This year over Spring Break, the students and faculty of the Thompson Jazz Studies Program will give whole new meaning to the idea of taking their show on the road.
Twenty student members of the Concert Jazz Ensemble and six faculty members will be in Costa Rica for a weeklong outreach and performance tour.
John Gunther, director of the program, says the goal of the trip is to build connections with members of the budding jazz community in the Central American country and to give CU students the experience of performing at a high level for an international audience.
“We’re excited to be working with young musicians and visiting schools. Costa Rica is at a tipping point of more jazz education taking root, and we’ll be working with a few of the teachers who are leading that movement,” Gunther says.
“For the college, this is a chance to form direct friendships that will plant the seed for more collaborations in the future.”
An international trip like this has been in the works for the jazz program for more than a year. Gunther started to eye Costa Rica after a conversation with orchestra conducting DMA student Rafael Rodriguez.
“I had been considering a couple of different options when I met Rafael, who had been teaching in Costa Rica for more than 10 years before coming to CU to start his doctorate. Among other things, he was leading youth jazz bands.
“I went there with him last year and performed with one of those bands, and we were very well received. I was convinced that this would be a meaningful experience for our students."
This time around, the trip will be packed with visits to schools to work with young jazz musicians and public performances in some of the country’s largest theaters. For the CU students, Gunther hopes this is not only an opportunity to mentor others but to learn from the culture as well.
“My hope is that our students will see this as a two-way street. There are some really amazing musicians down there and we can learn from their musicianship and their dedication.”
Pianist Walter Gorra says the trip could offer an opportunity to experience a different take on jazz. “The scene is just coming up there, but I assume they’ll have a Cuban or Puerto Rican influence in their music, so it’ll be nice to get exposed that Latin jazz style.”
While most of the week will be spent in the capital city of San José, there will still be time for fun in the sun. Ziplining, beaches and rainforests are all on the itinerary for Gorra and the rest of the group.
“It’ll be fun to get to know the other people I play with all the time in that setting. It’ll improve our music to spend that time seeing the country together,” Gorra says.
Gunther hopes this opportunity for cross-continent collaboration is only the beginning for the College of Music.
“This is the first international trip for one of our ensembles in a long time,” he says. “International travel and professional experiences like this are a big part of music+, so this is demonstrative of what opportunities we can look forward to across the college.”
For saxophonist Miranda Stark, it’ll be a chance to immerse herself in how another culture embraces the music she loves.
“I’m looking forward to making those connections. Music is a universal language—something that we all share. I’m excited to see how the Costa Rican culture does jazz.”