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Saturday May 28th

Q&A with Director of Jazz Studies Jim Ketch

Jim Ketch is a professor of music and the director of jazz studies. Photo courtesy of Jim Ketch.
Buy Photos Jim Ketch is a professor of music and the director of jazz studies. Photo courtesy of Jim Ketch.

It's time to get jazzy — the UNC Jazz Band will be holding a scholarship benefit concert Saturday, Dec. 2, in the James and Susan Moeser Auditorium in Hill Hall. 

Staff writer Krupa Kaneria spoke with Jim Ketch, a music professor and director of jazz studies, about his passion for jazz and the concert.

The Daily Tar Heel: How did the UNC jazz band come about? How long has this band organization been at UNC?

Jim Ketch: The UNC Jazz band was created as a music class and ensemble in the early 1970s. The first director of the band was Professor John Harding, and I came to UNC in 1977 and have led the band since those days.

DTH: Why does the band choose to put on this concert?

JK: Pedagogically, we perform two concerts per term: one during mid-term and one during the final part of the term.

DTH: What do you hope people will take away from this concert?

JK: I think the people who attend are those who like jazz music, so I wish to please them with a broad repertoire and excellent ensemble playing and soloing.

DTH: What pieces does the band perform? Who chooses these pieces?

JK: I think that I likely make 98 percent of the musical decisions regarding what we perform. There are times when particularly engaged students will share with me a recommended selection, and if it is musically appealing and well-suited for our ensemble, I will program it. The band seeks to perform literature that spans the entire history of the music. So, we program works of early jazz, the swing era, bebop from the 1940s and 1950s, contemporary or non-swing era-styled big band music from the '50s to the present and music that embraces Latin and funk grooves from time to time. A large portion of our work explores the rich legacy of the Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Thad Jones Orchestras because nearly 90 percent of all big band jazz seems rooted in the legacies of Basie, Ellington and Jones.

DTH: How did you get involved in jazz and music in general?

JK: I began playing the cornet in the fourth grade and was an active member of school band programs from fifth grade onward. All of my public school directors were trumpeters, so I received much encouragement and many opportunities. I was attracted to jazz or New Orleans/Dixieland music as a junior high student and even had a little combo. In high school, my director loved jazz, and we had what was called a stage band. I liked that music very much and he gave me ample opportunities. 

Then, I studied music in college, and my passion for jazz grew deeper along with the amount of time and depth of study I put into the music. I always enjoyed teaching and felt that as a university or college professor, I could enjoy a rich life with a wonderful balance of playing and teaching, and that is what has resulted.

DTH: Why do you like jazz?

JK: Jazz has been described by Thelonious Monk simply as “freedom.” I think the music allows the performer to become a composer in the moment. Improvisation has traditions and those traditions carry language requirements, but jazz does not dictate how you speak these traditions. So, musicians gather resources by listening, studying, seeking out the maturity of older and more experienced artists, and they imitate, assimilate and potentially innovate as a result, and I find that freedom exhilarating.

DTH: What is it like performing jazz specifically?

JK: Jazz is a social music. The musicians have a deep bond, and they share it in this journey of exploration and discovery. It is fun to be a part of that energy and that commitment to something bigger than oneself.

DTH: What are some highlights of the upcoming concert?

JK: We were going to have a famous jazz saxophonist as our guest artist for this concert, but his wife is experiencing some serious health issues, which has forced him to cancel his engagement. Nonetheless, one student saxophone Annie Bennett and my faculty jazz saxophone colleague Aaron Hill are stepping in to handle the solo parts. They are doing a superb job, and I am excited for their opportunity. 

I think that the music for this concert presents a significant increase in the technical requirements for the students, so I am excited to see how they rise to the occasion. The music is fun and varied on so many levels such as tempo, style and emotional content. I think this will be a fun 75-minute concert.

DTH: Why should people come to this concert?

JK: People should definitely come because the music is great, the sound is amazing and we have fun.


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