After 45 years of directing hundreds of performances of the student jazz ensemble, Ronald “Ron” Rudkin will conduct his last UNCSA Jazz Ensemble concert as director of the jazz program at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 28, at the Stevens Center. Rudkin will join his ensemble as soloist on alto saxophone for two pieces.
“We planned a really nice, celebratory concert-event with all the guest alums,” said Rudkin, whose name is synonymous with good jazz in the Piedmont Triad and beyond and who routinely draws large audiences wherever his award-winning ensemble plays. "The band has played everywhere from the Freedman Theatre at Performance Place to the Ramkat downtown, and we have a loyal following. I’m hoping to see many friends, colleagues and supporters at Stevens for this final farewell.”
The concert will feature the works of jazz greats and contemporary composers. The program includes two compositions by Sammy Nestico, “Switch in Time” and “The Heat’s On”; two by Dizzy Gillespie, “Groovin’ High,” arranged by Buddy Clark and featuring trumpet soloist Bryan Lipps and guitar soloist Emmett Moberly-LaChance, and “Manteca,” arranged by Mike Tomaro; “Update” by Neil Slater, featuring trumpet soloist Lipps; “Scandia Skies” by Kenny Dorham, arranged by Frank Foster and featuring tenor saxophone soloist John Ellis; “Israel” by Johnny Carisi; “Up For Air” by Matt Harris; “Moment’s Notice” by John Coltrane, arranged by Rudkin and featuring Rudkin as alto saxophone soloist and Oliver Glynn as piano soloist; and “Just Friends” by Sam Lewis and John Klemmer, arranged by Rob McConnell and featuring soloists Rudkin, on alto sax, Ellis, on tenor sax, and Lipps, on trumpet.
In addition to the soloists mentioned above (Lipps, Moberly-LaChance, Ellis and Glynn), UNCSA alumni performers will include Darrion Keck, trumpet; Marty Fort, guitar; Madison Rast, bass; and Steve Kirkman, drums.
A jazz performer (saxophone, clarinet and flute), band leader, arranger, and orchestra and chamber musician, Rudkin is a professor in the School of Music, where he has been director of the jazz program and has taught music theory since 1978.
“It’s been a great run,” Rudkin said. “I’m thrilled to have taught so many talented students and launched them into successful careers. I’ve enjoyed every minute.” Alumni of the UNCSA jazz program have gone on to perform with Jon Batiste and Stay Human (the house band for the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert”), Michael Bublé, Anat Cohen Tenet, Ryan Truesdell’s “Birth of the Cool” tribute, and more, and to win positions at prestigious organizations such as the Dave Brubeck Institute in California.
The UNCSA Jazz Ensemble has received widespread acclaim, performing across the state and around the Southeast at jazz festivals, concert halls, public schools and other colleges. The band includes talented student musicians from the graduate, undergraduate and high school programs of the School of Music.
The group’s repertoire includes an extensive variety of big band jazz ranging from traditional greats to Latin, fusion and contemporary styles. The ensemble has also served as a “swing dance band,” performing swing-era hits at numerous regional swing dance events. In the past the ensemble has also presented classical jazz compositions featuring UNCSA faculty artists as guest soloists, and has performed with eminent guest artists such as Allen Vizzutti, Ray Anderson, Jens Lindemann and Phil Markowitz.
Previous appearances of the UNCSA Jazz Ensemble include the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; the Umbria Jazz Festival in Raleigh; the Piedmont Triad Jazz Festival; the UNCSA summer festival at Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, North Carolina; and the Count Basie Orchestra Festival in Hampton, Virginia, where the group won first place in the college jazz band division. Student jazz combos also performed on summer tours of Italy, Germany and France as part of the former UNCSA International Music Program, and at the Morro Bay Jazz Festival in California.
An integral component of the jazz program at UNCSA is a yearlong Jazz Improvisation Lab offering instruction in various concepts of improvised jazz, including jazz theory and harmony. Using this approach, Rudkin typically highlights different sections of the band at each performance. “It’s something we’ve done since the beginning to prepare our students for actual careers as jazz musicians,” Rudkin said. “I believe it’s important to emphasize performance skills in a variety of jazz-oriented musical styles, and that versatility is key.
“Jazz is not going away,” he added. “It will be eternally popular.”
This isn’t the last time audiences will see Rudkin before he retires, however. The UNCSA Wind Ensemble and Chamber Winds will celebrate Rudkin’s career at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 6, also at the Stevens Center. Rudkin will perform as the clarinet soloist in bandleader Artie Shaw’s Concerto for Clarinet. Frank Ticheli’s “Blue Shades” is also on the program. Wind Ensemble music director Mark A. Norman will conduct. Tickets to the April 6 concert also are $20 for adults and $15 for students with a valid ID, and are available by calling the UNCSA Box Office at 336-721-1945 or online.
In addition to maintaining an active performing career with his own jazz groups and dance band, Rudkin plays clarinet in the Winston-Salem Symphony and has appeared with the North Carolina, Greensboro, Charlotte and Western Piedmont symphonies.
A veteran big band musician, he has performed with the orchestras of Glenn Miller, Les and Larry Elgart, Guy Lombardo, Peter Duchin and Russ Morgan, and the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra, Camel City Jazz Orchestra, the Atlantic Jazz Orchestra and his own big band, the Ron Rudkin Orchestra.
Rudkin has performed with numerous celebrities from the worlds of entertainment, pop and jazz, including Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Tom Jones, Lou Rawls, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Stamm, Jon Faddis, Carl Fontana and Louis Bellson. He served as music director for the annual Bing Crosby Celebrity Charity Golf Tournament for 15 years (1986-2001), accompanying various celebrities including Bob Hope, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Smokey Robinson, Vince Gill, Amy Grant, Glen Campbell, Roy Clark and others.
Rudkin toured and performed with legendary jazz drummer Max Roach and drummer T.S. Monk Jr. in public schools across North Carolina as part of an educational program sponsored by the Thelonious Monk Institute.
He holds a Master of Music in woodwind performance from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Music from East Carolina University, where he received a Distinguished Alumnus Award. He also received a Jazz Composer Fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council.
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March 14, 2023