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UK To Jazz Up China's Music Scene
Before embarking on a two-week tour of China, the University of Kentucky's Jazz Ensemble will take a Bluegrass stage to present a preview concert of music they plan to perform on tour. The free public concert will begin 7:30 p.m., Monday, June 2, at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
The concert, featuring everything from big band swing music to more contemporary jazz performed by the UK Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Miles Osland, is designed to showcase the tremendous breadth of the American art form for Chinese audiences, who have become major fans of the genre but rarely get to hear live American performances.
UK is serving as an ambassador for the American music genre. "We're one of the first American university jazz ensembles ever to play in China. So the programming that I have is wide and varied, doing some Count Basie, Duke Ellington, but then doing a lot more contemporary, more updated things too," said Miles Osland, director of UK Jazz Studies and a professor of saxophone at UK School of Music.
The ensemble will also play some hip versions of popular tunes like the theme song to "The Flinstones," as well as a jazz version of "My Old Kentucky Home."
UK Jazz Ensemble, composed of 17 undergraduate and graduate students, will pack up their instruments and depart for Beijing June 4. During their 14-day stay, the group will perform at the Beijing Contemporary Music Institute in Beijing, the Xi'an Conservatory of Music in Xi'an, and the JZ Club and Shanghai University in Shanghai. At the last concert, the ensemble will even perform with students from Shanghai University's music program during UK Week at the institution.
Based on the popularity of jazz in China the ensemble is looking forward to playing for the Asian audience. "I think the crowds are really going to enjoy it. They will probably come out to hear an American ensemble playing a variety of different types of big band music. I think we are going to be rock stars over there," said Carlos Espinosa, a saxophone player and doctoral candidate from Fort Worth, Texas.
In addition to playing concerts for audiences abroad, the UK students and Osland will also open their rehearsals and present seminars and master classes in jazz for the Chinese music students and educators where they hope to also learn from the local artists.
"We're actually going to be working with students form Shanghai University. I am really excited to see not only how they play jazz, but how they approach it, how the ensemble works together and in the back of my mind compare it to how we do things here and hopefully take something back from that," said UK Honors Program member and Singletary Scholar Drew Burke, a trumpet player and music education and music performance freshman from Pikeville, Ky.
Osland is also interested in hearing the Chinese musicians. "It will be real interesting to see how they feel and play jazz. I am not saying that you have to be American, but it is America's indigenous art form. Hopefully they'll learn a lot from us, but it will be interesting to hear how they foresee or pursue their jazz interests also."
While they aren't rehearsing, teaching and performing, the UK students will get to visit such popular and important historic sites as the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven and the Bird's Nest. The UK Jazz Ensemble Tour is made possible by support of the China Jazz Association and the UK Confucius Institute.
For many of the students this will be their first trip abroad. "This experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all of us. We get to travel halfway across the world and play jazz," said Colleen Wagoner, a saxophone player and music education senior from Lexington. "I know I am going to be overwhelmed with the amount of people and the size of the buildings. I am just excited to just experience China because I have no idea what to expect and know I will be in disbelief."
"Personally, I just want to share my love of this music and show them individually the things I have to offer as a musician. I want to speak basically from my heart, my soul, my mind in music and I want to put that out there for other people to see. And collectively as a group, I think we can really showcase how much fun it is to be in an ensemble like this, the camaraderie that's built, not just through music but personally. And just bring them a taste of Kentucky," Espinosa said.
Even after the students head back to the United States, Osland will remain to participate as one of a group of 15 UK faculty members teaching at Shanghai University during the inaugural UK Week at the school. He will present a jazz appreciation course during his time at the university. Osland will also perform in the week's opening ceremony to be held June 20.
"I get to impart not only the music with the ensemble performing, but also the knowledge, a little bit of our history and what it really is," said Osland. "What's nice is that I've got recordings, I've got videos, and I plan on personally playing in class a lot because the music says it all. I can talk all day about it, but when you hear it, that says it all."
Osland has made appearances throughout North and South America, Europe and Asia as a guest conductor, performer and clinician for Selmer Saxophones, Jody Jazz mouthpieces and D'Addario Woodwinds, Osland's compositions and arrangements have been recognized and supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council and by numerous other art foundations.
Under Osland, the UK Jazz Ensemble has received invitations to perform at the Midwest Clinic International Band, Orchestra and Music Conference three times, most recently in 2013, and the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference. In July 2011, UK Jazz Ensemble, along with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet, toured France, Switzerland and the Netherlands, performing at two of the world's most prestigious jazz festivals.
Recipient of the Outstanding Jazz Ensemble certificate at the Annual Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival, and winner of "Downbeat Magazine's" DeeBee award for Best Jazz Instrumental Studio Orchestra, UK Jazz Ensemble has been featured with many national touring artists, including David Liebman, Tom Harrell and Mel Torme.
UK School of Music at the UK College of Fine Arts has achieved awards and national and international recognition for high-caliber education in opera, choral and instrumental music performance, as well as for music education, composition, theory and music history.