The current members of the Unified Jazz Ensemble will make a return trip to Decorah from Thursday through Tuesday. This will mark the first opportunity for Decorah jazz fans to hear the group since their last trip back in 1997.
The Unified Jazz Ensemble lived in Decorah throughout the '92-'93 and
'93-'94 school years. This artist-in-residency program was created by the National Endowment for the Arts and was co-sponsored through DCSD, Luther College and the City of Decorah. The members of the UJE regularly played in the John Cline/West Side music classrooms, taught jazz to DMS and DHS high school students, launched the present incarnation of the Luther Jazz program, and performed each week (for free) in and around the community.
The NEA grant, entitled: Chamber Music Rural Residency Initiative, was created to provide funding and growth opportunities for young professional musicians and to provide exposure for rural communities to experience unfamiliar forms of music. It was administered by the Cedar Arts Forum with Renata Sack as the chief administrator. It may seem hard to believe today, with the wealth of opportunities to enjoy jazz in our community, but it was virtually non-existent prior to the UJE residency.
There was a committee of interested parties who formed together to bring the residency to fruition. Mayor Don Wurtzel represented the city, Dean Tom Kraabel represented Luther College and Superintendent Francis Peterson represented Decorah Community Schools. Soon others were added including Fred Nyline and Dennis Darling (Luther College), Jim Fritz (Decorah Community Schools), and Jay McGrew, John Kerber and Chris Wyse representing the community. Private funds were raised in addition to the contributions of Luther College and DCSD.
The band lived in a house on the Luther campus and played a regular Tuesday night gig at Orsey's bar (formerly on the current site of Decorah Bank and Trust). The original members of UJE included Mike Noonan (vibes, piano, and trombone), Jeff Antoniuk (sax), Tim Harrison (piano), Ray Parker (bass), and Marty Morrison (drums). Later John Pineda (bass) replaced Parker in the ensemble. Today Noonan and Pineda are still members of UJE and will return to Decorah. They are active jazz musicians in the D.C./Annapolis area. Jeff Antoniuk is also an active jazz musician in the D.C./Annapolis area. Tim Harrison and Ray Parker are active jazz musicians in New York City. Marty Morrison lives in Hannibal, Missouri. Two new members of the band that will return to Decorah are Tim Stanley (trumpet) and Dominic Smith (drums).
The complete schedule for performances in the Decorah area include:
Thursday, April 14th
11:20 a.m. Performance for DHS students in the DHS band room
2:30 p.m. Rehearsal with the Luther Jazz Orchestra
9:00 p.m.-midnight Performance at Marty's Cafe, Luther Student Union
Friday, April 15th
10:00 a.m. Rehearsals with DHS jazz combos
8:00 p.m.-midnight Performance at Decorah Elk's Club
Sunday, April 17th
4:00 p.m. Performance at Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois
Monday, April 18th
10:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Performance for Decorah K-8 students at Carrie Lee Auditorium
7:00 p.m. Performance at "The Hub" in Cedar Falls
Tuesday, April 19th
12 noon Performance at NICC Student Union
The public is invited to attend. Admission fees will vary with venues.
DHS Band Director Jim Fritz reflected on the original UJE residency, "It was a remarkable time in Decorah! There was a real energy within the community caused by the presence of these great musicians. Everyone from kindergarten students to adults enjoyed the great opportunities to listen and learn the great American art form of jazz." Fritz continued, "As a music educator it was incredible opportunity for myself and my students. The current availability of jazz offerings in Decorah were unheard of prior to the UJE residency. "In addition," Fritz commented, "the tremendous growth of the jazz education at Luther College was begun during the UJE residency. For me personally, it was one of the greatest professional opportunities in my entire career. I'm eager to welcome UJE back home to Decorah and I hope all their fans will come out to hear them once again!"