Vocal Jazz Honors Choir

At least half of the U.S. states have some sort of vocal jazz honors choir; for whatever reason, Michigan isn’t one of them. This is of course, surprising, because so many leaders in vocal jazz have been Michiganders: Steve Zegree, Duane Davis, April Tini, Greg Jasperse, and Sunny Wilkinson, to name five.

I’ve proudly served as coordinator for the last two years of a pseudo-all state vocal jazz program: whole choirs were selected to participate in a large choir in a one-day masterclass format, culminating in a performance as part of Michigan Youth Arts Festival (MYAF).

It’s been great, and has show the viability of jazz choral music across the state with compelling performances. (including last night’s performance with Duane Davis conducting.)

Now it’s time to transition to a true All-State – one where individual students can audition participate in a real vocal jazz choir experience, with a multi-day rehearsal process culminating in a truly artful performance.

This is what I’ll be lobbying hard for in the coming months, doing research on successful programs across the country, trying to learn from their success to create an opportunity for more students to sing this, my very favorite vocal music.

I had known that the current program started from a demand from Steve Zegree when he was named MYAF Artist-in-Residence in 2013. What I learned only last weekend from MSVMA Executive Director Ginny Kerwin is that it was preceded by about 15 years of lobbying on his part. “Let’s have lunch and talk about this.” “When are we going to have All-State Vocal Jazz in Michigan?”

He carried this baton a long way to get us here. I’m delighted to pick it up and carry it for the next stretch.


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