All That Jazz

by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney '10

On February 26, 1917, a quintet known as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band walked into Victor Recording Studios in New York City and launched what would be one of the greatest music traditions to stand the test of time. It was something new, something uniquely American, a blend of rhythms and expressions that reflected the cultural and racial melting pot of the country. It was jazz.

More than 100 years ago, musicians in New Orleans began experimenting with a variety of styles that incorporated the vibrant qualities of community life in the Big Easy. From elaborate funeral processions with marching bands and African-American spirituals to dance halls resonating with ragtime and blues, jazz originated as the sound of New Orleans. The movement broke the rules of conventional music by encouraging improvisation and became as controversial as it was popular.

With musicians such as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton, jazz also had deep ties to African-American heritage and culture, providing a medium through which they could find artistic expression at a time when segregation still divided the nation. It was not until the first jazz record, “Livery Stable Blues,” was released in 1917 that the music spread across the country and the world.

At McKendree, it did not take long for jazz to reach students’ ears, either. One of the earliest known jazz performances on campus took place at the 1920 May Day celebration, featuring music by Ed’s Jazz Band. While McKendree continued to host jazz performers over the years, there were few opportunities for students to play the music themselves until a jazz program was created in 2000.

The program has grown rapidly from a handful of students practicing in Upper Deneen to a large, cohesive group with performances throughout the community and at the Hettenhausen Center for the Arts. This year, the University’s band department also organized and hosted a jazz festival that attracted high school and middle school groups from Illinois and Missouri. Professional musicians served as guides and clinicians for the ensembles, motivating students to challenge themselves and demonstrating ways to improve their performance skills.

Community outreach is just one way the University is doing its part to continue the jazz tradition. For the members of the jazz combo, it’s also one way they are growing into the musicians they always dreamed they could be.



Roger Aldridge '73
Making Your Own Kind of Music:

Roger Aldridge ’73 Puts His Twist on Jazz

“What we play is life.” It’s the simple, yet eloquent way that famous jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong once described the art of jazz. It’s also the driving force behind McKendree alum Roger Aldridge’s lifelong passion for composing music. Whether he’s writing jazz or tango, blues or samba, Roger knew from the first original piece of music he composed as a teenager that his music has a life of its own.

Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., Roger first heard jazz when he stumbled across his mother’s collection of big band recordings. At age eight, he began playing alto saxophone and tried his hand at composing in his early teens. By the end of high school, his dream of writing music led him to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, Mass., to study composition and arranging.

Roger’s plans were put on hold when he received a draft notice in 1968. He joined the Air Force and was transferred to Scott Air Force Base after completing basic training. There he learned about McKendree, located just 10 miles away, and the music program that would bring him one step closer to his dream.

“At that time, most of the music students were voice or piano majors,” he recalls. “I was the only one with a jazz background, and McKendree didn’t have a jazz program back then. However, I’ll never forget how everyone was so welcoming to me.”

Roger found the perfect environment to grow his creativity at McKendree. His professors gave him the freedom to choose whichever direction he wanted to pursue in composing.

“Something that appealed to me at the time was experimental theater with contemporary classical music and jazz,” he said. “I remember writing several things in that vein, and the pieces were performed at the school.”

While at McKendree, he also developed something he would take with him for years to come: the ability to create music that connects with people, regardless of their familiarity with jazz. Roger went on to earn a master’s in composition from Highlands University, but music became a side project for him until recently.

A prolific composer, Roger has written more than 600 pieces of music, some of which are still waiting to be performed. His blend of quirky humor and depth of emotion gives it a quality that is uniquely jazz. Above all, Roger knows his music brings to listeners what Louis Armstrong put into words years ago, a celebration of life in all its expressions.



