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- Gold Company
- Gold Company II
- Advanced Jazz Combo
- University Jazz Orchestra
- University Jazz Lab Band
- WMU Drum Choir
- Western Jazz Quartet
Greg Jasperse, Director
The Gold Company program is widely recognized as one of the most successful and prestigious collegiate vocal jazz programs in the world. The ensembles perform a wide variety of repertoire which covers all styles in the contemporary vocal idiom. Gold Company combines the fundamental musical elements from the traditional choral style with stylistic characteristics from the jazz vernacular with an emphasis on improvisation and swing.
Lyle Mays– “Gold Company is the most professional college group I have ever seen.”
Cedric Dent (Take Six)– “Gold Company represents the gold standard among university jazz choral programs.”
Janis Siegel (The Manhattan Transfer)–”Gold Company is the absolute best sounding, hippest college vocal jazz ensemble I have ever heard.”
Primarily A Cappella–”Dr. Stephen Zegree is one of those rare directors of collegiate ensembles who is able to take a group, in this case WMU’s Gold Company, to a professional level in performance and recordings. That the group is able to maintain that level through the years of constantly graduating members means, of course, that the best young jazz musicians are going to Kalamazoo to work with and learn from Zegree.”
GCII is one of nine vocal ensembles in the School of Music. The 20-voice group, like its 16-voice counterpart Gold Company, performs in every style from vocal jazz and show tunes to the hits of today.
Membership is by audition from Western’s enrollment of over 26,000 students. Each singer must have the ability to “swing” and master the complex harmonies of vocal jazz arrangements. Choreography and specialty acts are a part of GCII’s exciting and energetic presentation.
Andrew Rathbun, Director
Western Michigan University’s award-winning Advanced Jazz Combo is directed by Andrew Rathbun. The 7-10 member ensemble is made up of the premiere students from WMU’s jazz studies department. The ensemble’s repertoire of originals and arrangements is composed exclusively by the ensemble members. The AJC has received Outstanding Small Ensemble awards from the Notre Dame, Elmhurst and Detroit International Jazz Festivals. The ensemble has performed in Illinois, Indiana, throughout Michigan and was featured by the Marshall Music Company at the 2006 Michigan Music Conference, as well as the 2007 International Association of Jazz Educators in New York City , with guest artists Stefon Harris, Fred Hersch and Billy Hart. They have also performed twice at the Monterey NextGen Jazz Festival in 2012 and 2013, with guest Donny McCaslin. Their current CD Rhythm Spirit has received critical review and is available on Sea Breeze Records, and they are embarking on a new recording project in New York featuring settings of contemporary poetry.
Tom Knific, Director
Western Michigan University’s award-winning Jazz Orchestra is directed by Tom Knific. This 18-member ensemble has received international acclaim for its high performance standards and creative approach to big band jazz. Recognitions include three-time winners in the college big band category of the Down Beat Magazine annual DB student music awards, a heralded performance in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, 25 consecutive Outstanding Band recognitions at the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, and featured performances for the International Association for Jazz Education Conferences in Los Angeles and Atlanta. The ensemble’s CDs, Spritely Overdue, Disposable Income, Blue Miles,Sweet Tango, Cosmosis, Boogaloo Land, and Travel Notes have received rave reviews in DownBeat magazine, JazzTimes Magazine, the IAJE Journal, Cadence Magazine and numerous other noted publications. They are all on Sea Breeze Vista Recordings and available online and through the jazz studies program.
The band has performed with Joe Lovano, Tim Hagans, New York Voices, Tom Harrell, Bob Brookmeyer, Bob Berg, Rob McConnell, Billy Hart, John Clayton, Randy Brecker, Kenny Werner, Conrad Herwig, Bob Mintzer, John Fedchock, Stefon Harris, Kurt Elling and more.
Dr. Herb Wong’s BLUE CHIP Jazz CD Awards – TOP CAMPUS CDs
2005 – Boogaloo Land
2001 – Cosmosis
2000 – Sweet Tango
- Owen Cordle, Jazz Times Magazine -“This band boasts chops aplenty … one of the top-ranked college bands in the country”
- Wallace Roney -”Definitely a great band. One of the absolute best I’ve heard on the festival. Also, great choices of innovative tunes.”
- Benny Green -”OUCH … RESPECT. Smokin’ band.”
- Jim McNeely -”THIS is what I’ve been waiting for.”
