Jazz artist Connaitre Miller comes to campus

By Cayne Mccaskell
& Josie Gersezek

MSUM’s jazz outfits have a big week ahead of them.
The fun begins today at noon when jazz vocalist and music educator Connaitre Miller will present a lecture on starting and maintaining  vocal jazz ensembles in schools. Also during her time in the community, she will perform and speak about careers in both teaching and performance. She will also coach voice and choral students.
“It’s important for our students to routinely have the opportunity to meet and get to know those who represent true greatness in their art, and Connaitre Miller is one of those people,” said Allen Carter, head of Jazz Studies at MSUM. “She is truly at the top in the world of vocal jazz performance and teaching. It is a special honor to have her with us.”
Miller is an associate professor of music and Coordinator of Vocal Jazz Studies at Howard University, where she directs the award-winning vocal jazz ensemble “Afro Blue,” teaches vocal jazz improvisation and vocal jazz arranging, and gives individual voice lessons. Before taking the position at Howard University, Miller taught for six years in Adelaide, South Australia, where she built a well-respected jazz voice program at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide. An active performer, Miller has appeared at numerous jazz festivals across the country.
Miller performs Thursday at 7:30 p.m. with the Vocal Jazz Ensemble on the Gaede Stage and speaks about subjects related to vocal jazz on Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the same location. Both lectures are free and open to the public. Music educators and music education majors are encouraged to attend.
Friday at 8 p.m., she performs one last time with the Faculty Jazz Ensemble at Studio 222 in downtown Fargo.
But vocal jazz isn’t all the week has to offer.
When MSUM’s Jazz Band performs in the Weld auditorium on Monday at 7:30 p.m., it will feature a “wide range of grooves” that the group has been focusing on this semester.
Conor Lee, a jazz studies senior, said the big band is playing a lot of charts including styles like straight ahead swing, R&B, funk rock, Afro-Cuban, Latin rock, straight eighths, and fast swing.
“I like switching between all of these styles and needing to mentally switch gears on the fly,” he said. “I think this showcases how a big band can operate in such varying music styles.”
Despite being a senior, Lee said he has only been with the Jazz Band for two semesters. He has been active in other jazz related ensembles like the Tri-College Jazz Combo and the MSUM Jazz Guitar Ensemble, which is opening for the Jazz Band at Monday’s concert.
The ensemble will be playing three tunes, all arranged by members in the group, Lee said.
The “mini big band” is composed of five guitars, a bass, and drums, and is under the direction of Dr. Michael Krajewski, who will also be featured on one of the tunes the band is performing.
MSUM’s Jazz Band is directed by Dr. Tom Strait, a veteran educator who teaches trumpet, horn and jazz studies and has performed with artists including Bob Hope, Robert Goulet, Nancy Wilson and Doc Severinsen.
Lee said he likes seeing how his professors choose to communicate a concept, especially since MSUM’s Jazz Band is open to all students.
“The ensemble is composed of varying music majors and non-majors,” Lee said. “I suppose the funnier moments are Dr. Straits’ side-tangent stories. He’s always able to bring them back and make them relevant to the music we’re playing or the concept he’s illustrating.”
Nathan Stowman, a sophomore in music education, said Monday’s concert will be his first gig with the band — and his first performance on the bass trombone.
Though he’s an Army National Guard tuba player, Stowman said he appreciates the opportunity to learn new instruments at MSUM.
“I’ve been working on the bass trombone for a couple months,” he said. “I think it’s easier to learn a new instrument when you’re part of an ensemble, because people who play similar instruments will give you tips to help you learn faster.”
Dr. Strait has been focusing on stylistic concepts over the past several weeks, Stowman said.
“I think the audience will enjoy the result — as well as the song choices like ‘Caravan,’ ‘500 Miles,’ ‘Hit the Bricks,’ and ‘Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.’”
Concert tickets are free to all MSUM students, faculty, and staff. General admission tickets can be purchased online at mnstate.edu/tickets, via the box office at 218-477-2271, or at the door. Tickets to the Studio 222 performance are available on site before the performance. Studio 222 is located at 222 Broadway in Fargo.
For more information about the Connaitre Miller’s performances and lectures, contact Dr. Allen Carter at (218) 477-4098, or carter@mnstate.edu.

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