Grammy-award winning musician visits OBU to teach at Bison Hill Jazz Festival

By Payton Clark, Arts Editor

Last Thursday, students from OBU and around the Shawnee area were taught music by musicians recognized at the Grammy’s.

Grammy-winning saxophonist Kirk Whalum and Grammy-nominated pianist John Stoddart performed at the Bison Hill Jazz Festival in Potter Auditorium. Throughout the day local high school bands performed, along with workshops and a concert by OBU’s Gospel Choir and the Bison Jazz Orchestra at 7:30 p.m.

“This is our fourth-annual jazz festival at OBU,” assistant professor of instrumental music Justin Pierce said. “It arose from a need for local schools to have a performance opportunity and clinic prior to the late-April state jazz contest.”

The musicians listened intently as Whalum and Stoddart presented a masterclass on jazz improvisation, and The Bison Hill Jazz Festival gave a number of local high school jazz bands the chance to perform and get feedback.

“Participating schools [included] Choctaw, Dale, Shawnee, Pauls Valley, Sulphur, Midwest City, Tishomingo, Del City and Crossings Christian,” Pierce said.

Following the day of performances from local high schools, there will be a concert featuring OBU ensembles, Whalum and Stoddart.

“Thursday evening’s 7:30 p.m. concert was part of our Fine Arts Concert Series, and featured Kirk Whalum and John Stoddart, the OBU Gospel Choir and the Bison Jazz Orchestra,” Pierce said.

Freshman saxophonist and computer science major Alex Benito expressed his anticipation before  performing with Kirk Whalum as a part of the Bison Jazz Orchestra.

“I’m excited to work and perform with such high-caliber musicians,” Benito said.

“Who knew that I would get the chance to play the sax with one of my favorite jazz artists?”

Saxophonist Kirk Whalum performed on Bison Hill last Thursday. 

OBU students had the chance to be directly involved in the festival through performances and backstage work.

“Music students volunteered throughout the day on Thursday, assisting the bands with loading equipment and helping the day run smoothly,” Pierce said.

Whalum and Stoddart were chosen to attend due to their talent and faith.

“Whalum’s Christian faith, excellence at his craft, and commercial success in the music industry is an inspiration to our students,” Pierce said.

While Benito is excited about the jazz festival overall, it is the faith aspect that is most important to her.

“This festival and workshop are special to me because, unlike a large number of jazz artists, Whalum is a devout Christian,” Benito said. “I would love to learn about his views of musicianship in both jazz and worship music.”

At the event’s masterclass, students learned not only improvisational skills of jazz, but also received advice from Whalum and Stoddart on their careers.

“Kirk and John [discussed] their insights from a career in Christian music, having led worship for congregations around the globe,” Pierce said.

Since the festival revolves around jazz music, Benito believes students learned to either appreciate the genre or deepen their love for it.

“This jazz festival is a celebration of music in a genre that students might not listen to often, so this festival can serve to broaden one’s tastes in music,” Benito said. 

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