Scott Cowan, Director
Western Michigan University’s JAZZ LAB BAND is directed by Scott Cowan. This 18-member ensemble is a favorite of younger jazz instrumentalists. The group performs an extraordinarily broad range of repertoire, from the earliest big band works of Ellington and vintage swing era arrangements, to fusion works and music composed by ensemble members.
Emphasis is placed on the authentic conception of traditional and contemporary swing as well as Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and contemporary genres. The ensemble performs on campus four times a year, including the perennially sold-out “annual swing concert”. The Jazz Lab Band also performs regularly at the The Union Cabaret and Grill, the WMU Jazz Studies jazz club partner.
Guest artists appearing with the band range from John Clayton and Billy Hart, to WMU Jazz faculty.
Keith Hall, Director
WMU Drum Choir, directed by Keith Hall, is a drumset ensemble which performs compositions arranged and composed primarily by the students. This unique ensemble is an extension of the jazz drumset curriculum and offers a group experience where ideas are exchanged providing a tremendous atmosphere for improvisation and teamwork. The entire history of drum set vocabulary as well as world rhythm concepts are explored. The Drum Choir performs at the WMU Invitational Jazz Festival, as part of jazz ensemble concerts, and for special events.
Created in 1992 by Artist-in-Residence Billy Hart, the drum choir allows students the opportunity to explore the tradition of the drums while incorporating contemporary concepts. The ensemble is required for jazz drum set majors and is open to non-majors.
Jazz Combos form the creative heart of the WMU Jazz Studies program, and are coached by the entire faculty and guest artists. Students choose their own band members and musical direction. The resulting eclectic range of styles is inspiring, and has produced groups dedicated to music ranging from the Blue Note tradition to Tango Nuevo, the Brasil Project, Gradus Quartet, and other world music, the avant garde, and everything in between. Over the years, a number of these ensembles have had commercially released CDs.
Andrew Rathbun, Sax
Jeremy Siskind, Piano
Tom Knific, Bass
Keith Hall, Drums
The WESTERN JAZZ QUARTET is a resident faculty ensemble in the School of Music at Western Michigan University. Formed in 1974, the quartet combines performing and teaching with uncommon success as they promote jazz music and jazz education through a very active schedule of tours, concerts and workshops. Activities range from performances for school children of all ages to concerts, tours and recordings with such artists as Art Farmer, Stefon Harris, Tim Hagans, Kenny Werner, Billy Hart, Mark Murphy, Randy Brecker, Dave Liebman, Janis Siegel, and Bobby McFerrin.
In 2012, after a retirement and shift in faculty, the NEW WESTERN JAZZ QUARTET was born with Rathbun, Siskind, Hall and the veteran Tom Knific. The NEW WJQ will be releasing a new CD in the fall of 2013 complete with a tour of Russia and concerts around the U.S.
The Western Jazz Quartet has performed from Boston to Los Angeles, and tours regularly world wide. It has been featured at festivals in Canada, Europe and the U.S., and at a week of performances at La Villa in Paris, France. The group was honored with sponsorship by the Arts America Program and often tours as artistic ambassadors for the US Department of State including Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Poland, Italy, Croatia, and Slovenia. The quartet has also toured Europe four times with pianist Wlodek Pawlik, drum legend Billy Hart, and jazz legend Randy Brecker.
The Western Jazz Quartet has released five CDs in the United States: Mayan Myths (2006), Premiere (2005), with trumpeter Scott Cowan; and Sabine’s Dance (2000), Blue Harts (1995) and Firebird (1992) with Billy Hart. Both Firebird and Blue Harts received top reviews in Down Beat magazine, with Firebird being named one of the best CD’s of the 1990s. The group has released several CD’s in Europe with pianist Wlodek Pawlik: Waning Moon (2000) on Universal Mercury Records; Turtles (1996), with Randy Brecker, on Polonia Records; and Live at the Jazz Club Aquarium (1995) with Billy Hart on the Koch International label. In April of 1996, the quartet was invited to tour Thailand in honor of the 50th anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne. The Western Jazz Quartet has recently been appearing throughout the United States as soloists with symphony orchestras performing Patrick Williams’ “An American Concerto” and other works. As members of the contemporary music ensemble, OPUS 21, the WJQ has premiered over a dozen new works in New York City since 2004.
“Imaginative with brilliant flashes of impeccable technique, and a persistence of serious musical intensity.” -The Chronicle