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On the national stage: Bemidji State jazz ensemble to perform at prestigious conference in Dallas

Submitted photo BSU music professor Del Lyren said the invitation to the jazz ensemble to perform at a national conference in Dallas will be a great experience for his students.

BEMIDJI — The instrumental student musicians at BSU have scored another first.

As far back as the research showed, no school jazz ensemble has ever been asked to perform

and be evaluated at the Jazz Education Network Conference, which this year will be held in early January in Dallas.

“As far as I know, it’s the first time that BSU has ever had a jazz band invited to perform at a national conference,” said Del Lyren, professor of music at BSU. “The Jennerations Jazz Festival is the largest jazz conference in the world. It’s quite an honor for us.”

The ensemble — named Blue Ice — will travel to the Twin Cities first, where they have been invited to rehearse at the Chanhassen High School. On Jan. 8, the group of 19 students plus Lyren, will fly down to Dallas to prepare for two separate events: Big Band with soloist Hyrum Price and a jazz combo. Each group has an hour time slot during which they will perform three different tunes for about 25 minutes; one piece, “YAFEL?” (as in ‘you feel the beat’) was composed by one of the players, Josh May. When they are finished performing, they will get critiqued by a world famous jazz performer, and the other judge is going to be a well-known jazz educator, Lyren said. The two critiques from two different sides of the jazz world is “going to be a really great thing for them to hear.”

The conference will be a fantastic experience for his students, and also to play with the top jazz musicians and to see how they “stack up” against the other bands, he said.

“Jazz has changed dramatically since the music of Duke Ellington or Miles Davis when it was meant to be danced to,” Lyren said. “What those guys would do is take a show tune and turn them into jazz; think about Louie Armstrong and “Hello Dolly.” They would take these tunes that were popular and turn them into jazz.

“In a way, we are still doing that so maybe the concept of jazz itself hasn’t changed as much as people may think. Today, jazz is mixed with a lot of punk and rock and is meant to be listened to; as a general concept that is how jazz has changed more than anything.”

The ensemble has played at many venues in Bemidji, such as the Suzy and Hondo Dance Studio, weddings and private parties to raise money for the trip, plus the music department and SAFAC have each contributed toward the trip. In the past, the jazz ensemble played for college events such as “Snow Ball” and “Remember When” with Steve Konecne, which also raised money for music scholarships.

“We’ve had some down times but we (music department) are definitely on the upswing now,” Lyren said.