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VU faculty trio keeps jazz alive in community

Billy Foster plays 'When Saints Go Marching In' with his group  Billy Foster Jazz Trio during Black History Month

Billy Foster plays "When the Saints Go Marching In" with his group, the Billy Foster Jazz Trio, during a Black History Month program on jazz at the Hammond (Ind.) Public Library on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011. | Scott M. Bort~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 13, 2013 6:02AM



Members of Valparaiso University Faculty Jazz Trio not only teach, give concerts, compose and perform Fridays at the annual VU Jazz Fest; they also keep jazz alive in the community as well. Founded in 1979 by Jeffrey Brown, director of the VU Jazz Festival and the group’s drummer, the trio also includes Billy Foster on piano and Bruce Evans on string bass.

The trio is one of the longest affiliated jazz college chamber ensembles in the world, said Brown.

The group has performed at Chesterton’s European Market and the Porter County Fair, where they have been spotted in red vests and straw hats tailgating from the back of a wagon pulled around the fair by a golf cart. “You’ve got to keep your chops up,” Brown said.

Brown directs the jazz program, teaches music industry courses and conducts the VU Jazz Ensemble.

Billy Foster teaches piano and Bruce Evans bass, both as music department adjuncts. Foster and Evans are retired from teaching music in the School City of Gary.

This year, saxophonist Don Braden will join the trio on stage in the Grand Ballroom of the Harre Union Friday, April 19, at 8 p.m. Playing with one of the guest jazz artists has been a trio jazz fest tradition for almost 30 years.

They usually play with the artist who has worked with the VU Jazz Ensemble as a clinician the week during the festival and who conducts them Thursday nights.

A partial list of past performers includes many jazz greats: James Moody, Art Farmer, Slide Hampton, Jimmy Heath, Randy Breaker, Frank Foster, Houston Person & Etta Jones, Bunky Green, Tom Harrell, Bobby Shew, Jon Faddis, Ernie Watts, Red Rodney, Henry Johnson, Clark Terry, Chris Vadala, Lew Tabackin, Richie Cole, George Coleman, Sonny Fortune, Eddie Henderson, Claire Daly, Ingrid Jensen, Christine Jensen, Jerry Bergonzi, Jim Rotondi, Eric Alexander and Billy Pierce to name a few.

In the summer of 1999, the trio released their first CD entitled “For the Moment.” Jazz Times magazine writer David Franklin praised the work. He cited the CD’s variety of styles, but singled out the first track. “The lead off number, “Straight Stuff,” is so evocative of Art Blakey’s ‘Blues March’ in the arrangement and in the style and quality of the superb solos that it makes you wonder if you’ve put on a late ‘50s Blue Note record,” wrote Franklin.

The CD features nine original compositions and three standards. Produced by guitarist Henry Johnson, who also plays, “For the Moment” also includes Dr. Odies Williams on trumpet and Brian Sjoerdinga on saxophone.

Their next CD, entitled “Journey,” features eleven original compositions by Foster, Evans and Brown and the trumpet of Dr. Odies Williams and saxophone of Scott Burnes. Similar praise followed, this time in Jazz Times Education Guide.

The three enjoy working together. “We’re like brothers,” said Brown of Foster and Evans.

Bass player Bruce Evans also conducts string clinics in partnership with the American String Teachers Association. A Valparaiso resident, he also plays freelance, performs with the Maralyn Gaza Trio and teaches bass privately.

In addition to his regular teaching duties he has conducted several jazz bass clinics at Valpo for Bass Day sponsored by the American String Teachers’ Association.

He received the Bachelors of Music Education from the Defiance College and the MME from Roosevelt University where he studied contrabass with Harold Siegal. He later studied with bassist Greg Sarchet of the Lyric Opera.

He also plays with other professional jazz ensembles in the region. Bruce is a resident of Valparaiso.

Foster also has his own trio and produces Billy Foster’s Jazz Zone radio show on WGVE-FM public radio in Gary. The show airs from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. He is also touring the state with FAME, a foundation-sponsored music and arts education program. His own trio recently released a new CD, “Portrait.” The CD features the work of Renee Miles-Foster on vocals, Bruce Evans on bass, Lannie Turner-drums, Jeff Brown on drums, Henry Johnson on guitar, Dr. Odies Williams on trumpet, Carl Coan on saxophone and Foster on piano.

Foster received a B.S. from Defiance College and an M.M. from Roosevelt University with additional study at New York University. He resides in Valparaiso.

“Billy’s radio show is one of the best that has ever been produced in this area,” said Brown, who encourages his students to tune in.

As a professional musician Brown has played drum set and/or percussion for Bob Hope, Engelbert Humperdink, Carol Lawrence, Robert Goulet, Shields and Yarnell, and Aretha Franklin as well as other Las Vegas- style shows.

He is a former staff musician for Disneyworld and Nashville/WSM Radio - Television Productions. Brown continues to play both drum set and percussion for some of Chicagoland’s leading musicians and contractors.

He was a clinician for the Pearl Drum Company for three years as well as a faculty member of the highly acclaimed Aebersold Summer Jazz Camps.

Brown has been an instructor of jazz studies and percussion at New Trier High School, Triton College and Thornton Community College and has participated as a guest clinician/artist at jazz festivals throughout the Midwest.

Brown has accepted several Indiana Arts Commission and National Endowment of the Arts Artist-in-Education residencies as well as National Endowment for the Humanities Jazz History Grants and Illinois Arts Counsel Performance Grants.

He is a past member of the Indiana Arts Commission Advisory Panel. Since 1992, his award-winning “Brown’s Music Bus” has been presenting contemporary American Music concerts throughout the states of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan to thousands of school age children, K - 12.



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