KEARNEY — It’s fairly amazing for a group like the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra to have survived as long as it has because it’s not something music lovers often find outside large cities, said Executive Director Dean Haist, who leads the big band orchestra.
“We’ve had really positive reviews for our last two or three CDs,” Haist said. “There is a radio station in Chicago that’s been playing our music regularly, along with other big bands. It’s nice to see our name included with some of those other national groups.”
Nebraska Jazz Orchestra will perform Sunday afternoon at Kearney’s Merryman Performing Arts Center. The concert is open to season ticket holders.
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Haist said the orchestra’s musicians really like touring the world. “European audiences are just so appreciative of jazz. It’s a really a big deal and a unique American art form, but not so much here in the U.S. It’s really one of the truly American forms of music. In Japan, for example, there is an incredible amount of support for our music.”
He said so many American groups head to Japan “because that’s where the money is. It really is so much more popular around the world.”
The conductor said his musicians enjoy performing old and new big band sounds.
“Most of what we play in Kearney will be recognizable,” Haist said. “We’ll play the likes of Duke Ellington and Billie Holliday. We also have half-a-dozen composers who play or have played in the band who continue to write new works for us. We will even be playing a new version of ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’”
He said there would be time during Sunday’s show for improvisational jazz.
Haist said he is familiar with the Merryman Center because he plays in the “Messiah” orchestra every year with the Axtell Oratorio Society. “We’ve got our A-list of artists lined up for Kearney, and it should be a great show. We’re looking forward to it.”
Haist leads several other musical groups. One of his current tasks is lining up local musicians for the Lied Center’s huge touring company for “Phantom of the Opera.”
Carol Ellenwood, Kearney Concert Association executive secretary, said Sunday’s performance of the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra will be a rare 3 p.m. matinée “because it allows us to meet our mission of ‘providing and promoting concerts of exceptional quality at affordable prices.’”
The matinée allows the orchestra to travel to and from the performance without having to book lodging for 17 musicians.