June 13, 2014—This July the Oregon Jazz Ensemble, the big band of the University of Oregon, will tour Europe, performing at four prestigious festivals in three countries over the course of just six days.
The ambitious tour is the brainchild of Professor Steve Owen, the Philip H. Knight Professor of Jazz Studies and Music Theory, and director of the UO’s Jazz Studies program at the UO School of Music and Dance. Owen is also director of the Oregon Jazz Ensemble.
The twenty-member ensemble’s tour stops will include performances at the Vienne Jazz Festival in France on July 10, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland on July 12-13, the La Spezia Jazz Festival in Italy on July 14, and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy on July 16.
The performers are inviting their fans and friends back at home in the U.S. to watch them at their work; while on the road, the OJE will update a travel blog on the School of Music and Dance website. The blog will include a live-stream of the ensemble’s concerts, as they are happening.
The OJE’s attendance at the Montreux Jazz Festival is a particular honor; the event’s performers are by invitation only, and the UO ensemble will enjoy two opportunities to perform, once on July 12 and once on July 13.
The trip is possible thanks to SOMD donors. Lead gifts from Dwight and GleeAnn Davis, and Alan and Tamara Evans, along with donations from many other friends of the school, will support the OJE's travel expenses.
In addition to the big band set in each festival venue, students will participate in many informal jam sessions, making music and connecting with jazz players from all over the world.
“The opportunity to play extended sets in succession for a large, appreciative audience will allow us to tap into a level of performing music that can't be attained in any academic setting,” said Adam Carlson, drummer for the OJE.
The purpose of the trip is to introduce the UO’s jazz students to some of the great jazz festivals of the world, and to help them train for the life of a working musician. The UO also wants to present to European audiences the large number of jazz compositions recently written by UO students.
The Oregon Jazz Ensemble is well regarded in Northwest jazz circles. Since 2000, the OJE has been named “Outstanding College Big Band” for eight of the ten years the ensemble has attended the Reno Jazz Festival—more so than any other college ensemble.
Within the past year, OJE students have individually won numerous competitions, including a first prize win in the Yamaha Jazz Division of the National Trumpet Competition; triumph at the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra's composition contest; and a jazz arrangement award from Downbeat magazine.
Tenor saxophonist Joshua Hettwer sees himself as a sort of ambassador, noting, “These performances are a special opportunity to bring a global spotlight to the community of Eugene and all of the hip things that are happening in the Northwest.”
Hettwer’s artistic colleague, lead trumpet Jason Woodward, acknowledges the role this trip can play in his development as a serious musician.
“I hope to find clearer goals for my music from observing and talking with folks in the audiences,” said Woodward. “If I can learn what works and what doesn't from more folks, I will have a better idea how to make people happy doing what I do.”
Planned repertoire for the OJE’s Europe sets will include a mix of new compositions and fresh interpretations of jazz standbys, with selections by Steve Owen, Thad Jones, Duke Ellington, and the Basie Band. The UO’s Jazz Studies program prides itself on original composition, so the ensemble’s set will also feature several new works by alumni and student composers.