McKendree's Jazz Combo
Jiving into the Community:

McKendree's Jazz Combo

They range from first-year students to seniors, but one thing they all have in common is their dedication to the art of jazz. McKendree’s seven-person jazz combo started the 2016-2017 year with just over two weeks to practice before its first live, two-hour performance. with three new musicians in the group, they had to learn quickly from each other, picking up on one another’s quirks, styles and habits to create a seamless blend of improvisation and communication with each other during performances.

“Jazz combo is the most relaxing class i’m in right now, but it’s also the one where i’m most actively thinking,” said first-year pianist Cameron Nollman. “I played jazz in high school, but we had sheet music for everything. Now we are given one bar of music and you have to think and improvise.”

The freedom to create music and add their own personalities to it is what makes the group’s members appreciate jazz as an art form. “What I like most about jazz is the ability to interpret the music for yourself,” explained senior trombone player Luke Davis. “There is a set of standards to follow in classical music, but you have the opportunity for creation in jazz. It’s a team effort to take our individual roles and meld them together.”

Camaraderie is a must-have in jazz combo, which by definition is simply a combination of any number of jazz musicians and instruments all harmonizing together. Its unstructured nature allows students to learn by doing while forming relationships with each other. Senior saxophone player Tyler Jewell found he did not have much time to play music on his own while student teaching. Jazz combo, however, gives him the opportunity to do what he loves with others who share his passion. Similarly, despite actually being brothers, first-year bass player Malcom Holman and guitar player Martin Holman say the group has come to feel like a family, one that has been steadily growing each year.

Jazz director Dustin Shrum was astounded at the number of students seeking to join McKendree’s jazz program when he joined the faculty over the summer. “A jazz ensemble, also known as a big band, should really only have 18-20 people; ours has 28 in addition to seven in the jazz combo!” Due to high student interest, another jazz combo was started this semester.

Sophomore drummer Eric Drake has watched the program grow since he joined three years ago and enjoys how active it has become. “We’re playing more, getting out in the community, and just having fun,” he said. “For all of us in jazz combo, this is our escape.” In the fall semester alone, the group performed live at the University’s tree lighting ceremony, holiday concert at the Hett, 1814 Eatery and Drinkery in Lebanon, The Refuge Family Grill in Lebanon, Winter’s Aire Concert at Corpus Christi Church in Shiloh and The Weingarten in Belleville.

While each student musician will tell you about the long hours and hard work they have to put in to make every performance successful, they will also say it has been the best thing they could have done for themselves. “As a music student, you take years of music theory and ensemble performance classes,” said Tyler. “This group applies what we learn in the classroom. We’re all trying to grow as musicians, but I would say 85 percent of my growth has happened here in the jazz combo.” For Martin and Malcom, their service in the military gave them a later start to college, so they were thrilled to join a jazz group for their first time when they became McKendree students.

No matter what level of experience they arrived with, being part of the jazz combo has taught each of them a host of life lessons they know will stick for years to come. Tyler and Luke, both music education majors, say the help and encouragement they give one another in jazz combo has made them better teachers. Eric, a music performance major, explains that the experience he gained has enabled him to feel comfortable playing in jam sessions at venues across St. Louis. “Jazz combo has given all of us the confidence to go out and play on our own, whether it’s weddings or other places,” said Tyler.

That confidence is also what led Tyler to step outside the familiar and participate in an eye-opening trip this past May. Along with Associate Professor of Music Jennifer Moder and senior Evan Bosaw, Tyler joined music students from Bradley University on a week-long service and jazz project in New Orleans. For three days, they volunteered with Youth Rebuilding New Orleans in the Sixth Ward to renovate homes that would go to future teachers. “It was such a great experience,” he said. “We were literally helping to shape the education system there.” The rest of the time, Tyler and the other students enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime for a jazz musician. They put on their own jazz concerts at the New Orleans Mint Performing Arts Center, the historic New Orleans Pier, and a local high school and elementary school.

Through the McKendree jazz combo, students learn what it means to work together to create a beautiful melody. Just as important, they gain the ability to see themselves as true jazz performers.



