A passion for jazz in Hopkins

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 11, 2014 - 1:09 PM

Minnesota’s JazzMN Orchestra will perform Sunday at Hopkins High School. New York Voices will join the players in the concert’s second half.

Jazz is practically in the DNA of drummer Joe Pulice, who grew up around big bands.

His dad, Joe Pulice Sr., ran a drumming school in Racine, Wis. The junior Joe Pulice’s older brother, Mark, also took up the instrument.

Pulice, a drummer for the JazzMN Orchestra, a nonprofit orchestra based in Hopkins, has toured with Woody Herman and his Thundering Herd. He’s also played for Broadway shows. “I feel my best and am most at home when I’m behind the jazz drums,” he said.

Many of the other local musicians who make up JazzMN have similar biographies.

A core group of JazzMN players has done countless gigs together over the past several decades. Maybe that’s why they jibe so well together. “You know each other’s playing inside and out, so you can support them in the best way possible,” Pulice said.

On Sunday, March 16, the group will perform at the fine arts center at Hopkins High School. The Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble New York Voices will jump in during the second half of the concert. Beforehand, the Minnesota State University Jazz Choir will play in the lobby.

Douglas Snapp, JazzMN’s artistic director, said the concert will touch on many different sounds, styles and genres. That keeps the energy level up and showcases the group’s wide range of talent, he said.

In general, he likes to get things going at every concert with a high-energy piece. On Sunday the concert will open with Duke Ellington’s bebop composition “Ko-Ko,” which Snapp describes as “a hard-swinging tune.”

From there, the music is all over the map. “New York Injection,” a composition from former L.A. pianist and composer Bob Florence, is “based upon the chord changes to the jazz standard ‘What Is This Thing Called Love,’ but is presented as a fast jazz waltz,” he said.

Another piece, “Transit,” by New York composer Darcy James Argue, begins with a “sort of slow chorale and progresses into a fast contemporary jazz style with many slightly dissonant jazz sounds” that challenge the ear, he said.

In the same work, a trumpet solo seems to venture into jazz-rock before “tapering down to simple harmonies at the end,” Snapp said.

The dynamic changes dramatically for “Quietude,” a composition from Thad Jones, which, as its title suggests, has a more-relaxed feel.

Those selections, along with a few others, set the stage for the four-person New York Voices, which has a “straight-ahead” jazz style with beautiful harmonies and arrangements, Snapp said.

JazzMN’s back story

JazzMN started up in 1999, back when many big bands were fading. Cities all over the country tried to pick up the slack by starting their own civic jazz orchestras, akin to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in New York City.

Snapp said he admired the way in which musicians in classical orchestras got the chance to hone their skills and artistry.

Normally, jazz musicians are put on the spot, and they don’t have the chance to rehearse music before a gig, he said.

When Snapp learned about the Columbus Jazz Orchestra, which operated much like a classical orchestra, “I thought if they could do it there, we could do it here,” he said.

  • IF YOU GO

    What: JazzMN Orchestra concert featuring New York Voices

    When: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 16

    Where: Hopkins High School, 2400 Lindbergh Dr., Minnetonka

    Cost: In advance, $34 main-floor adult, $32 balcony adult, and $20 student. At the door, $38 main-floor adult; $34 balcony adult, and $15 student rush. Go to www.jazzmn.org or call 1-800-838-3006.

    Upcoming event: Concert featuring alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 26, at Hopkins High School.

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