Oklahoma Baptist University

Bison Jazz Orchestra Travels to Brazil

Nineteen members of Oklahoma Baptist University's Bison Jazz Orchestra spent 10 days experiencing the life of a traveling musician in Brazil this summer. The trip was a milestone for the orchestra, marking their first international exposure.

View Scenes From the BJO's Trip

The group traveled to seven cities to play eight shows at churches, schools, malls and a conference in the São Paulo, Brazil, area throughout the course of their trip.

"None of the students had played in a gigging environment before," said Kevin Pruiett, Bison Jazz Orchestra director and associate professor of music. "To do that and hit so many places on the road is an experience that everyone needs to have."

Pruiett said because the orchestra played in different venues and conditions than where it normally performs, the experience challenged the group and helped them grow as musicians.

"It was fun when we arrived at the venues and set up in a new environment and watched the crowd gather to hear us," said David Giaco, a junior music major from St. Charles, Mo., who plays in the jazz group. "On the other hand, it gave me a firsthand taste of how frustrating and discouraging being a gigging musician can be. Things like traffic, lost and broken instruments, and the difficulties in communication opened my eyes to the everyday problems a traveling musician faces. All in all, I would say the good outweighed the bad, and it was very thrilling to tour like a professional musician would."

Despite the different challenges the group faced, one positive factor remained constant: the audiences went wild.

"The response from the Brazilian crowds was something I have never seen before," said Micah McCaslin, a junior music education major from Oklahoma City, Okla. "I thought the obvious language barrier would cause more confusion, than excitement, but I was wrong.

"I even got interviewed for a Brazilian news station at one performance. They were absolutely wonderfully engaging and just a joy to perform for."

Each Bison Jazz Orchestra performance attracted a crowd that filled each venue. Pruiett said the group realized how much the Brazilians appreciate American jazz when they played for nearly 900 students at their first show, a larger audience than they had ever played for at OBU.

"The crowds were amazing," said Griffin Maxwell, a sophomore music education major from Enid, Okla. "Jazz is a huge scene in Brazil. The people went wild. They always called for an encore. We knew we were never done when we played our last number. The yelling and clapping was intense throughout most of the pieces, especially the ones in which Micah (McCaslin) sang."

After each performance the jazz orchestra members were surrounded by people asking for autographs and pictures. After the school performances, the group also engaged in a time of question-and-answer following the performance.

The idea for the Brazil tour originated with Trent Argo, OBU's dean of enrollment management, who was planning recruitment efforts in and near São Paulo, Brazil. The jazz orchestra used the question-and-answer time not only to talk about their performance, but also to talk about all of OBU.

"They would ask what it is like to study music in the States and what it is like to practice jazz," Pruiett said. "We told them you don't need to be a music major to play in this type of group. Our group is made up of half (music majors) and half (not), which stunned them."

Pruiett and the jazz orchestra members hope to integrate their international experience in their performances this next year. Pruiett said he would like to use different styles of music the group was exposed to during their trip.

"It opened up a whole different side of music for me to learn which I discovered while listening to some of the styles of music down there," Giaco said.

The Bison Jazz Orchestra will perform four shows during the fall 2008 semester:
OBU's Blackbox, Oct. 24 at 9 p.m. and Nov. 7 at 10 p.m., in Sarkys Theatre;

M&M Pops Concert, Oct. 30 & 31 at 7:30 p.m., in Potter Auditorium in Raley Chapel; and Fine Arts Christmas Chapel, Dec. 10 at 10 a.m., in Potter Auditorium in Raley Chapel.