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Hillsdale College’s jazz music program is taking on new projects this year, projects that will con­tinue training and expanding Hillsdale’s already expansive jazz division.

“Hillsdale is unique because our [jazz] combo program is so strong,” said Chris McCourry, artist and teacher of music. “We’ll have at least six or seven combos next year. We just keep growing.”

This year, in addition to the regular spring con­certs, McCourry and the jazz department are attending two fes­tivals in Feb­ruary and are recording a CD in March.

“We have got to put in the work but I’m really excited about how the band will sound come spring,” he said.

Jazz CD

The Hillcats and the Hillsdale College Big Band will record a CD in March fea­turing jazz singer and senior Erin O’ Lua­naigh.

“This CD is kind of [McCourry’s] parting gift to me,” O’ Lua­naigh said. “It’s a big favor to me.”

The CD will feature between 10 and 12 tracks, at least eight in which O’ Lua­naigh will sing. The tracks will be recorded in a recording studio in either Ann Arbor or Albion, O’ Lua­naigh said.

Even though O’ Lua­naigh recorded a couple CDs in high school, this will be her first expe­rience recording with a live band.

“I love per­forming things live,” she said. “It’s one my great joys in life to have unedited studio cuts of tracks.”

McCourry said the CD’s theme is “Erin as vocal soloist.” The original plan was to record an Anita O’Day theme but McCourry and O’ Lua­naigh keep adding other new tracks.

McCourry has intended to do a project similar to this one since her sophomore year, O’ Lua­naigh said.

“It will also be a great memento of my years singing jazz here and all of the work I’ve put into both bands,” she said.

The CD will help with recruiting jazz and music stu­dents and in fundraising for the college, McCourry said.

“It should have a wide appeal and be acces­sible to any lis­tener,” he said.

He also said it is a feature for O’ Lua­naigh.

“She’s extremely tal­ented and I don’t get stu­dents of her talent come through here all that often,” he said.

Jazz CDs should be released before the end of the semester and will be available for sale to stu­dents.

L.A. Jazz Fes­tival

Before the CD project gets in full swing, the Big Band and four jazz combos, about 30 stu­dents total, will attend the first Liberal Arts Jazz Fes­tival at Albion College on Feb. 25.

One week earlier, on Feb. 11, jazz stu­dents will perform at the Michigan Jazz Fes­tival.

McCourry said he has been working on planning the L.A. Jazz Fest with James Ball, Albion’s band director and the bass player for the Hillcats, since the beginning of the year.

“There is nothing else like this,” he said. “It’s focused on the needs of liberal arts col­leges without grad pro­grams, like Hillsdale and Albion. There will be no com­pe­tition. I love com­pe­tition but in the aca­demic music world, it’s frowned upon.”

Instead of a com­pe­tition, the L.A. Jazz Fest fea­tures longer per­for­mance times and more intimate clinics. Three pro­fes­sionals will listen and critic each per­for­mance for 40 minutes, com­pared to the 15 minute ses­sions at the Michigan Jazz Fest.

Clin­i­cians include all of the Hillcat per­formers, drummer Jim Rupp, and vocalists Briann Perry.

During clinics, other bands and local high school jazz players can sit in and listen.

“I’m inter­ested to hear from the pool of college bands and it’s always great to make new friends,” O’ Lua­naigh said. “Our band has improved so much. We’re at the peak of our skill.”

Clin­i­cians will still announce out­standing awards, McCourry said.

Instructor in Art Bryan Springer said he started working on a logo for the L.A. Jazz Fest just before the beginning of this semester.

“As an instrument, I thought the sax­o­phone com­mu­ni­cated the idea of jazz well,” Springer said. “Knowing Chris, I exper­i­mented with a trumpet (of course), but the sax was just the most suc­cessful visual idea. The curvi­linear contour and oblique slant give the logo a nice ‘cool’ jazz feel. Of course it is blue — it’s jazz and blues, man. It also works for Hillsdale College.”

Springer and McCourry went through only one revision of the sax/L.A. logo.

“It’s a pleasure working with Prof. McCourry,” Springer said. “I am very for­tunate that he is a fan of my work and has so often replied pos­i­tively to my initial mock-ups.”

Springer’s logo is cur­rently being created into a fes­tival t-shirt design.

Next year, Hillsdale will host the L.A. Jazz Fest.

       ejohnston@hillsdale.edu