Fusion Jazz Ensemble performs at jazz conference in Reno, Nevada

The Fusion Jazz Ensemble is (from left) Zach Shatley, Savannah Bennett, Tucker Ellis, Tyler Townson, Logan Jayne,, Logan Strahley, Matt Brown and Blake Jones.

Western Carolina University’s Fusion Jazz Ensemble recently attended and performed at the Jazz Education Network’s 10th annual conference, held in Reno, Nevada.

The Jan. 9-12 conference was billed as “part music festival, part networking, part education and all inspiration.” The Jazz Education Network is dedicated to building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performances and developing audiences. Conference presentations were chosen to highlight exceptional jazz education programs and ensembles at all educational levels.

“The conference was a great opportunity for us to socialize with other musicians, attend lectures on jazz history and performance techniques, and appreciate other hard-working ensembles from all over the nation,” said Savannah Bennett, pianist for the relatively new student group, formed only two semesters prior. “We have faculty advisers, but much of the rehearsals are run completely by the students in an effort to give us a ‘real world’ experience regarding music collaboration and song-writing.”

Blake Jones performs at the Jazz Education Network conference.

The ensemble performed a 45-minute concert, mostly of original compositions or arrangements by the students, all of whom are majors in commercial and electronic music, music education or performance programs in WCU’s School of Music.

“I would say my favorite part of the conference was meeting and conversing with one of my favorite drummers, Peter Erskine,” said Logan Jayne, ensemble drummer. “I also attended his clinics and performances, which were all very rewarding.”

Erskine is a jazz and fusion drummer known for his work as a member of the band Weather Report, as well as a sideman for an array of artists including Rod Stewart, Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt.

“What was also fun is that he was on our same shuttle to the airport, and it was great spending more time with him that way,” Jayne said. “I also met one of my favorite saxophonists, Jeff Coffin of Snarky Puppy. He was also a very cool guy and he even gave me a CD.”

The student musicians in the ensemble, in addition to Bennett and Jayne, are Zach Shatley, synthesizer; Logan Strahley, trumpet; Tyler Townson, tenor saxophone; Matt Brooks, bass; and Tucker Ellis and Blake Jones, both on guitar. Also attending the conference were faculty members Chris Beyt, assistant professor, and Damon Sink, associate professor, both in the commercial and electronic music program.

The trip was made possible by funding from the School of Music, the David Orr Belcher College of Fine and Performing Arts, and the participating students. For more information, contact the School of Music at 828-227-7242.