Jim McNeely left his mark on campus during his recent visit when he worked with jazz musicians.
McNeely is a well-known jazz pianist and composer and current graduate program professor at the Manhattan School of Music and William Paterson University.
The guest artist instructed several master classes with music students during his visit. Workshops with him covered many topics including improvisation, composition, jazz piano, jazz combinations, music business and career development.
McNeely’s visit was completely funded and coordinated by the Jazz Society of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Members of the organization coordinated the business arrangements and itinerary for the musician’s residency.
Mathew Buchman, professor of music and director of jazz studies, advises the organization. He believes exposing the music students to professionals in their field is crucial to helping graduates become successful performers.
“I think it’s one thing for them to hear their teachers tell them things day after day after day. It’s another thing for a guest artist from the outside to come in,” Buchman said. “Hearing that from someone else besides the people that they see everyday and from someone who has incomparable professional credentials is beyond words in terms of importance.”
Buchman said giving music students the opportunity to interact with such a highly respected musician allows them to put themselves in the musician’s shoes. It gave students a clearer image of the process of becoming a successful and professional artist.
Jacob Opperman, a society member, is a junior jazz studies performance and instrumental music education major.
“The experience of getting to meet and play with these players has been the highlight of every semester of mine, and it’s an experience I look forward to every chance we get. I’m really thankful we get this opportunity here because not many people get the chance to meet professionals in their field,” he said.
Opperman said McNeely emphasized the importance of keeping a balance between staying true to one’s unique style as a musician and simultaneously being versatile and adaptable to working with different musicians.
Kory Peterson, senior music and arts management major, is vice president of the society and found the improvisation and composition workshops incredibly beneficial since he is a jazz composer himself.
McNeely’s visit to the university concluded with a concert in Michelsen Hall Tuesday evening featuring both the UWSP Jazz Band and Jazz Ensemble. Each group included pieces featuring McNeely’s music talent.
The Jazz Ensemble performed five works, all composed or arranged by McNeely. The pianist soloed on two of his most well-known pieces, “Seiltänzer” and “In This Moment.”
“I just really enjoyed how human he was. In the jazz world, he is a pretty big star, and he has played with the biggest names in recent jazz history. To be around him in general just was amazing. For the jazz world, it is kind of like meeting a pop star and finding out they are actually really cool people and do not really hold any of that status,” Peterson said.