All that jazz

The University Jazz Ensembles play on Saturday as part of the School of Music’s Jazz Festival.

Guest artist Laura Caviani rehearses with the Jazz Ensemble II, led by director of jazz studies Dean Sorenson on Wednesday in Ferguson Hall.

Niti Gupta

Guest artist Laura Caviani rehearses with the Jazz Ensemble II, led by director of jazz studies Dean Sorenson on Wednesday in Ferguson Hall.

by Danylo Loutchko

It’s unexpected to hear a jazz band play a movement from Stravinsky’s “Firebird” suite in the middle of a concert.
But that’s the plan when the University Jazz Ensembles play their evening concert with guest pianist Laura Caviani on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The concert is part of the University of Minnesota’s Jazz Festival, which is aimed at middle and high school students. 
“In terms of teaching people who want to be professional musicians, whether [they are] performers or composers or arrangers … they have to have a broad, diverse skillset,” Dean Sorenson said, director of jazz studies at the School of Music and director of the big band jazz ensembles. “Jazz is something that brings that out for people.”
During the festival’s daytime events, the School of Music invites various middle and high school jazz bands to participate in clinics. 
The bands perform in Ted Mann Concert Hall, then professional local jazz artists critique and teach the students.
Each year, the festival has one headlining guest artist, local or otherwise, who works with the University jazz bands and plays the evening concert with them. 
 “I try to pick people that are not only good players but good teachers,” Sorenson said. “I like them to have a writing aspect to their work, too, because I like to be able to
feature their music. It’s a unique opportunity for our students to work with a composer whose work deserves to be heard.”
In addition to being a performer in her own trio group and in the ten-piece ensemble the X-Tet, Caviani is also a composer and faculty member at Carleton College in Northfield. 
The concert will mostly feature Caviani’s original compositions and arrangements, including her arrangement of a movement from Stravinsky’s “Firebird” suite. 
“I’m classically trained, so my latest deal is to take classical pieces from my childhood and retool them so they become vehicles for improvisation,” Caviani said.  “I think it is a fun way to approach jazz. … The big band changes the texture and the aesthetic [of the classical pieces].”
Rethinking the classical arena originally carved out by composers like Bach, Chopin and Ravel is the latest bent of Caviani’s composing and arranging. The Saturday concert will feature some of her more standard jazz arrangements as well. 
“As a teacher, I feel really motivated to learn a lot about different styles of jazz and historically understand the different types of jazz,” Caviani said. “It’s a lifelong endeavor.”
While jazz isn’t as ubiquitous today as rap or pop, it’s the basis for these types of music, making it foundational to musical education.
“Jazz was the original pop music. Jazz was the original protest music,” Sorenson said. “It’s so much a part of how we got to where we are, both musically and culturally here in the United States. We have a responsibility to keep it alive.”
The Jazz Festival aims not only to regale audiences with high-quality performances but also to instill them with lessons about its creation. 
“It’s this perfect combination of democracy and freedom,” Caviani said. “You’ve got everyone in the band with their own unique and individual form of expression, and yet you have to be able to listen to each other and react to each other in order to make beautiful music together.”
Jazz Festival Concert with guest artist Laura Caviani
Where Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis
When 7 p.m. Saturday
Cost Free