Steve Wiest lives in Chicago now, but he knows the parts very well.
The multiple-Grammy Award-nominated trombonist, composer, songwriter, fiction author, and cartoonist also holds a master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of North Texas in Denton.
Only 150 miles from Oklahoma, he plays regularly here. West will perform at 2023 Jazz tonight and Saturday at 2023 Jazz June, beginning at 7:30pm at Andrews Park, 201 W. Daws Street. All performances are free to attend.
“In those days, I played in some of Tom Walker’s ensembles, and we’d play a lot in Norman,” West said. “So I know a lot of musicians in Oklahoma, and I’m really looking forward to getting back there. Norman always impresses me because it’s such a wonderful place, musically and culturally. place.”
It should be understood that West only attended school in North Texas after graduating from what he called “Maynard Ferguson University.” At the age of 24, he was hired as the featured trombonist and one of two arrangers for the Maynard Ferguson Band. Ferguson (1928-2006) was a jazz personality who first emerged as a member of Stan Kenton’s band and went on to have a long and dynamic career. West spent five years in Ferguson.
There’s an early 1980s YouTube video, “Maynard Ferguson at the Playboy Jazz Fest – Don’t Stop Until You’ve Had Enough,” which spectacularly documents West’s youthful chops. With his shoulder-length sable sporty trombone solo, the audience burst into applause.
“What I learned from my years with Maynard Ferguson is that music is at its best when it has a symbiotic relationship with the listener,” West said. “Man, it doesn’t get any better than that. So when you have a bunch of jazz musicians all talking, that’s what jazz means to me. It’s a great discussion, we work together, and then you deliver that to the audience , it’s the highest level of entertainment, you get feedback from the audience, and to me, that’s the ultimate level of music.”
Wiest’s credits include numerous compositions and recordings with Neil Slater’s One O’Clock Lab Band, as well as being a regular performer with Doc Severinsen’s Big Band.
“When you think about composing and practicing to be a virtuoso and maintaining and developing that level on the instrument, it’s essentially an often lonely solo act,” he said. “So when you’re working with other musicians, the music really comes to life for me, and then the icing on the cake is that you can also work with the audience.”
After earning his graduate degree, Wiest spent two years as the Assistant Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington, then began a 17-year stint as Director of Jazz Studies and Trombone at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. He returned to teach at his alma mater in North Texas for several years before becoming a faculty member at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. He has a natural affinity for dealing with young people.
“As an educator, the most important thing to me is what I can learn from my students,” West said. “What’s also exciting is the modern creative landscape. I’m learning a lot of groups and ideas and mixing things every day. They’ll come in and play some great stuff for me, from bands I’ve never heard of. It’s A continuous learning experience.”
After years in academia, Wiest feels he has finally “graduated.” He has been involved in several projects, including his first recording as a bandleader entitled “Excalibur: The Steve West Big Band”. Others include “Folding Space Concerto” and the jazz fusion band “Phrontage: The High Road.” Highly recommend the full horn combo in which Wiest is involved, called “Vinyl Hampdin”. It’s funky good music called “…what Chicago (superbands) would sound like if they started their careers in the 21st century.” was recorded by a group of international all-stars. He intends to bring in young talent from Chicago and Milwaukee.
“I’m having the happiest time of my life right now,” West said. “Since leaving academia, I’ve been 100% focused on having a great block full of ideas. I’ve always wanted to do that and they all inspire each other and keep everyone fresh. I’m very happy, it’s a very exciting time .”
Tonight and tomorrow, listeners will have the chance to dig into some of the excitement in June’s jazz.
“I was involved in two shows, and Friday night there will be a professional band consisting of Jay Wilkinson, coordinator of jazz studies at the University of Oklahoma,” Wiest said. “We worked together for a while at the University of North Texas. The band will be playing some of my original compositions and arrangements. On Saturday there will be a band of top Oklahoma high school students and I will be with a group of professionals Playing more of my originals and arrangements together. It should be fun and I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be the coolest.”
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