Bethel University Music Department presents 2024 Festival of Jazz Feb. 17

by | Feb 1, 2024

Tickets are on sale now for the second annual Festival of Jazz Closing Concert and Award Ceremony, which will be held Sat., Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m. in the Everest-Rohrer Chapel/Fine Arts Center Auditorium. Concert tickets include entrance to watch a “Masters of Improvisation” clinic before the concert at 6 p.m. in the Everest-Rohrer Auditorium.

Throughout the entire day on Feb. 17, 10 area high school jazz bands will gather to perform, learn and improv with world-renowned professionals. This is an educational event designed to help band directors improve their jazz ensembles before the ISSMA (Indiana) Jazz Contest in March. The event culminates with an evening concert, which is open to the public.

“When I think of what this festival is doing for these students, it takes my breath away,” says Stephen Allen, adjunct professor of music. “These young people will walk away with a one-of-a-kind experience as they interact with the clinicians and perform for one another.”

The concert will feature the top four performing bands from the day, a local professional group called Truth in Jazz and the Bethel University Jazz Ensemble, with guest clinicians Bill Sears, saxophone; John Fedchock, trombone; Eddie Severn, trumpet; and Bill Cessna, piano.

“Bringing in some of the top jazz artists from around the United States into an intimate setting like Bethel with 200 fired up high school jazz musicians will result in an electrifying evening performance,” Allen adds.

T-shirts and other merchandise will be for sale before and after the event.

Tickets for the concert and improv clinic are $10 for adults and free for Bethel students. They may be purchased online at or by calling the box office at 574.807.7080, Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 3 p.m.-5 p.m.

Sponsors for the event include JJ Babbitt, Conn Selmer, Quinlan & Fabish Music, Genesis Laser Design, BandTool/Legend Musical Instruments, SweetWater and Jupiter Music. This appearance of John Fedchock has been made possible, in part, by a grant from XO Professional Brass. Fedchock exclusively plays XO trombones.

About the Guest Clinicians

John Fedchock’s career in jazz has spanned over four decades. Since his emergence on the scene in 1980, Fedchock has established himself as a world-class trombone soloist, a heralded bandleader, and a Grammy-nominated arranger. An in-demand performer and writer in New York City, his multifaceted talents have made him one of NYC’s premier jazz artists. His critically acclaimed John Fedchock New York Big Band has become a marquee group, showcasing Fedchock’s trombone and arranging as well as the band’s all-star soloists. The JFNYBB’s five CDs on the MAMA and Reservoir Music labels have all received high praise from critics and have had extraordinary success on national jazz radio charts. The early success of the band resulted in Fedchock’s name appearing in DOWNBEAT’s Readers Poll under the categories of Trombone, Arranger and Big Band, simultaneously for several consecutive years. In recognition of his formidable arranging skills, Fedchock is a two-time GRAMMY Award nominee for “Best Instrumental Arrangement.” The JFNYBB’s recordings have appeared in jazz radio’s Top Ten, and the New York Times has applauded the band’s “Cheerful Syncopation, Served with Spit-and-Polish Precision.” Small group projects with his quartet and NY Sextet showcase A-list sidemen along with Fedchock’s “incomparable trombone playing, which seems to have no limit, technically or musically” (

Bill Sears is a versatile saxophonist who is comfortable in a variety of musical settings. His engaging style reflects his deep appreciation for the entire history of the saxophone, from lush ballads reminiscent of the swing masters to the searing intensity of today’s music. Originally from Racine, Wis., Sears received his B.M. and M.M. degrees from Indiana University where his primary teachers and influences were David Baker and Eugene Rousseau. After freelancing around the Indianapolis area for a short time, he moved to Chicago for five years in the mid-1980s. During this time, he was a staple in the jazz and show scene and performed with many of Chicago’s finest jazz groups. In 1987, Sears left Chicago to become director of jazz studies at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, where he continues to teach and live. Sears has toured the US and Europe with the Ray Charles Band and has performed with Dizzy Gillespie, Geoff Keezer, Rick Margitza, Bill Evans (saxophonist), Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Art Farmer, Louis Bellson, Bobby Shew, Frank Mantooth, Aretha Franklin, The Manhattan Transfer, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Natalie Cole, Lou Rawls, the Nelson Riddle Orchestra and many others. He has released two albums under his own name, “Chasin’ The Goal” featuring Rick Margitza and “With One Accord” with the Arts Center Jazz Collective. Both recordings also include several of his compositions. He also appears on albums with Frank Mantooth, The Jazz Members Big Band, Ashley Alexander, Marshall Vente and Dominic Spera. In addition to his experience in jazz and commercial music, Sears has also appeared with the Grand Rapids, Indianapolis and Traverse City Symphony Orchestras. Sears recently retired from the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in the spring of 2021; however, he remains quite active as a clinician and performing with his own group. Sears plans to spend more time with his wife, kids and three young grandchildren — and to continue to play jazz. “My career as a musician is not ending,” he says. “I look forward to performing and exploring the things that I haven’t had time to explore in music.”

Eddie Severn is a British-born trumpeter notable for his ability to adapt to many musical styles. His performing career spans more than 30 years. From his extensive work as a lead trumpet player in the commercial music world to his innovative performances as a soloist playing his own compositions, Severn is equally at home playing pop, Latin, jazz and classical styles. Severn has performed with many well-known musicians including Maria Schneider, Benny Golson, Phil Woods Big Band, Dave Leibman Big Band, The Temptations, Kenny Rogers, The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, The Four Freshmen and the English Symphony Orchestra. In addition to being the former lead trumpet player with the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra for six years, he has performed and recorded music for television, radio and theatre, as well as on numerous pop sessions and touring Broadway shows. Severn composes music for his own groups and freelances as a solo performer and clinician, spending time both in Europe and the United States. As an educator, Severn has extensive experience directing big bands and teaching both jazz studies and trumpet. He has been on the faculty at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Birmingham Conservatoire of Music in England and a regular visiting artist at Penn State University. Severn holds a Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Salford in Manchester, England.

Bill Cessna is a jazz pianist/multi-instrumentalist with a mission to create and present musical experiences that preserve and celebrate Jazz Music and the genius of improvisation. He began his studies for jazz piano on scholarship at Columbia College Chicago in 2009. During his undergraduate time, he had the opportunity to study under Peter Saxe, Dennis Luxion, Donald Neale and Sebastian Huydts. After graduating in 2013, Cessna quickly became an in-demand sideman in Chicago’s vibrant music scene. He has performed regularly with various salsa bands, jazz ensembles and his own trio at venues such as The Jazz Showcase, The Green Mill, Andy’s Jazz Club, Pianoforte, Winter’s Jazz Club, Merriman’s Playhouse, Cliff Bells and The Jazz Estate. He has also performed in festivals including The Chicago Jazz Fest, Hyde Park Jazz Festival, South Shore Jazz Fest, New Trier Jazz Fest and Elmhurst Jazz Fest. Cessna graduated from Western Michigan University in 2022 with a master’s degree in jazz piano. He maintains a busy performance schedule both in the Chicago and Detroit areas, as well as continuing to teach and grow his private piano studio with students of all ages and skill levels. He is also currently performing, composing and leading his own group, the Bill Cessna Trio, which released their first album “Background Music” in 2022. The mission of the group pays homage to the musicians who inspire them, incorporating original music to present meaningful musical experiences to all audiences. Currently, the group is preparing to record their second album “Billy Boy!” featuring all original compositions to be released in 2024. “The best compliment I can receive is when people tell me they do not listen to jazz, but enjoyed hearing or watching us play,” Cessna says.