PIANIST TO BE FEATURED IN CONCERT With her first CD behind her and a second in the works, Valders native Kelleen Strutz will return to the area as guest pianist with the Manitowoc Symphony Orchestra. Strutz appeared with the symphony in 2001. â€œWe really always enjoy when we can find these incredibly talented people in our own back yard,â€ said Maestro Wayne Wildman, conductor of the orchestra. â€œEvery pianist dreams of playing with an orchestra backing them up â€¦ itâ€™s such a rush to hear that behind you,â€ Strutz said in a phone interview from Indianapolis, where she now makes her home. The concert, called â€œDark and True and Tender is the Northâ€ because of its focus on Scandinavian and Russian works, will begin at 8 p.m. Saturday, April 23 at the Capitol Civic Centre. Strutz is no stranger to performance; she plays piano and sings every weekend, both with her jazz trio and as a soloist. Add to that her guest appearances, benefit concerts, teaching and working on a follow-up to her 2003 CD, â€œsimply beautiful,â€ Strutz is one busy 26-year-old. â€œItâ€™s nice to be able to make a living purely on music,â€ she said. The daughter of Allen and Eileen Struz of Valders began experimenting on the piano at age 3, studied with local piano teacher Charles Bouc for seven years and eventually went on to earn her masterâ€™s degree in piano performance from Butler University in Indianapolis. Strutz will be featured in â€œConcerto for Piano and Orchestra in A minorâ€ by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. â€œItâ€™s one of the most frequently played piano concertos in the world,â€ Strutz said. â€œThe audience will surely recognize some of the melodies. Itâ€™s very brilliant and majestic, but itâ€™s also very lyrical and it has warm melodies.â€
A JAZZY CHRISTMAS Local artist Kelleen releases jazz CD of holiday favorites. She's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas. With a silky-smooth voice and honeyed melodies, Kelleen Strutz sings with the voice of an old-time torch singer that belies her 25 years. Her first album of Christmas jazz standards, "Simply Beautiful," was released Dec. 14. It is available at various Indianapolis locations and on her Web site, www.kelleen.net. She enthusiastically supports the Butler Community Arts School, and came up with the idea of donating part of the proceeds to support that project, which pairs young people with Butler students for music lessons. "A lot of kids in the community are coming forward wanting lessons," Strutz said. "It's a good chance for the Butler students to get some experience teaching, and to get these kids into a college environment." Strutz came to Indianapolis from Wisconsin to study music at Butler. She's been here six years, earning undergraduate and master's degrees in classical music. She finished school in May and now teaches with the Midwest School of Music in Indy. She's also working on an album of original jazz tunes to follow her debut. She plays every weekend at the Highland Country Club, and she'll be performing concerts on Dec. 31 at the Circle City Bar & Grill and Jan. 10 at the Chatterbox. Strutz on her whirlwind recording tour: "We were in and out of the studio in less than a month. It was like a marathon. We had to put together a lot of music in a short amount of time. I'm really fortunate to have the chance to work with these people. I'm so young, and they've been playing for years." On her recording partners: "The band was an all-star crew of local players, including Mark Buselli, Steve Weakley, and Carnegie Hall veterans Claude Sifferlen and Frank Glover. On her youthful love of music: "By the time I was 3, I was already experimenting with piano. I would perform at church with my family. When I was 11, I began intensive piano studies. Growing up, I listened to Barbra Streisand a little bit. I loved Fred Astaire in the movies. I loved to watch the way he would perform. When I got older, I was into Mariah Carey and Sarah Vaughn." Her thoughts on jazz performance: "I really was going for a classical career. But playing classical, you don't interact as much with the audience. I like to sing to the audience, to face them and get them engaged." Her thoughts on Indiana after six years here: "I really, really like Indianapolis. We'll see where it takes me. I really like (the jazz scene) here. I go out and play with and support all the musicians. It's a great place, it really is, with places like the Jazz Kitchen. We didn't have anything like this in Wisconsin!" What she wants for Christmas: "There's a song in my CD player called "That's What I Want For Christmas." It deals with non-materialistic things, like friends and family. The last line is "Fill the earth with peace and joy.' "
HOLIDAY JAZZ SHOWCASE Kelleen Strutz CD release concert A wonderfully unique holiday and more CD, Simply Beautiful, has appeared on the scene, debuting vocalist Kelleen Strutz, a recent Butler University graduate, backed up by 30 of this cityâ€™s best jazz musicians. Sunday, Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. in the American Cabaret Theatre, a CD release concert will be held. Tickets for this event are $15, or $10 for those who purchase the CD in advance. Many of the artists on the CD will play at this concert. The CD price is $20, with the net proceeds of the sale of Simply Beautiful benefiting the Butler Community Arts School for its unique arts education and community support programs. This is a beautifully prepared and performed CD that sounds like it came from a major record label, with full orchestra and strings. Veteran performer Jimmy Guilford teams up with Strutz to add some freewheeling spirit on â€œBaby Itâ€™s Cold Outside.â€ Frank Gloverâ€™s clarinet and Rob Dixonâ€™s tenor sax contribute eloquent solos along with the superb talents of all who participated in this fund-raising venture, aptly guided and produced by bassist Billy Meyers. Check out Roberto Monsalveâ€™s brilliant bossa nova arrangement of â€œThe Christmas Songâ€ with full strings â€” it shimmers. There are tunes wonderfully done here that can be heard all year around. This is worth the money for a good cause.
