By Kendra Johnson, Arts Editor
Trombonists Steve Wiest’s life has taken him on a journey from school band music, to multiple Grammy-nominee. This April he will have the opportunity to share what his experience has taught him with as the guest artist for OBU’s Bison Hill Jazz Festival.
Thursday, April 4, The Festival provides educational opportunities for local jazz music programs.
“We are sort of a hub for the Shawnee area for jazz,” assistant professor of instrumental music and director of Bison Jazz Orchestra Justin Pierce said. “When band directors want advice on helping their jazz bands get better at their schools or students are looking for a place to audition, you know, one place they look is OBU. So, this offers us a large-scale opportunity for us to reach out to local students.”
This year’s Festival draws participants from many local schools, including Shawnee High School, Midwest City High School, Crossings Christian School, Grove Middle School and Shawnee Middle School.
For OBU’s students, the Festival provides the opportunity of learning about the event administration process.
“That’ll carry them into their careers as an educator,” Pierce said. “Just becoming great at carrying out administrative events which being a band director is one of the most administrative heavy jobs.”
Both visiting students and OBU students will also have the opportunity to learn from the Festival’s guest artist: Steve Wiest.
“The biggest blessing for me about the OBU Jazz Festival is seeing our students get to work with world-class guest artists, and knowing that they’re going to carry that experience into their professional careers,” Pierce said.
This year’s feature guest holds multiple Grammy-nominations for his musical work and has performed and worked alongside such Jazz legends as Maynard Ferguson, and Doc Severinsen.
Wiest is currently a Co-Chair of Jazz Studies at The University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music.
However, his musical career began in circumstances that are quite relatable to OBU students.
“I began playing trombone in the school band program in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,” he said.
Shortly afterwards he became certain he wanted to pursue a career in music.
“My true beginnings as a writer-performer were when I put together a ‘garage band’ where we played the popular eclectic mix of tunes of the 1970s and I added horn parts […]” he said. “It was such an amazing feeling writing music and then getting to play it myself along with my friends.”
Then he moved on to study music in college. “At [university] was my first mentor, Raoul Jerome, who also taught Tom ‘Bones’ Malone (of SNL, David Letterman and Blues Brothers fame),” Wiest said. “Raoul [Jerome] made sure that I had my foundation together in music theory and the jazz tradition.”
Jerome introduced Wiest to many other musicians.
“I had the all-important opportunity to work with some amazing people in my undergrad professionally including Bob Hope, Rich Little, Nelson Riddle and many others,” Wiest said.
College had a large impact on Wiest’s musical career.
“Thanks to college, I essentially had been exposed to all of the most vital aspects of the music before I even began my full-time career,” he said.
He continued writing and performing after college, before an unexpected opportunity came along.
“Fate smiled down upon me when Maynard began a tour in Chicago after a large portion of his band quit,” he said. “After the top-call trombonist in Chicago turned down an offer to join [Maynard’s tour], I got the call and jumped on it. Being with Maynard Ferguson has brought me virtually everything that I now have in my life.”
After the tour with Ferguson, Wiest’s musical career took off.
He has worked and performed with numerous groups and individuals including The Doc Severinsen Big Band, Ice-Nine, and Vinyl Hampdin – a group which Wiest’s website describes as “a modern rock-pop-funk group with an incredible vo-calist.”
Now, while still a member of with Vinyl Hampdin, Wiest has returned to higher education – this time as a professor.
“It is an honor for me to be helping students here at The University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music in the same way that Raoul Jerome and Maynard Ferguson helped me,” he said. “What a joy to pay good stuff forward!”
His full career in music has taught Wiest many lessons. At the Bison Hill Jazz Festival, OBU students and community Jazz Bands will have the opportunity to gain of his knowledge as well.
One aspect that Wiest considers important for students is to find balance in their careers.
“Learn to ‘survive and thrive,’” Wiest said. “‘Survive’ as in research what it will take financially to support your desired lifestyle… then make it so! ‘Thrive’ learn what your artistic soul needs. Then make sure to always nurture that creative need.”
Although Wiest holds multiple Grammy nominations, he acknowledges that musical technique alone is not the only thing important for musicians.
“There is nobody who plays well enough to be a jerk,” he said.
Students and community members will also have the chance to hear Wiest perform Thurs. evening April 4, 7:30 p.m.
“Justin [Pierce] has put together a wonderful set of classics as well as new works,” Wiest said. “A very exciting aspect of the show will be that we also get to showcase OBU’s own Paul Stephens on trumpet. Paul is one of the great lead trumpet virtuosos on the scene today having performed with Maynard, Chicago and a long stint with the world-renowned Jazz Ambassadors just to name a few!”