By: Dan Thomas
Jazz Instructor, Jazz Studies, UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance
With the help of James Kanki and the Heart of America Japan-America Society, the UMKC Conservatory Concert Jazz Band traveled to Japan to perform as invited guests in a jazz festival. The trip would forever change the lives of all the participants.
The Japanese representatives took great care in planning the trip, and no detail was left undone. Representatives from the Kurashiki government and a travel company met us in Tokyo and stayed with us throughout the duration of our trip. James, Nishi, Pam, Chiaki, Uchida, and Yoshie began as our translators, became our food and tour guides, and soon became part of our road family.
An early observation the band took away from Japan was the social graces of the Japanese, which began in the Tokyo airport. It is one of the busiest airports on Earth and one could hear a pin drop.
Assistant Director Dan Thomas, jazz instructor, jazz studies, says, “We were reminded about courtesy daily throughout our concert tour because even in the middle schools, you could hear a pin drop. The students knelt in orderly rows and did not speak. For musicians, these listening skills are critical.”
The group stayed at the Ivy Square Hotel in the Bikan area. The Bikan area has plenty of traditional architecture to see, and many restaurants, which was an excellent place for the band to be located.
“Our Jazz Band met a number of collegiate and middle school bands, and professional ensembles through a variety of celebratory banquets, performances and festivals,” Thomas says. “Some of the more fantastic events included the JFE steel festival performance, attended by more than 100,000 people, (where we toured the steel works facility); the festival banquet ceremony in which we were welcomed by a traditional bamboo percussion group of all ages; and a performance by Fukuda Junior High, which moved many of us to tears.
“Impressive does not begin to describe the sound we heard.”
Dan Thomas Assistant Director, Jazz Instructor, Jazz Studies
On the third day of the trip Kurashiki City Hall literally rolled out the red carpet and the band was welcomed with an official ceremony and presented medallions from Mayor Ito.
Another memorable experience was the trip to Miyajima Island and Hiroshima. “The day was filled with introspection and emotion, and reminded us of the power of music to unite people. We also enjoyed a trip to the Ohara Museum of Art, which was very impressive,” Thomas says. The ensemble experienced a traditional Tea Ceremony whose host has practiced the discipline of making tea everyday for 35 years.
“Each day we were presented a variety of traditional foods including sushi, sashimi, udon, and tempura. We even had a traditional junior high lunch. They don’t serve corn dogs! Most of our UMKC students were fantastic foodies by the end of the tour, however some of them still relied on a heavy dose of McDonald’s, which they claim is better in Japan. Bobby and I are still trying to recover from tuna sashimi overload, which was as amazing as it can get,” Thomas says.
The trip wrapped up with a Jazz Festival performance at the Mabi Center. “This was a very impressive production, as we had a full light show during this event. It was a great way to say good-bye,” he says. “Finally, we say thank you, Kurashiki, for giving our students a once in a lifetime experience that they will cherish forever!”
This year, the UMKC Concert Jazz Band, along with the several Conservatory ensembles will perform at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, giving the students an unequaled opportunity to perform in what critics are hailing as an acoustic masterpiece. More than 300 Conservatory students from dance, jazz, winds, choral, and orchestra will perform in the Kauffman’s inaugural year, giving these students an unparalleled opportunity to experience this state-of-the-art new hall.
Conservatory Dean Peter Witte notes, “The opening of the Kauffman Center is historic–and UMKC is honored to part of that history. Muriel McBrien Kauffman’s dream was to create a home for the kind of diverse and exceptional performances our faculty has imagined. In this great era for the arts in Kansas City, we are thrilled to showcase the Conservatory’s greatest strengths, our exceptional faculty and students.”
The Conservatory Artist Series, which continues its focus on collaboration, will sustain our commitment to great performances while celebrating our bonds with leading national and Kansas City arts organizations. Performances by PRISM Quartet, performing William Bolcom’s Concerto Grosso, a PRISM commission, the Conservatory’s own Concert Jazz Band, performing Bobby Watson’s The Gates BBQ Suite, and Conservatory Wind Symphony, which performs Corigliano’s Circus Maximus will dramatize the Conservatory’s innovative strengths.
The Conservatory’s Concert Jazz Band, conducted by Bobby Watson, performed Watson’s The Gates BBQ Suite Sept. 28. The Conservatory Wind Symphony, directed by Steven D. Davis will perform Corigliano’s Circus Maximus, Symphony No. 3 for Large Wind Ensemble. The Conservatory will also welcome PRISM Quartet, who will perform William Bolcom’s Concerto Grosso for saxophone quartet and winds, a PRISM commission.
The other concerts are in February and April. On Feb. 20, the Conservatory Dancers, Choirs, and Wind Symphony perform Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Orff’s popular Carmina Burana, conducted by Robert Bode, is an audience favorite for its diverse offerings of love, lust, and the evocative moods of spring. Choreographed by Paula Weber, the dancers evoke the poetry of spring and the Carmina Burana’s cycle of life. On April 28, under the direction of Robert Olson, this stellar group of Conservatory students always dazzles the audience with amazing artistry. The program includes Chen Yi’s Chinese Myths, a cantata for orchestra with four Chinese traditional instrumentalists, mixed choir and dancers. The performance will include the Conservatory’s dancers, choir, and orchestra.