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Bemidji Concert Series: Doc Severinsen to perform Sunday concert

Coming to Bemidji is Doc Severinsen and El Ritmo De la Vida.

They will perform at 7 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 28, in the auditorium of Bemidji High School.

"Never in my widest dreams did I think we would be able to bring Doc Severinsen to Bemidji for the Bemidji Concert Series," said Del Lyren, professor of music at Bemidji State University and a member of the committee that plans the line-up for the Bemidji Concert Series. "He is one of the most famous musicians of our time."

During a phone interview this week, Severinsen countered with the comment that Minnesota has been very good to him through the years. Years ago, another respected musical director, Skitch Henderson, brought Severinsen to Minnesota to conduct music clinics for high school and college students. Severinsen is the Pops Conductor Laureate of the Minnesota Orchestra having held the role of conductor for 14 years.

"There are no better people in the world," said Severinsen. "Mid-western audiences are accepting and loyal, I could change the type of music within a program and they would just go with it. I can promise you that the musicians I'm bringing to Bemidji are world-class players."

He said he was surprised such musicians in a little Italian restaurant in his retirement home of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

"When I retired, I told my wife that I have to play trumpet every day, but I want to play jazz," Severinsen said. "We play gypsy jazz, Spanish jazz, French jazz, Latino and a little bit of Mariachi."

After a stint in the U.S. Army, Severinsen was hired by the National Broadcasting Company in New York City as a studio musician for the Kate Smith Show in the late 1940s. Skitch Henderson, then the head of the orchestras at NBC, hired him for a gig on Long Island, New York. Henderson asked Severinsen to play a trumpet solo during the show.

"I gave it all I had, and it worked," Severinsen said. "I was asked to be first trumpet in the Tonight Show band with Johnny Carson, and after five years took over as musical director."

Carson always introduced Severinsen at the start of the show and would comment on his colorful outfits.

"Johnny was the glue that held us together - Carson, McMahon and Severinsen - for 25 years," he said. "When asked to substitute for emcee Ed McMahon, Tommy Newsom, who did most of the arranging, would lead the band with his Ellington sound."

During those years in New York City, Severinsen played club dates where he learned Latin rhythms in mambo bands with well known band leaders like Tito Puente and Perez Prado, thereby establishing a solid background in that musical genre.

"When I heard the group, I knew that with a little tweaking, they could be great," He said. "I introduced myself to them and explained what I wanted to do. They are fine musicians and I am very proud of them and excited to bring them to Bemidji."

The group named El Ritmo De la Vida which translates to "the rhythm of life" was formed by guitarist Gil Gutierrez and Severinsen and now includes Ali Bello on violin, pianist Eugenio Toussaint, bassist Gilberto Gonzalez and percussionist Miguel Favero. Severinsen said he is confident that the Bemidji audience will be open and enthusiastic about the group and promises to wear one of his signature suits for the show.

"Doc is one of a kind," Lyren said. "He is an incredible musician with a charismatic stage presence. Few entertainers in the past 100 years have had the ability to capture an audience with both musical ability and stage presence. The evening will be entertaining for everyone."

Tickets are on sale now at Lueken's Village North, the BSU Music Department office on the second floor of Bangsberg Fine and Performing Arts Complex and Tutto Bene. Tickets are $30 for reserved seating, $25 for general seating and $5 for students. If available, tickets will be sold at the door. Reserved section tickets can be purchased at the music office and Lueken's.

For more background information on Severinsen, look at ArtsNews on the home page of the Bemidji Pioneer online at


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