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Riffs in the family

CMU Jazz Weekend carries traditions that connect state’s top musicians

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​Kyrstin Jensen is a Central Michigan University music education major from Royal Oak who, in some ways, is keeping a family tradition alive.

This year marked Jensen's fifth year performing at Jazz Weekend as a CMU student. Her father, David Jensen, '89, and uncles Bob Jensen, '82, '87, and Tom Rice, '84, also each performed during Jazz Weekend when they were students at CMU.

She performed her saxophone with several CMU jazz groups throughout the 44th annual event that promotes and supports jazz education in secondary school music education programs. This record-setting year brought 76 bands from 61 Michigan high schools to campus.

"When I was in eighth grade and attended my first CMU Jazz Weekend, I remember watching CMU's Central Wails Saxophone Orchestra and being blown away by the bass saxophone player," Jensen said. "I remember telling my dad, 'That's going to be me someday.'"

Jensen's father is the high school music teacher at Royal Oak High School, and he regularly brings his jazz bands to CMU for Jazz Weekend. He and her uncle Bob also have returned to perform and serve as adjudicators for the event. Her younger brother, Andrew, also is a CMU senior who plays trumpet in Jazz Lab I and is a leading member of Phi Mu Alpha, the music fraternity that organizes Jazz Weekend.

While her dad plays the trombone and her brother and uncles play the trumpet, Kyrstin Jensen said she wanted to take up something other than a brass instrument. But there was a catch for what type of instrument she would play.

"I purposefully chose an instrument that would allow me to play jazz," she said.

Music events are key in CMU student recruitment

Interest and quality of jazz education in high school music programs has increased every year, and there's greater demand for adjudicated performance and instructional opportunities, said Randi L'Hommedieu, director of the CMU School of Music.

Jazz Weekend, along with many other School of Music-related events for elementary, middle school and high school students, also helps to attract prospective students and musicians to enroll in CMU, L'Hommedieu said.


"We bring 8,000 to 10,000 K-12 students to the School of Music annually to work with our students, faculty and staff for half-day to weeklong programs," he said. "Most of our current majors and many CMU students in other majors attended one of these events as high school students."

One of the attractions for Jazz Weekend is the headlining performer who hosts music clinics for the participants and performs with the other bands for the closing concert. Jazz drummer Carl Allen was this year's headlining guest performer. Past headliners include top jazz musicians such as Wayne Bergeron, Rufus Reid, Bobby Shew, Phil Woods, Cyrus Chestnut and Peter Erskine.

Jazz Weekend also provides CMU students opportunities to see and hear some of Michigan's top high school jazz bands and to interact with high school musicians and some of the state's best in-service teachers.

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