McPherson College was swinging, hopping and bopping on Thursday Nov. 5, as 426 middle school and high school musicians arrived on campus for the college’s second annual jazz festival.
Kyle Hopkins, associate professor of music and director of bands, is the founder and organizer of the annual festival, which he created to give area student jazz bands an opportunity to perform in the fall and get professional feedback. This year 22 bands from 20 central Kansas schools performed in the festival.
This year’s special guest was Mike Steinel, originally from Marion, Kan. This internationally recognized jazz performer and educator has taught Jazz Studies at the prestigious University of North Texas for 28 years. Steinel is best known as author of “Essential Elements for Jazz Ensemble,” a popular jazz band method used by student musicians around the world. His numerous original compositions are published and performed all over the globe. He has performed and recorded with scores of prominent musicians, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Cobb, Kevin Mahogany, Bobby Shew and Lee Greenwood.
During the festival, Steinel presented a special workshop on jazz improvisation. Steinel said that improvisation has always been part of jazz music, and that learning to improvise was like learning to speak – hard at first, but soon perfectly natural.
“It’s fun to read a book,” he said, making a comparison to set sheet music. “But it’s even more fun to have a good conversation with a good friend.”
After the workshop, Steinel told Hopkins afterward how impressed he as with all the students’ attentiveness.
“The kids have been great,” Hopkins said. “That’s really a great testament, and our McPherson College students have been great hosts.”
The festival isn’t over yet, however. On Nov. 6, The Mike Steinel Quintet will visit area schools, giving jazz masterclasses. The festival will culminate with the Quintet’s performance Friday evening at the Opera House at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20, $15 and $5 for students and may be obtained at the door or by calling the ticket office at 620-241-1952. The concert will also include warm-up selections from the McPherson College Jazz Band, under Hopkins’ direction, and the Smoky Valley High School Jazz Band, under the direction of Shawn Knopp.
Other members of the Steinel Quintet include Rosana Eckert, an internationally recognized live and studio vocalist, songwriter, jazz educator, and voice-over talent; and Pat Coil, a celebrated pianist, composer and programmer. Rounding out the group are professional musicians and recording artists Jeff Eckels on bass and Steve Barnes on drums.
School bands that performed were from Hesston High School, Salina South High School, Salina Central High School, Nickerson High School, Chapman High School, Chapman Middle School, Abilene High School, McPherson High School, Inman High School, Larned High School, Smoky Valley High School, Wichita South High School, Goddard High School, Newton High School, Fort Riley Middle School, Lakewood Middle School, Hillsboro High School, Sterling High School and Sterling Middle School.
The Jazz Festival and final concert are sponsored by McPherson College and Holman, Snell and Munsey Financial Services. More information is available by calling Hopkins at 620-242-0521.