ST. GEORGE — The Utah Tech University Jazz Ensemble will perform a concert this Thursday that will showcase a fusion of contemporary pop hits such as Taylor Swift’s “Cardigan” and timeless jazz classics from Duke Ellington.

Dr. Glenn Webb, an assistant professor at Utah Tech and an advocate for blending popular music with jazz, is the engine that makes the ensemble hum.

“Jazz musicians have a rich history of incorporating popular tunes into their repertoire,” Webb told St. George News. “We’re reviving this tradition with a modern twist, aiming to captivate our audience with a diverse selection of songs that transcend genres.”

The concert lineup that features a mix of tracks curated by Webb also includes Swift’s “Don’t Blame Me” and Prince’s “Kiss,” among other songs.

“I picked the Swift tunes because she is essentially universal at this point,” Webb said. “Much of her music has a lilt that is easy to adapt to the standard jazz swing feel.”

The Utah Tech University Jazz Ensemble rehearses for its first concert of the Spring 2024 semester in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Glenn Webb/Utah Tech University, St. George News

He said he picked Prince’s “Kiss” because of its heightened bluesy feel and that the ensemble will perform an arrangement of the song that is reminiscent of a New Orleans brass band.

“The musical selections in the modern day are partly to remind the world that jazz isn’t dead,” Webb said.

The faculty plays the part of administrator and coach for these performances. The musicians are all students.

Megan Buck, a music education major, said in a press release issued by the university that she is enthusiastic about the upcoming performance.

“I’m thrilled about the variety of tunes we will be performing,” she said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone to come together and enjoy music from different eras and styles.”

The jazz ensemble’s performance demonstrates the university’s dedication to experiential learning and also highlights their mastery of various musical styles, Webb said. Students use learned skills such as sight-reading, improvisation and live performance.

Webb said the positive impact of jazz performances is a conduit of joy on campus and in the community.

“Our concerts contribute to the quality of life in our region, fostering a deeper appreciation for music and its ability to connect people,” he said.

Beyond a connection to others, music is said to connect people to oneself on an emotional level of introspection. This is the stance of Timothy Francis, an associate professor at Utah Tech. He said there are multifaceted benefits to actively engaging with music.

“Music should be a fundamental way we deal with struggles and growth,” Francis said. “Engaging in music stimulates activity in many parts of the brain, and thus helps tremendously with brain development, plasticity, and longevity.”

The Jazz Ensemble will perform hits from Taylor Swift and Prince, among others in St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Utah Tech University, St. George News

He stressed the importance of music in facilitating social connection and coping with mental stress, sentiments echoed by Webb.

“Music is one of the only things that may keep us all sane,” Webb said. “American society benefits from everyone tapping into music that brings joy and avoids division.”

Although Francis and Webb focus on different aspects of music’s importance — music as a fundamental aspect of human experience and advocating for its unifying power through jazz and pop fusion, respectively — there are shared values within the music department at Utah Tech.

One such example is that both professors advocate for its dissemination while also stressing its integral role in personal development and societal cohesion.

The campus of Utah Tech University is shown in St. George, Utah, July 14, 2023 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

“Musical elements are universal,” Webb said. “American society benefits from everyone tapping into music that brings joy and avoids division.”

Utah Tech University Jazz Ensemble’s upcoming concert is advertised to be a celebration of the transformative impact of music on individuals and society as a whole.

For more information on the music department and upcoming events, visit this website.

Tickets are priced at $8.50 for general admission and can be secured online at this link or at the door.

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