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Sunday, May 31, 2020

New jazz director brings big change to program

Western’s jazz program will groove to a new beat as a new director steps in and revamps the curriculum.

Kevin Woods, Western’s newly hired assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies, said he plans to revive Western’s jazz program over the next few years by introducing new courses and promoting community involvement.

His goal is to build the program up enough so that it warrants a four-year jazz performance degree, Woods said.

Western currently has two audition-only big bands, three combination ensembles, known as combos, and a jazz choir.

Woods hopes to see the program expand to include two more big bands and five to seven more combos in the next three to five years.

Already, in Woods’ first quarter as the assistant professor of music, he has marked the return of courses such as jazz arranging this fall and jazz history in the spring.

Woods said he hopes to bring his jazz history course to non-music majors as a General University Requirement course to fulfill requirements for humanities or arts credits.

“I love arranging and improvisation, but teaching the history of jazz, I think you get a lot of people who aren’t music people or jazz people,” Woods said.

Julian MacDonough, director of the Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center, said he plans to work closely with Woods to increase student community involvement.

Whatcom Jazz Music Arts Center is a non-profit organization that opened an all-ages performance space to bring in prestigious jazz acts from around the country to Bellingham, MacDonough said.

Woods said he hopes to build excitement for Western as a destination to study jazz and foster connections with high school musicians by bringing a jazz festival to Western within the next couple of years.

For the last quarter century Western has been a lost opportunity for a serious jazz program and there has been very minimal community involvement from Western jazz musicians in Bellingham, MacDonough said.

Woods said he believes Bellingham is a beautiful city with a booming art scene in which there is a great niche for a jazz major.

“Once we can show that there is a need for that and that this is a great place for jazz, I think that the college will be on board with at least doing a certificate, which maybe leads to a minor, which eventually leads to hopefully a four-year jazz performance degree,” Woods said.

Woods is trying to get his students out of school and into performing environments around town. He really wants his students to experience what it is to be a performer and not just a student, MacDonough said that.

Trumpet performance major Daniel Lombard said that within the first week of classes he was already performing on stage.

“I really like how willing [Woods] is to get the program out into the community,” Lombard said.

Two of Western’s jazz ensembles opened for Woods at The Majestic on Wednesday, Sept. 30; a show put on by the WJMAC.

“I strive to not only give my students the information that they need, but to try to inspire them and show them that I am in here practicing all the time too,” Woods said.

Preparing students all quarter for one performance is not reflective of the real world, Woods said. He wants to see the combination jazz ensembles playing out in the community at least once biweekly and the big band to be playing more than one concert a quarter.

“I’m very excited to have these students to work with and to be able to take things to the next level,” Woods said.

Jazz director online
Jazz Director Kevin Woods plays the trumpet at The Majestic on Wednesday, September 29. Woods played some of his compositions as part of a quartet after his Western jazz students opened for him. Photo by Christina Becker

He hopes to attract more talented players to the program over the next couple of years and promote healthy competition to raise the standard of excellence, Woods said.

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