The Mill to host high school student jazz concert


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Take away the grand stage, the sharply dressed conductor, and the sheet music. Now add some horns and drums, a dash of style, and a whole lot of chemistry, and you’ll get jazz — a complex genre that challenges musicians of all ages.

Those musicians will come together to put on a workshop and play jazz Friday for the University of Iowa’s Jazz Combo Festival, in which groups of high-school musicians and UI graduate students will perform at 5 p.m. at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St.,

The event will be preceded by a performance of original work by the UI jazz-faculty ensemble 7:30 p.m. today in the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., with guest artists and alumni Mark Urness, Paul Scea, and the band Laranja. Those jazz experts will also hold clinics for the visiting high-school students to prepare them for their Friday performances.

“As far as the high-school kids, the chance to perform in a club setting is a thrill rather than always doing the high-school gym or the auditorium,” said UI jazz-faculty member Steve Grismore. “To actually get to be in an environment that’s more true to the music is always fun for them.”

The high-school musicians will hail from four schools: Des Moines Hoover, Cedar Rapids Prairie, Cedar Rapids Washington, and City High. The combos of around eight to 10 students will perform one song each on Friday evening.

“They really enjoy playing in a jazz combo, because it’s such a unique setting and very challenging for them to stay focused and creative at the same time,” said City High jazz-band director Ryan Arp. “It’s a huge workout for the brain, so I think they really appreciate getting to work with people who can tell them how to be better.”

Christopher Reichmeier, a UI graduate student and pandeiro player, will perform in one of the two university combos on Friday following the high-school groups.

“I think the best thing is you get to play with other people, your friends,” he said. “You get to make something, and a lot of the time, it’s always just a little bit different, and that’s fun.”

Although the graduate students will serve as mentors for the high-schoolers, Reichmeier said he’s excited for the chance to interact with the experienced faculty and alumni performing at the Englert event tonight.

“They’re out there actually playing this music, and we get to see what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” he said. “Everybody is going to get to learn, so that’s a wonderful thing.”

Arp said the setting for the combo performances is meaningful as well.

“I think the Mill is a good venue because it has that intimate jazz-club kind of feel, and it’s always a place that is well-attended by patrons,” he said. “It’s really nice that Iowa City has a place like that. It’s getting back to the roots of jazz music.”

And when students can get down to these roots, Arp said, there are lessons to be learned that go beyond the music.

“I always like to think of it as teaching them a little democracy, a little bit of balance of power,” he said. “Everyone has a role, and if one role gets too dominant, then the group isn’t really as successful. That’s what I like them to try to get out of it: everyone’s important in his own way.”

What: Jazz Faculty Ensemble performance

When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
Admission: Free

What: Jazz Combo Festival

When: 5 p.m., Friday
Where: Mill, 120 E. Burlington
Admission: Free

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