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 Wednesday, 25 November 2015
Playin’ For The Kids—JazzMN Orchestra’s Fundraiser at The Dakota on September 18th PDF Print
Written by Mario Carrington   
Monday, 09 September 2013
Doug Snapp©Andrea Canter
The JazzMN Orchestra will perform at the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant on September 18th as a fund raiser for the JazzMN Foundation's Outreach Education Fund. Committed to keeping America’s indigenous art form alive through education and interaction with the next generation of musicians, JazzMN seeks to raise funds for student workshops, to be conducted throughout the state through a collaboration among JazzMN musicians, visiting internationally-known artists, and local educators. These clinics will provide students with the opportunity to learn from and potentially perform with the Jazz MN Orchestra in concert settings.   
Long-time JazzMN Education Committee member David Mendenhall provides further perspective on the benefits of the outreach program and why support of the fundraiser is critical:  “These opportunities have been beneficial to the musical (both improvisatory and textural), social mentoring, and appreciation of the art form.  When working with individuals, small groups and large ensembles, JazzMN musicians form lasting bonds of personality and musical excellence that serve to inspire young musicians to keep reaching for goals that some may have thought were out of reach. The JazzMN Educational Outreach program has succeeded in promoting the art form for thousands of students in the Upper Midwest since its inception.” 

Doug Snapp with the JazzMN Orchestra©Andrea Canter
Recently I was able to sit down and have a conversation with Doug Snapp, Artistic Director of the JazzMN Orchestra, and gain his insights about the upcoming fundraiser and related events. 

Mario Carrington: As the Founder of the JazzMN arts organization in 1998, what was your vision for the enterprise?

Doug Snapp:  The original mission when I founded JazzMN was to promote, preserve, and perpetuate America's indigenous art music, jazz.  After working directly with several musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra and Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and after seeing the success of the Columbus (OH) Jazz Orchestra, I felt that we had the strong jazz musicians and strong support in the Twin Cities to create a professional jazz orchestra.  Similar to the classical orchestras, the vision was to create a world class jazz orchestra, create a concert series that also featured international guest artists, and develop educational outreach programs to fulfill our mission to promote, preserve, and perpetuate this great art form.

MC:  You’ve been the Artistic Director of the JazzMN Orchestra since its’ inception in 1999.  What are some of your fondest memories of the past 14 years as you and the organization have followed JazzMN’s mission statement of “Enriching Live With Jazz”?

DS:  There are so many that it is hard to choose.  Certainly our debut with wonderful clarinetist Buddy DeFranco was memorable; he was a class act, a great musician, and my first experience directing such a superb group of musicians.  Our concert with Arturo Sandoval was also quite memorable--sold out 1500 seats and people were dancing in the aisles.  The Bob Florence concert was memorable not only because of his music and piano playing, but I also had my Minnesota State Jazz Singers wow the audience in that concert.  More recently, I discovered an up-and-coming jazz talent and high school student from Iowa named Nate Sparks, who I invited to solo with the band and meet jazz legend Randy Brecker.  Nate blew the audience and band away and made quite the impression on Randy.  Nate is now attending Julliard School of Music.  I have to also say that many of my memorable experiences have come from seeing the impact of JazzMN upon audience members, musicians, and students.  There is nothing more rewarding than touching peoples’ lives, and by that I mean "Enriching Life with Jazz.”

MC:  The band’s upcoming appearance at the Dakota is billed as a benefit to support the educational outreach programs of the JazzMN Foundation.  Could you elaborate on the types of programs that the proceeds from the fundraiser will help facilitate?

DS:  The original title of JazzMN's educational outreach programs was “Playin' With The Kids.”  The idea was to engage students in the process of learning and performing jazz by placing professional jazz musicians next to the students through the rehearsal and performance process.  We have since presented several types of educational outreach events such as a full jazz festival with around 20 schools participating, mini jazz festivals at 3-4 schools, various clinics with JazzMN musicians and international jazz artists, a collaborative jazz education event at the State Theatre with the Grammy Foundation for approximately 1000 students, and programs for adults as well.

JazzMN Saxophones©Andrea Canter
MC:  How long has JazzMN been involved with these types of educational outreach programs?

DS:  We put things together right away (re: 1999) when forming JazzMN.  One of the earliest clinics I remember was jazz artist Byron Stripling (former trumpeter with Count Basie and Twin Cities native) presenting a clinic at the University of Minnesota.

MC:  As a trumpet and flugelhorn player, who were your musical influences when you began playing?

DS:  Oh boy, that's also tough. I would say one player is my favorite, and then I'd hear another player, and say he was my favorite, etc. I would probably put Freddie Hubbard and Clifford Brown at the top of the list.  I was fortunate to see Freddie when he was at his best and absolutely amazing!  I also love Chet Baker and Thad Jones.  Aside from trumpet, I loved Michael Brecker's playing, and I seemed to grow up listening to a lot of Pat Metheny.  There are many other influences (big band, jazz/rock groups, etc.), but that probably covers the highlights.  I should also probably mention the strongest influence, which was growing up in a musical family.  From the time I was very little, my parents would have jam sessions in our basement with many of the area musicians.  They would play all the old jazz standards of that time.  Then as I was first learning to play, my mom would play piano and make me learn tunes by ear which still helps me today.”

MC:  Do you sometimes have to stop yourself from giving your trumpeters such as Dave Jensen or Steve Strand “star turns” during a performance?

DS:  One of the biggest challenges for me with the JazzMN Orchestra is finding enough solo space for all the great soloists in the band.  All the musicians are great about spreading the solos around, and I do what I can to feature the various strengths of the soloists, for example, with certain styles of tunes, etc.

MC:  Are there bandleaders that have influenced the approach you take with JazzMN?

