UNCSA Jazz Ensemble to give first concert under new Director Steve Alford

The School of Music at UNCSA presents the acclaimed UNCSA Jazz Ensemble in its first concert of the season under the leadership of recently appointed Director Steve Alford. The ensemble is composed of talented student musicians from the graduate, undergraduate and high school programs of the School of Music. The performance, which will focus on the big band music of Thad Jones, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5.

Steve Alford

Steve Alford

The concert will take place at the Stevens Center, 405 W. Fourth St. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for non-UNCSA students with valid ID at uncsa.edu/performances or by calling the box office at 336-721-1945.

“I am immensely excited to be a part of UNCSA,” Alford said. “The artistic depth exhibited on campus — both professional and student — is simply exhilarating.”

Alford began his career as a saxophone graduate of the studio music and jazz program at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. He taught modern jazz and improvisation at Mars Hill University and the University of North Carolina-Asheville, developing innovative pedagogy. He has composed, produced and recorded diverse music, from big bands to punk-jazz ensembles, and has been a fixture in jazz, improvised and experimental scenes.

UNCSA Jazz Ensemble Jan. 2023 / Photo: Wayne Reich

UNCSA Jazz Ensemble Jan. 2023 / Photo: Wayne Reich

"We are thrilled to welcome Steve Alford as the new director of the UNCSA Jazz Program,” said Music Dean Saxton Rose. “His expertise and passion for jazz and contemporary music will inspire our students to broaden their skills and versatility and to master exciting new techniques and musical styles.

“Under his direction, the ensemble is set to deliver an electrifying performance that celebrates the captivating world of big band music. The audience can anticipate an unforgettable evening, as our exceptionally talented students explore this rich and diverse genre,” Rose concluded.

Alford comes to UNCSA following the departure of former ensemble Director Ronald “Ron” Rudkin, who retired earlier this year. Looking ahead, Alford has plans to continue growing opportunities for students to perform.

“This year, in addition to our big band and improvisation class we have expanded the jazz and contemporary music offerings to include three new small group combos — watch for their upcoming performances later this year! — and a dedicated jazz practice suite for rehearsals, classes and student-led projects, with more to come as we move forward in the following years. It is an exciting time to be here.”

More about Steve Alford

A multi-instrumentalist specializing in the performance and education of contemporary improvisational music, Alford spent multiple years on the road across the United States and Europe. He settled in Chicago in the late ’90s and began pursuing an in-depth study of harmony clarinets, appearing regularly on both saxophone and bass clarinet in the straight-ahead jazz, modern improvised music, and experimental indie-rock scenes across the Midwest. 

Relocating to Asheville, North Carolina, after a decade in Illinois, Alford was serving as an adjunct professor of jazz and contemporary music at the University of North Carolina-Asheville while he completed his master’s degree in jazz at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Concurrently he developed a new contemporary music pedagogy focusing on multilateral ear training, multi-instrumental rhythm section methods class, "mind's ear" sonic exploration and melodic immersion. During a brief return to the northern Midwest United States, he took over as coordinator for jazz and contemporary improvisation studies at the University of Minnesota Morris, bringing his curriculum of modern multi-genre improvisation study grounded in traditional jazz roots to that university system.​

During the past decade, he has composed, produced and recorded his most adventurous music to date including his acclaimed 11-piece modern big band, the multi-genre improvisation-based collective known as Rational Discourse; the E.Normus Trio, an alto clarinet, N/S Stick and drums trio within the punk-jazz genre; his quintet METAL, composed of two trash can drum systems, two double bassists, and Alford on electrified contra-alto clarinet and electrified English horn; and his new standards jazz trio and quartets, each reimagining small group jazz through an open and free approach to harmony while remaining grounded in tradition.

About the Jazz Ensemble

The UNCSA Jazz Ensemble has previously performed at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina; the Umbria Jazz Festival in Raleigh; the Hilton Head Jazz Society in South Carolina; the Piedmont Triad Jazz Festival; jazz festivals at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Chapel Hill and UNC Charlotte; the ArtSchool in Carrboro; and the Count Basie Orchestra Festival in Hampton, Virginia, where the group won first place in the college jazz band division.

In addition, UNCSA student jazz combos have performed on summer tours in Italy, Germany and France as part of UNCSA’s former International Music Program and have appeared at the Morro Bay Jazz Festival in California. One combo won an award in Downbeat magazine’s annual student “DB competition.”

Alumni of the UNCSA jazz program have gone on to win prestigious positions at the Thelonious Monk Institute in Los Angeles and the Dave Brubeck Institute in northern California, performing with jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Dave Brubeck, Christian McBride and Wayne Shorter.

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October 02, 2023