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Jazz became universal language in Nepal

Hoping to create a free exchange of ideas, a select group of Willamette University musicians spent their spring break at the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory in Nepal this year.

“I got to teach, perform and share this experience with three of my best friends,” Matt Sazima ’14 says. “It was pretty surreal.”

The student musicians were Sazima, piano; Sean Edging ’14, saxophone; Thomas Shipley ’15, bass; and Jarrett Tracy ’15, drums. They were joined by members of the faculty jazz quintet, James Miley, assistant professor of music; Mike Nord, associate professor of music; and music instructors Ryan Biesack, Tyler Abbott and Sean Flannery.

In Nepal, the students and faculty members presented a series of concerts and workshops. They also participated in a week of classes, lessons, workshops and collaborative performances with young Nepali jazz musicians.

“Their take on jazz was just so interesting,” Sazima says about his students. “They learn music by ear, and they’re so in tune with each other. It was really fun to teach kids who are really interested in what I’m passionate about.”

Edging agrees, adding that he’ll always remember the spicy food, crazy traffic and tremendous fun he had performing and exploring with his friends. 

“I don’t think there’s a better way of ending a trip than playing at the Sundance Festival for Nepalese folks and tourists, getting a double encore and spending the next morning swinging into a 200-meter canyon from a suspension bridge,” he says.

Willamette’s relationship with the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory began in 2010, when Miley performed in the city’s annual Jazzmandu Jazz Festival with his group, Bug. Afterward, funding was secured and contacts were made with the jazz conservatory, enabling a Willamette faculty group to travel there in 2012.

Two years later, Willamette students tagged along for the first time. Miley says he hopes to make the trip a semi-annual tradition — alternating between traveling to Nepal with students and faculty and bringing musicians from Kathmandu to study and perform at Willamette.

“Working with these wonderful musicians in Nepal was a life-changing experience for our groups from Willamette University,” he says. “Their passion and enthusiasm for an art form born on the other side of the world is inspirational. Music is truly a universal language.”