DS:  While I definitely have been influenced by many great bands and bandleaders, my approach has always been to present a program that includes a wide variety of styles and genres.  Our goal is to perform concerts that are appealing to a broad audience.  It's great to see patrons bring their grandchildren and have them enjoy the music together.  It also makes us stand out to not have just one sound, but be able to perform classic to contemporary works with the same fire, energy, and swing.

MC:  Music is certainly derivative and it’s been said that musicians are on a never-ending journey to develop their own sound, style, etc.  Can the same thing be said about an orchestra? 

DS:  Absolutely!  I've always felt that a jazz orchestra encompasses the power and full palette of colors of a big band while also allowing the individual expression of soloists and intimacy available from a small group within the band.

MC: Is the JazzMN Orchestra on a satisfying journey achieving its own sound?

DS:  Yes and no.  While I would be willing to bet that people around town would describe the JazzMN Orchestra as having its own sound, especially as a hard swingin' band, I would also say that the group is able to morph to the sound of the individual guest artists.  I would also say that there is a great wealth of talent in the Twin Cities, and that the JazzMN Orchestra often utilizes and features many different players from the region, especially if they bring unique talents to individual concerts, for example, a New Orleans style player, bebop player, modern player, etc.

Jazz MN Orchestra, brass section©Andrea Canter
MC:  What are the top three things you’re attempting to do during a performance with the orchestra as the bandleader?

DS:  Perform a variety of tunes that are appealing to a broad audience, feature talent throughout the band, and create a variety of concerts/programs that expose the audience to all the great styles, genres, periods, composers, etc., that represent this creative art form.

MC:  When planning a performance, how do you change the musical arrangements of a composition to suit the musicians or available instruments on hand?

DS:  That is handled on a tune by tune basis.  In general, the compositions are not typically changed much, but rather the way we decide to interpret the music.  Often times, we serve as a repertory orchestra working to achieve the particular style of the piece/composer, but we'll also come across situations where we, using [drummer] Joe Pulice's words, “grease it up” a little, adding a little variety to the groove or just interacting with the soloists.

MC:  How much does the engagement and energy you feel on the bandstand from the audience help drive you and the band to greater musical heights?

DS:  That's also an interesting question. There are times where I wonder if I even need to be in front of the band.  The musicians are great and able to perform much of the music without any direction.  But there are also times where I can add a little energy to the band and to the audience, or where I can finesse certain aspects like tempo or dynamics that hopefully enhance the performance.  There have been times where I have watched old Thad Jones videos and noticed how he led that band.  For me, that's a pretty good model to follow.

MC:  Within the big band concept, how much room do the musicians have to improvise?

DS:  It depends a little bit upon the setting.  In a concert hall setting, the audience is sitting quietly watching the whole performance, and can get a little antsy if it gets too long.  In a club setting, people are sitting at tables, and usually have drinks and often food.  The club audience is much more comfortable when the band opens up a tune and lets guys blow. That is one of the things that will be nice in our upcoming performance at the Dakota.

JazzMN Orchestra©Andrea Canter
MC:  JazzMN has become renowned for their concert series featuring internationally known guest soloists such as Arturo Sandoval, James Moody, Randy Brecker, etc., or tributes to music legends such as Miles Davis.  How do you decide on the soloists or tributes that will be targeted for a given year? 

DS:  Many of the guest artists are selected from past recommendations or past observations of other concerts.  I receive recommendations from other bandleaders, from guest artists, from musicians, from patrons, etc.  I listen to all recommendations but also do my research to see if artists are going to be a good fit for our band and audience.  In addition to looking for great musicians, we also like to find musicians who have great big band charts that will also feature the JazzMN musicians.  We also try to create a mix of programs and artists that not only excites our audiences, but also might expose our patrons to new sounds that they otherwise would not have the opportunity to hear in this region.  It is always a balancing act.

MC:  When does the 2013-14 series begin and who’s on tap for the season?

DS:  Our 2013-14 concert series begins on October 5th with a great jazz pianist, Kenny Drew, Jr.  Many jazz aficionados might recall Kenny's father, Kenny Drew (Sr.) who performed with jazz greats John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.  Kenny Jr. has his father's talent with his own sound.  He is able to comfortably switch in an instant from Ellington's "Caravan" to a classical work by Chopin.  If you want to hear a monster jazz pianist, don't miss this one!

We continue on November 9th with a tribute to the great Tito Puente.  King of Mambo, Salsa, and all things Latin Jazz, we use Tito's inspiration to bring a fire to this performance.  We will feature Rey Rivera along with the many talents in the band.  As always, we'll also throw in a little swing for all of our big band fans.

On March 16, 2014, we bring back the incredible New York Voices.  They were our guests several years ago and they brought the house down.  The group and the charts swing, their pitch and harmonies are impeccable, and if you want to hear a real scat singer, then you need to hear Darmon Meader who is the tenor and composer for the group.

We conclude our 2013-14 season with the great Miguel Zenon on April 26, 2014.  He is one of the outstanding young jazz alto players of our time.  Raised in Puerto Rico, Miguel was first attracted to jazz by the sound of Charlie Parker, which you can clearly hear in his sound.  He has progressed from the innovative SF Jazz Collective to form his own group where he has created a unique blend of Puerto Rican folk songs with a jazz flare.  Check him out on YouTube and you'll instantly want to see him.

Pretty fun, huh!  Hope you will all join us, thanks.

Tickets for the September 18th fundraiser for the JazzMN Orchestra's Education Outreach Program  are available from the Dakota Box Office (612-332-5299) or online (; tickets are $50 and fully tax-deductible. Show begins at 7 pm. The Dakota is located at 1010 Nicollet Mall in dowtown Minneapolis. More about JazzMN Orchestra and to purchase tickets for the new season at


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