Finding his groove

UMKC Jazz Studies student reflects on program

Hermon Mehari could have gone to school in New York or Boston, but he decided to study jazz in the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance‘s Jazz Studies program. Led by Grammy-nominated saxophonist Bobby Watson, the program is known for its strong mentorship, world-renowned faculty, affordability and a location with a rich jazz history.

“I even received a full-tuition scholarship to Berklee (College of Music in Boston), but the expenses up there are crazy,” said Mehari, a senior Jazz Studies student, trumpet player and member of the UMKC Concert Jazz Band. “I feel like I would have been wasting my money if would have gone to the other schools.”

Mehari records a demo tape with fellow UMKC musicians for an upcoming competition.

Mehari records a demo tape with fellow UMKC musicians for an upcoming competition.

Unlike other Jazz Studies programs, UMKC’s program is known for helping each student develop his or her individual sound and for creating an encouraging environment. Watson also composes music for the UMKC Concert Jazz Band and sometimes accompanies a student-founded jazz band called Diverse, to which Mehari belongs. At the Boise, Idaho-based Gene Harris Jazz Festival, Diverse defeated 10 bands from across the country and opened for Roy Haynes, a legendary jazz musician who made his New York City debut in 1945. The quintet also won a record deal with Seattle-based Origin Records.

In addition to boasting an encouraging environment, Jazz Studies students have something else on their side — Jazz Friends.

Founded in 2000, Jazz Friends aims to encourage the creative artistry and talent of UMKC Conservatory students and faculty, heighten the eminence of the Conservatory’s Jazz Studies Program and celebrate the legacy of Kansas City jazz. Jazz Friends has provided scholarships, financial support for travel to national and international competitions, unique sheet music for the UMKC Concert Jazz Band and funding for guest artists.

“Their support has allowed me to completely focus on what I am learning in school without having to worry about the financial burden of getting through school,” said Mehari, who received a full-tuition scholarship. “It is nice to know I won’t graduate with debt from school loans. The Jazz Friends are the closest support I have in the Kansas City community as far as my educational endeavors.”

To raise additional funds, Jazz Friends will host “Jazz & BBQ” on Sunday, Oct. 4 in the University Center’s Pierson Auditorium, 5000 Holmes, Kansas City, Mo. The barbeque dinner and silent auction begin at 6 p.m. and the concert begins at 7:30 p.m. To purchase tickets, call (816) 235-6222.

“Jazz Friends’ has greatly helped the UMKC Jazz Studies program,” said Bobby Watson, Chair of the Jazz Studies department, Grammy-nominated saxophonist and producer. “Jazz Friends has provided thousands of scholarship dollars for my students over the past years, and they’ve supported trips to Texas, Illinois, Europe and Colorado.”

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