Blue Devil Jazz Project brings the sounds of the south to UW–Stout

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By Billy Tuite —

The University of Wisconsin–Stout has been sorely lacking a marching band to add some energy to its athletic games and community events for over 30 years. Fortunately, the Blue Devil Jazz Project has come to fill this gap, but they’re replacing the old “marching” routine with an eclectic mix of musical styles.

UW–Stout’s director of instrumental music Aaron Durst is spearheading the project, which consists of 22 student performers. It originally started as an idea last October to introduce a traditional marching band to the UW–Stout campus, but Durst was uncertain about the feasibility of such an endeavor.

“Marching bands take a lot of work and a lot of money,” Durst said. “I was a bit hesitant to commit to that because I wouldn’t have time to put it all together and I’m not sure our students would either.”

Durst instead decided to scale back the marching band idea to something more akin to a New Orleans street style ensemble, with students on various brass and percussion instruments.

“It would be a smaller group that emphasizes jazz, and it would take considerably less resources in terms of time and money,” Durst said.

According to Durst, “The band covers a wide swath of styles.” He even cites Madison-based hip-hop group Youngblood Brass Band as a particular inspiration.

“The band will perform music that is jazz influenced, with a little bit of hip-hop and funk flavor, some pep band music thrown in and some older Kansas City-style jazz music,” Durst said.

Durst emphasizes that he doesn’t want the Jazz Project to follow tradition. He says the band’s sound will be evolving as they figure out what works for the performers and what appeals to listeners.

“There’s no other college group that is like this,” Durst said. We’re not a marching band, and while we will have the capability to perform outside in parades and sporting events, we won’t be following traditional marching formations.”

UW–Stout’s lack of a music major or minor presented some challenges to the project, but Durst is committed to making it a worthwhile commitment for students. Between Sept. 4 and 6, the Stout University Foundation awarded $1,000 scholarships to five particularly talented students in the band, including: Mariah Amundsen, freshman bass/sousaphone player; Kevin Fuhrman, freshman saxophonist; Jacob Gutsch, sophomore trumpet player; Aaron Moren, senior drummer; and Sarah Willett, sophomore trombonist.

“The Jazz Project serves to keep developing our musicians,” Durst said. “Music is just something I want our students to continue doing.”

The band is set to have their first performance at the homecoming football game on Oct. 11, and they’re certainly not breaking a sweat over it.

“We don’t want to be too worried about learning the drill or making sure everything is perfect,” Durst said. “Music from New Orleans isn’t perfect. It’s about playing good music and having fun.”

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