MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — A group of MTSU professors is taking a uniquely American form of music on a special tour in China, and local audiences can get a free preview of their performances Wednesday, Oct. 4.
The MTSU Jazztet, which features five School of Music faculty members, and Mei Han, director of the university's Center for Chinese Music and Culture, will present a free jazz concert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 in Hinton Hall inside the Wright Music Building on campus.
Their repertoire will include original works arranged and composed by the Jazztet members as well as music by Kenny Barron, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver and Wayne Shorter.
Jazztet members Jonathan Wires and Matt Endahl also have scored several arrangements of well-known Chinese popular music that will feature Han on the zheng, or Chinese plucked zither.
Along with Wires on bass and Endahl on piano, the MTSU Jazztet includes Don Aliquo on saxophone, School of Music director Michael Parkinson on trumpet and Brian Mueller on drums.
Oct. 8-18 will see the group touring the People’s Republic of China for clinics, workshops and performances at higher education institutions, concert halls and festivals.
They’re also bringing musical study materials for students and educators donated by international jazz educator Jamey Aebersold, renowned for his “Play-A-Long” series of instructional books and CDs and summer jazz workshops at the University of Louisville.
Han, who also is an associate professor in the School of Music, is coordinating the tour and will serve as guide and interpreter for her fellow musicians.
She wrote the proposal for funding from Hanban, headquarters for the world’s Confucius Institutes, for the MTSU group’s excursion. The Center for Chinese Music and Culture, the first and so far only Chinese music center in North America, is a part of MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts.
“I wrote a project proposal that our faculty jazz ensemble visit China and a number of high-profile music conservatories and universities, as well as have some public performances, which means music festivals,” she explained.
“It's a lot of money for them (Hanban) to cover a whole ensemble to tour, but because the focus of this tour is to give Chinese students an opportunity to experience jazz. They’re ready for a whole-hearted embrace and open to all kinds of music traditions and genres, and jazz is one of them. That's why they funded this without hesitation.”
Parkinson noted that while U.S. musicians can get jazz training in high schools, colleges and universities, jazz education in China is relatively new and uncommon. That’s why the Jazztet tour will take the MTSU musicians to concerts at:
- China’s premier music school, the Central Conservatory of Music, in Beijing and the city’s modern-music-focused Midi School of Music, also known as “China’s Woodstock,” along with music clinics at both.
- Nanjing’s International Jazz Festival.
- Shanghai International Art Festival.
- MTSU’s longtime exchange partner, Hangzhou Normal University.
- the nation’s newest music school, the Zhejiang Conservatory of Music, which will also welcome the ensemble for an afternoon music clinic.
The Central Conservatory concert will be livestreamed, Han said.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for the MTSU faculty to present jazz from the 1940s to the present to a broad new audience through a variety of events and settings,” Parkinson said.
“Most importantly, our work with Chinese students and teachers through the clinics and workshops will help to establish jazz education and improve cooperation and communications between music educators in our two nations.
“Also, as someone who has never been to China, I look forward to learning from my Chinese counterparts about their vast musical culture.”
The tour is the second by an MTSU jazz group but the first for a faculty ensemble, the music school director added.
Han said she hopes the visit will lead to more long-term relationships with Chinese music schools, since MTSU already has a memo with the Central Conservatory for academic and cultural exchanges.
MTSU also has student and faculty exchange agreements with several Chinese universities for sciences, teacher training, communications and the arts.
“We would like to be able to set up a relationship with the Zhejiang Conservatory of Music as well, so our teachers can go there regularly to conduct master classes and lectures and clinics,” she said. “There are a lot of opportunities. Once we’re there and they see the caliber of our faculties, I think this will happen in the future.
“We also want the tour to attract Chinese students to come to MTSU to study. At the School of Music we now have a number of Chinese students, but definitely not as many as I hoped. Dr. Parkinson and I certainly want more Chinese students to come here, especially to utilize our forte, which is our jazz program and big band program. These things have a bright future in China.”