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Kirkland Blog > Posts > 'Holiday Jazz' gives faculty a chance to shine
By Jim Vorel - H&R Staff Writer

Steve Widenhofer, director of Millikin University's School of Music, is a busy man. So are the other five instructor-performers of Millikin's Faculty Jazz Sextet. This is not an easy group to get together for rehearsals, much less socializing.

So the presentation of "Holiday Jazz" at Kirkland Fine Arts Center this Saturday is a welcome opportunity for the faculty members to indulge in a little Christmas cheer.

"We had a great time last year," Widenhofer said. "It was a really relaxed show, even though it's in the big Kirkland theater. Our personalities as a group really seemed to suit that atmosphere. It was just one of those nights."

The show, in its third year, puts a jazzy twist on classic Christmas and holiday-season standards. Creative arrangements of songs such as Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas" feature the talents of the entire sextet: Widenhofer (piano), Brian Justison (drums), Dave Burdick (guitar), Joel Kelsey (bass), Perry Rask (saxophone) and Randall Reyman (trumpet).

"Randy and Dave have really put together some creative, snazzy adaptations," Widenhofer said. "We did an album a long time ago called ‘Cool Yule,' and we're using some of those tunes as well. Some of the songs are the classic holiday songs everybody knows, and some may not be quite so familiar."

The chemistry of the group makes Widenhofer wish they could perform together more often than four or five times a year.

"We all have great respect for each other as musicians and creative people," he said. "These shows give us a chance to collaborate together outside the classroom. We all really enjoy each other's company and wish it could last even longer."

For Millikin music students, "Holiday Jazz" is one of a number of opportunities throughout the year to see their professors in action, making music with each other. The faculty members find that such performances have the added benefit of increasing music appreciation in the student body.

"They get to see us in a different light than in the classroom setting or as administrators," Widenhofer said. "As music teachers, we can model what we teach by our ability to play ourselves. For students to see their teachers doing that is really excellent. They appreciate it as a teaching methodology."

The returning special guest from last year's "Holiday Jazz" is 2003 Millikin commercial music graduate Angel Spiccia, now a professional vocalist making appearances in a number of Chicago jazz clubs. Most of the faculty members of the Faculty Jazz Sextet are former teachers of Spiccia's.

"It's a thrill to come back and perform with them," she said. "I had so much fun in college. I'm still thankful for all the opportunities I had to perform with them back when they were my teachers."

Spiccia's performance last year included renditions of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Santa Baby." In her eyes, the show seemed to fly by.

"We had so much fun, and it really put me in the spirit," she said. "We all enjoy taking some of the traditional Christmas songs and injecting some Latin or blues or jazz styles into them."

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