By MEGAN ELISON
BYU jazz band Synthesis, labeled by the School of Music as “BYU’s premier jazz ensemble,” will perform Friday and Saturday as part of the week’s four-day Jazz Fest.
The performances are a preview of the ensemble’s upcoming summer tour material.
Tour plans involve a four-week visit to Asia and Eastern Europe, with stops in cities like Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Moscow and Chelyabinsk. The band’s visit to Siberia will be mark the first time a BYU performing group has ever toured the area.
The highlight of the tour will be the ensemble’s participation in Finland’s Pori Jazz Festival. Synthesis competed there in 1992 to rave reviews.
The festival featured 110 performing groups and 700 individual artists in 1996, bringing in more than 120,000 jazz listeners.
The tour will be a vehicle for spreading the gospel, according to David Osmond, a junior from Provo majoring in music performance and the drummer for Synthesis.
“I think it’ll be an intense musical, spiritual and missionary opportunity,” Osmond said. “We’re going to turn a lot of heads.”
Those involved with Synthesis hope the tour will be a “mini-mission” of jazz, according to Matt West, a senior from Sandy, Salt Lake County, majoring in public relations and a trombonist in Synthesis.
“Jazz represents a freedom of the soul, something (Eastern Europeans) are in need of,” said Ray Smith, a professor of music and the artistic director of Synthesis, in a news release.
Although the Eastern European tour is a first for Synthesis, the ensemble is no stranger to competition and success. The group has competed in and won festivals in Switzerland, Holland and Finland, as well as taking first place at the prestigious Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Moscow, Idaho.
The ensemble is recognized as a professional band, according to West, who said the group competed professionally two years ago at the Montreaux Jazz Festival.
“Since its inception, it has been one of the top jazz bands in the nation,” West said.
Synthesis holds rigorous annual auditions to ensure band quality, and is made up of students with a variety of interests, West said. This year’s group includes music majors, a public relations major and a math major, among others.
As a forum for BYU’s top student jazz musicians, Synthesis provides a near-professional atmosphere that is attractive to many musicians, according to both West and Osmond.
“It’s a great vehicle for musicians to prepare for the professional musical world,” West said. “Ray (Smith) runs it like a professional band.”
Synthesis is also attractive for other reasons, according to Clinton Christensen, a junior from Salt Lake City majoring in pre-physical therapy and lead trumpet for the ensemble.
“The music is very diverse and fun to play,” Christensen said. “When we do a concert, there’s always something for someone to enjoy.”
“The job of a musician is to lift spirits, and that’s what we’re all about,” Christensen said.
The band’s reputation also attracts musicians, as evidenced by Osmond. The drummer attended many Synthesis shows while at Timpview High School and says playing with the ensemble has always been his dream.
The group is gaining recognition in Western states, Osmond said.
“They definitely have their own style and they obviously work hard,” said Trisha Topham, a junior from Kaysville, Davis County, majoring in interior design. “Their personalities really showed through the music.”
Topham attended last semester’s Synthesis concert, hearing the group for the first time, and has definite plans to see the ensemble more in the future.
As a highlight of the week’s Jazz Fest, Synthesis will perform Friday and Saturday concerts, both of which will feature guest artists Andy Martin and Mike Vax — “heavy, heavy brass players,” according to Osmond.
The shows start at 7:30 p.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall. Tickets are available at the Fine Arts Ticket Office and are $4 for students, $6 for faculty.