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Inside the 2021 Virtual Jazz Festival

March 5, 2021

The University of Minnesota Jazz Festival is an annual opportunity for area high school band students to experience learning from and performing with School of Music and professional musicians. When the festival moved to virtual this year, Director Dean Sorenson’s main goal was to provide a similar clinic to provide resources for high school bands that are going through a uniquely challenging time period. He made sure to build in plenty of time for student listening and learning, and provided special opportunities for interacting with professional musicians.  

As in the past, this year’s Jazz Festival features an accomplished guest artist, saxophonist Tom Luer. Sorenson was excited to introduce Luer, a world-class musician who has played with multiple GRAMMY-winning artists, to high school jazz students participating in the festival. He noted that Luer “has a thorough understanding of how to deliver a meaningful experience online.” Students had the opportunity to workshop pieces they’ve been working on with Luer.

Sorenson’s favorite moment from the festival was seeing the enthusiasm for the music that carried through the pandemic. He noted that students and directors are still making music, and he believes that it showcases the importance of music in education and lives. 

Several students were selected to perform “virtual solos” in the University of Minnesota Jazz Ensembles performance through video and audio dubbing, providing a showcase opportunity despite the physical distance. Sorenson believes that “Technology has progressed to a point where overdubbing and mixing audio and video from various sources is so much easier than it was in the past.” The School of Music’s staff, including audio engineer John Marks, were able to make this idea a reality. 

The list includes Charles Woehrle, Alto Saxophone, Lakeville South High School; Anna Chervenka, Trumpet, Waukee High School; Izaac Cheeran, Alto Saxophone, Rosemount High School; and Carson Parker, Piano, Waukee High School. Sorenson thought all of the student soloists, not just the four that were selected, contributed to stand-out moments in the jazz festival. Playing solos is the essence of jazz performance, and he’s proud of the developing players who were willing to put themselves out there. 

Student soloist Carson Parker is busy preparing for his solo feature. Parker is a pianist that attends Waukee High School. He noted that the first step of preparation was figuring out the form of the piece. A challenging part of the process for parker was shaping his solo so that it fit in the required length. Parker is most excited about the opportunity to be seen by a wide audience, and getting to watch his own performance. Saxophonist Charles Woehrle from Lakeville South High School credits his hard work over the years in helping him prepare for this experience. He's excited to see himself play with the talent of a college band and see how he can improve his own skills when listening to them. 

Sorenson’s favorite piece that will be performed at the virtual performance is a premier piece, Avec Tout Mon Amour. The piece was arranged by a student composer and trombonist from the jazz program, Daniel Cosio. Sorenson is always proud to showcase student work at his performances. Three of the pieces in the performance are arranged by students, and one of the Jazz Combos (can we find out which one?) will feature exclusively original music. 

“The students are the real heroes in this...they persevere through all of the hardships this pandemic has brought on, and they still show up eager to make music.”  

The Virtual Jazz Festival Performance will take place on Friday, March 12 at 7:30 pm CST. You can watch it on our Facebook and YouTube channels. The concert is free and open to the public. Sign up for updates