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Bearkats Hit 'All The Right Notes' With Grammy Submissions, Festival

March 2, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Sara Thompson

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Upon visiting a typical Sam Houston State University Jazz Ensemble performance, audiences are greeted with the soft whisperings of the bass and piano paired with lively gusts of melodies from the wind instruments.

For most, a vibrant sea of instruments seemingly glowing under the softened lighting of the university’s Performing Arts Center proves a sight almost as engaging as the sounds.

Yet for SHSU’s director of jazz studies Aric Schneller, the spectacle only heightens his anticipation of another vision.

His “ultimate dream” is to build the university’s jazz program to a “magnitude never reached before.”

It’s a vision that seems to have finally taken form this year, beginning last fall when Schneller became the first SHSU faculty member to be become a voting member for the Recording Academy’s annual Grammy Awards.

He was eligible for the honor because of four different albums he recorded at the University of North Texas. Schneller was a former member of UNT’s Grammy-nominated One O’clock Lab Band as well as the university’s Two O’ Clock Lab Band in which he was a featured trombonist as well as an arranger and writer.

“It’s been a personal honor to have been accepted as voting member; it’s one small step in all the goals I have set for myself while working at SHSU,” says Schneller.

The title is also accompanied with an option to attend the Grammy Awards Ceremony, which are held each year at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Calif.

So far, Schneller has opted not to attend the awards, but that could change soon due to another first for the SHSU campus—a Grammy submission entry for the SHSU Jazz Ensemble.

Director of jazz studies Aric Schneller (far right) became the first faculty member to become a voting member for the Recording Academy's Grammy Awards. —Photos by Brian Blalock

According to Schneller, the jazz program has decided to submit their first piece to The Recording Academy—an album entitled “When You’re Smiling.” The album, which features renowned trombonist William “Bill” Watrous and the SHSU Jazz Ensemble, directed by Schneller, is set to be released and sold at the university’s annual Bill Watrous Music Festival March 23-24.

“We'll submit the title track, ‘When You're Smiling’ by Larry Shay, Joe Goodwin, and Mark Fisher, arranged by Tom Kubis,” Schneller said. “The other tune that we'll submit will be ‘Cherokee’ by Ray Noble, arranged by Bill Holman.

“The release of this album (within the next few weeks) has our students hyped for this year’s festival, and we’re going into it full of motivation,” said Schneller. “We're going to sell the CDs to help create an endowment to support the festival and create scholarships for future generations of SHSU students,” he said.

The all-day event is both competitive and educational, with high school and college bands performing every half hour throughout the day.

Known as the “oldest jazz festival in Texas,” SHSU has hosted the event for 52 years. The School of Music decided to name the event in Watrous’s honor in 2010, as a way to celebrate the jazz musician’s career and gain national coverage for the university.

“It’s a very big honor for SHSU to be able to host a festival named after musicians of this magnitude; very few universities in the nation host such an event,” said Schneller.

Various other nationally acclaimed jazz musicians and educators will also be present at the festival to critique the teams after each performance.

“This gives students the chance to learn from their performance while engaging in healthy competition,” said Schneller.

The event offers students a chance to attend clinics hosted by the festival’s guest artists. This year, clinics will be offered by Lynn Roberts, nationally acclaimed jazz vocalist, and Vaughn Nark, former lead and trumpet player from Airman of Note.

Members of the SHSU Jazz Ensemble perform at functions across campus throughout the year, including last year's baseball auction fundraiser.

First, second and third place will be awarded to three outstanding high school groups. An award for best soloist will also be given. The student recipient of the award is offered the opportunity to play a piece with the SHSU Jazz Ensemble and professional guests.

The event’s evening concert and awards ceremony will be held at 7:30 p.m. in the James and Nancy Gaertner Performing Arts Center Concert Hall, featuring Bill Watrous, Vaughn Nark and the SHSU Jazz Ensemble. During the performance, James Riggs, David Craig, Thomas Eby, Pamela York and other musicians will make special appearances.

According to Schneller, the festival goes “above and beyond” in demonstrating to young students what both the jazz profession and Sam Houston State University have to offer.

Throughout the competition, a collective of unique jazz instruments will be on display in the GPAC. Students are encouraged to try out these instruments as a means of fun bonding time with other groups of students.

In addition, students are also invited to take a tour of SHSU during the festival. The tour, conducted by a Jazz Ensemble member, guides the students through the GPAC’s concert halls and practice rooms as well as other buildings on the campus.

“What we’re really trying to do through all of this effort is to really revamp the jazz program here at SHSU by gaining statewide—and possible one day, nationwide—recognition,” said Schneller.

Despite this year’s busy agenda for the SHSU jazz program, Schneller strives to maintain the focus on the students.

“Beyond everything we have accomplished this year and all the other goals in our horizon, it’s always going to be more about the students,” said Schneller. “Incoming students, current students, and outgoing students—they will always be our priority.”

For more information on the Bill Watrous Jazz Festival or SHSU’s jazz program, contact Schneller at 936.294.1381.



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