Travis Rosenthal '08
Jazz in the Windy City:

Travis Rosenthal ’08

Chicago’s deep love affair with jazz has spanned more than a century of rich musical history. From the first ragtime pianists who paved the way, to the instant boom of clubs and cabarets, the giants of the jazz movement have always found a home in the Windy City. For McKendree University alum Travis Rosenthal, however, it has become more than just home. The city is his venue for making jazz come alive again for the modern audience. For the last five years, he has led one of the oldest jazz repertory orchestras in the nation, the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.

His passion for music began back in high school when he was recruited by McKendree Band Director David Boggs to play trumpet in the newly created Marching Bearcat Band and Jazz Ensemble. Travis was only in his second year of high school, but he enjoyed the unique opportunity to perform for a college and kick-start the jazz program.

“I had already been playing with McKendree for three years before I left high school, and I fell in love with the people on campus,” he said. “It wasn’t a hard choice to come to McKendree.” He still recalls the thrill of being part of the first graduating class of music education students and the 22nd member of the Marching Bearcat Band, which now numbers well over 80.

In total, Travis spent eight years with the McKendree Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combo, learning by exploring and growing from key mentorships with his instructors, as well as professional jazz musicians. One of his most memorable learning moments happened when professional trumpeter Byron Stripling performed on campus in 2003. “Afterwards, I got a one-on-one trumpet lesson from him that was really helpful,” he said. “And ironically, I now work as a peer with him in my position with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra.”

After leaving McKendree and later earning a graduate degree in college student affairs, Travis moved to Chicago to be with his wife. Everything else just fell into place. in 2011, he took on the role of executive director for the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, the only administrative staff position within the organization. “My job is a great combination of everything I enjoy,” he said. “It’s a mix of my jazz experience from McKendree and the organizational management skills I picked up from my master’s degree.” Booking performances, marketing, fundraising, community outreach and concert production are just a few of his many duties.

While much of his work happens off stage, his talents are reflected in the orchestra’s numerous performances each year, both local and abroad. every major venue in Chicago has hosted the 18-piece jazz orchestra, and the group has performed at arts centers and festivals across the country. travis described one unforgettable performance when they collaborated with a 55-piece orchestra to host a tribute to ella Fitzgerald in Chicago’s Millennium park. the event drew a crowd of more than 14,000.

Even more memorable were performances at the star-studded Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. “For 27 years, we played all the dinner music for the Kennedy Center Honors Gala,” he said. “After the televised portion, we would set up at the base of the stairs when the guests were coming down to dinner. We were the entertainment for the evening. Depending on who was there, sometimes celebrities like Stevie Wonder would sit in and play, too.”

Travis says the most rewarding part of his job is putting on performances for large audiences, which at times number in the thousands; however, nothing can top the awe of spending time with the world-class musicians that make up the Chicago Jazz Orchestra. “They are so fun to be around and their playing experience is incredible. Our organization was formed in 1978 and we still have about 10 of the original members. They toured with the top performers in the glory days of jazz: Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, and Frank Sinatra. I just soak it in.”

He credits McKendree with instilling his passion for connecting with people and continuing the pursuit of knowledge. His inquisitiveness and involvement in the full gamut of McKendree life as a student continue to shape his career and personal life today. Most notably, his fastpaced job with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra is only a part-time gig. Travis also holds a full-time position in marketing at Quinlan & Fabish, one of the nation’s leading family-owned school music dealers. In addition, he was recently involved in the creation of Winter’s Jazz Club, a new home venue for the Jazz Orchestra on Chicago’s iconic Navy Pier. “All these experiences in music performance, manufacturing, and management have given me a huge survey of the music field.”

Apart from a busy career, Travis’s six-month-old son Tyler keeps him on his toes. He looks forward to the day that Tyler can appreciate the magic of a live jazz performance. In the meantime, he is content knowing he is preserving Chicago’s jazz culture for the next generation of listeners.