INDY JAZZ FEST 2009 The Mark Buselli CD release party at The Jazz Kitchen Graceful compositions and arrangements marked by suppleness in variegated ensemble/solo/section movement and progressive subtleness from seemingly simple observations to complex conversations in ever-surprising configurations is the Buselli-Wallarab standard. The excitement is in hardly ever second-guessing whatâ€™s coming next for a first-time hearing and the delight is in â€œah-haâ€ recognition of why it works during successive listening. The 9:00 p.m. set featured three pieces from the Owl Studios album: Buselliâ€™s layered arrangement of Tom Molierâ€™s swinging hard bop â€œArtificial Be-Bopâ€ featuring Rob Dixon on alto sax and Derrick Gardner on trumpet and two songs introducing Kelleen Strutz as an exciting interpretive vocalist bringing forward nuances of the newly composed â€œOpen Up Your Heartâ€ [music by Buselli, lyrics by Jennifer Johnson] and Buselliâ€™s heightened arrangement of the 1936 standard â€œIf I Should Lose Youâ€ [music by Ralph Rainger, lyrics by Leo Rubin]. Buselli voiced his flugelhorn on the first and Wallarab wrapped his trombone around the second in collaboration with Strutz. The set also included Cherokee, Play Song, Noah Noah, Pussy Cat Dues and Beehive, each highlighting the sixteen players individually and in sections, and each retaining the B-W credo of re-working standards only to heighten the original intention. Marking their fifteenth year of collaboration, which includes five previous CDs and many concerts, Buselli undertook An Old Soul as a solo project, to be followed by a Wallarab solo project.
Trumpeter MARK BUSELLI has been the co-leader with trombonist Brent Wallarab of the Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, a powerful mid-West big band based in Indiana, since 1994. Their prior albums have featured arrangements by both of the leaders as well as some other band members. For An Old Soul (Owl - 130), they concentrate on charts conceived by Buselli. This is a band that adapts to any setting from the gently moody "Chelsea Bridge," featuring some wonderful baritone sax playing by Ned Boyd, to the fiercely swinging Buselli original "135 B. Chiswick." Put a talented vocalist like Kelleen Strutz in front of the band, and they sound great playing the settings penned by Buselli. Strutz is featured on five of the eleven selections, Jobim's "If You Never Come to Me," sing nicely in Portuguese and English, "Angel Eyes," "Open Up Your Heart," an original tune by Buselli with lyrics by Jennifer Johnson, "If I Should Leave You," and "When I Fall in Love." She has a seductive voice that is wonderfully complemented by Buselli's arrangements. The title track is dedicated to Buselli's late golden retriever, and shows off his sensitive creativity as both composer and arranger. There are plans underfoot to follow up this impressive album with on featuring the arrangements of Brent Wallarab. Having heard his work on prior releases, it promises to be an equally fine collection of modern big band jazz.
Six years and five CDs ago, Mark Buselli and Brent Wallarab decided to pool their charts and chops and function on either side of a hyphen. Based in Indiana, the co-leaders and their 16 sidemen are forcing educators and jazz departments everywhere to take them seriously: one leader at a time. This album features Buselli as conductor/arranger on all tracks. Wallarab will be featured on the next release.
When an arranger spreads his gospel over an entire session, one gains insight into his technique, something that becomes clear with the very first track, “My Shining Hour.” Sections are tight, dynamics are shaded, you can hear baritonist Ned Boyd anchoring the reeds, bass trombonist Richard Dole doing likewise for the ‘bones, and bassist Jack Helsley is walking firmly. It’s the kind of clean, lucid writing and playing found all over the CD. Buselli’s flug and Helsley’s bass can be heard in unison on Mark’s original, “135 B. Chiswick,” a track that contains Buselli’s best flugelhorn solo. “Artificial Bebop” is a misnomer; there’s nothing artificial about the bop solos the arrangement inspires from altoist Rob Dixon and trumpeter Derrick Gardner.
Programmatically, “Fables of Faubus” and “An Old Soul” should have switched titles. Not to second-guess Buselli, but the title tune is a loving tribute to his late golden retriever, filled with flowing, contrapuntal lines, but Mingus’ “Faubus” contains loping rhythms and a backing punctuated by growls and double-time episodes. Instrumental highlight is Strayhorn’s impressionistic portrait of “Chelsea Bridge,” with baritonist Boyd adding to Buselli’s infusion of whole-tone scales in the atmospheric chart.
Another highlight is the auspicious debut of singer Kelleen Strutz. Blessed with good range and unwavering intonation, she contributes five vocals. Among the best: Buselli’s own “Open Up Your Heart,” in which she displays both range and pitch with her precise, wordless unison with the saxes; and her torch version (matching Buselli’s chart) of “Angel Eyes.” There’s an appropriately moody solo by altoist Mike Stricklin, but Ms Strutz has the last word and it’s a beaut..she cozies way up to a flat five, then resolves it by ending on the fifth.