Mississippi jazz ensemble heading to Europe to perform

Published 9:12 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The Mississippians, the University of Mississippi‘s student jazz ensemble, is headed back to Europe in July for a tour that features performances in three renowned music festivals.

The 20 musicians are slated to play in the Jazz à Juan festival in Antibes, France, on July 19-20; Jazzaldia in San Sebastian, Spain, on July 22-23; and the Jazz in Marciac Festival in Marciac, France, on July 25.

The tour marks a return to international performances for The Mississippians, who first performed abroad at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy, and Gezmataz in Genoa, Italy, in 2018. They were scheduled to perform at Jazz à Juan in 2018, but the show was cancelled due to inclement weather.

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The ensemble has been celebrating its centennial anniversary since last fall with several appearances across Mississippi and the country.

“This a great way to commemorate the 100 years of jazz at Ole Miss and gives us the opportunity to publicize our remarkable legacy to an international community of jazz fans,” said Michael Worthy, associate professor of music and director of The Mississippians.

Among the ensemble’s set list are compositions made popular by artists such as Michael Mossman, Duke Ellington, Radiohead, Quincy Jones and the Average White Band.

Worthy said he prepared a program repertoire that will appeal to audiences from all over the world.

“The expectations for a university big band from America are high, and we want to deliver exciting, swinging performances of the music of Ellington, Basie and more contemporary jazz composers,” he said. “I’m excited to perform a piece by John Clayton that we commissioned to commemorate 100 years of Ole Miss jazz.”

The journey to this summer’s European festivals began with agent submitting The Mississippians’ recordings to a panel for each festival. Judges elected The Mississippians from a pool of submissions from multiple countries.

The musicians love the idea of sharing music that began in their home region with fans from around the world.

“I think I’m most excited for the Jazzaldia festival in San Sebastián, Spain,” said Michael Sheppard, a senior biological science major and saxophone player from New Albany. “There’s a few songs that I solo in, including ‘Berlin Bei Nacht’ by Oliver Nelson, ‘Cubauza’ by Michael Mossman, and ‘Moanin” by Charles Mingus.

“It’s absolutely unreal to me to get to play ‘Moanin” in front of an international audience.”

While on the trip, they plan to enjoy the local cuisine and take in the sights in the different regions.

“I am very excited about experiencing the different cultures while in Europe, while also playing the universal style of jazz and seeing how others across the ocean interpret it,” said Ella Kate Nichols, a junior from Pontotoc who plays trumpet. “Just the thought of being able to make incredible music alongside some of my favorite people in the coastal city of San Sebastián with a gorgeous view of the ocean is beyond imaginable. It’s going to be a great time!”

Many of the students are particularly excited about the performance venues.

“I have always dreamed of visiting Spain, so Jazzaldia might be at the top of the list,” said Drew Darling, a junior trombone player from New Albany.

Other students, all music majors unless noted, on the European tour as part of the ensemble are:

  • Saxophones: Dakota Young, of Biloxi; Bobby Onsby, of Pontotoc; Allister Frankle, Charlotte, North Carolina; and Justin Morgan, Houston
  • Trombones: Orel Lee, of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Lilli Bailey, Grenada; and Coda Ethridge, Pontotoc
  • Trumpets: Matthew Tidwell, of Pontotoc; Chris Quick, Pearl; Bryce Marquardt, Waterloo, Illinois; and Max Warren, Oxford
  • Bass: Camden Boutwell, of Madison
  • Rhythm: Taylor Wells, a mechanical engineering major from Ridgeland, on guitar; Savior Sallah, Ghana, piano; Nick Tello, Vicksburg, drums; Elijah Bratsch-Prince, Ames, Iowa, drums; and Abi Thomas, Madison, vocals