemble (OJE) arrived in France just in time to perform before an enthusiastic audience at the July 10 Vienne Jazz Festival.

It took a little coaxing but the bari sax was un-bent and with a charge of youthful enthusiasm to overcome the restlessness of little sleep, the University of Oregon student band hit the stage an hour after they landed, remembers OJE member Jared Yakel. The 20-member ensemble played a mix of classic jazz pieces and new works by ensemble members and alumni, on an outdoor stage surrounded by centuries-old buildings. It was raining, but the crowd stayed on to listen to the music. Facebook postings that evening by OJE members saluted the “killer” solo performances of fellow musicians Devin Wright, Jessie Smith, and Jared Yakel.  “This tour is off to a heck of a start!!” one member wrote.

After the UO students’ performance, band members seized the opportunity to hear the festival’s evening headliner concert featuring internationally renowned Brazilian music masters Sergio Mendes and Eliane Elias in an ancient 8,000-seat mountainside Roman amphitheater. Smith recalls how thousands of people sat quietly rocking back and forth to the music and thoroughly enjoying every note.

PHOTO 1: (618px) Caption: OJE at Vienne Jazz Festival with Steve Owen director. Photo: © Jazz-Rhone-Alpes.com)

OJE at Vienne Jazz Festival with Steve Owen director. Photo: © Jazz-Rhone-Alpes.com)

The Vienne concert kicked off a six-day, three-country tour with scheduled performances in four international jazz festivals. UO Jazz Studies director Professor Steve Owen organized the educational tour (made possible by many friends of the School of Music and Dance with lead gifts from Dwight and GleeAnn Davis, and Alan and Tamara Evans) to introduce students “to some of the great jazz festivals of the world, and to help them train for the life of a working musician,” according to a School of Music and Dance (SOMD) release. The School also wanted to share with European audiences some of the great music being composed by members of the ensemble and recent graduates.

Well regarded in Northwest jazz circles, “OJE students have individually won numerous competitions, including a first prize win in the Yamaha Jazz Division of the National Trumpet Competition; triumph at the Seattle Women’s Jazz Orchestra’s composition contest; and a jazz arrangement award from Downbeat magazine,” according to the SOMD web site. “Since 2000, the OJE has been named “Outstanding College Big Band” for eight of the ten years the ensemble has attended the Reno Jazz Festival — more than any other college ensemble.” Now they would have the chance to showcase their music to an international audience, and to learn important lessons about the life of a jazz musician.


News & Notes: Musical Travelers

Oregon musicians take their sounds overseas.

Summer is travel time, and Oregon music is on the move. Last week, we told you about Oregon City’s Unistus Choir and its impending trip to Estonia. But they’re hardly the only Oregon musicians heading out this summer.

This Wednesday, June 25, you can bid bon voyage to Portland Youth Philharmonic at its free noon concert in Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Squre, where they’ll perform music by two of today’s most appealing contemporary composers, Christopher Theofanidis (Visions and Miracles) and Portland’s own Kenji Bunch (Supermaximum!) along with 20th century American music legend (and West Coast contemporary music godfather) Henry Cowell (Ancient Desert Drone), plus Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations and Brahms’s Academic Festival Overture. After that, they fly to Chicago to conclude their 90th anniversary season with a July 5 performance at the annual Grant Park Music Festival, which is led by none other than Oregon Symphony music director Carlos Kalmar, who extended the invitation.