Jazz in NKU


On a brisk Saturday night in downtown Cincinnati, a substantial amount of people have gathered at the newly located Blue Wisp Jazz Club to have a drink, socialize, and listen to some exceptional jazz music to enhance their experience. The place is comfortably low lit, with every table occupied with people chatting and well prepared dishes of food. Some have chosen to move their conversation to the bar while drinking their favorite cocktails.

However, no matter where you’re positioned inside the Blue Wisp, there is constant, warm rhythm of jazz music surrounding you, and one can’t help but stop, and fixate themselves toward the direct of the stage where live music is created.

On this particular night, students and faculty of Northern Kentucky University came together to perform select jazz pieces. This event came to fruition so that students could play their material out in a public setting, rather than simply playing for a good grade.

“It’s a great opportunity [for students] to take their lessons and apply them out and about,” Sean Fitzpatric said . “They’re getting to be professional rather than students.” Fitzpatric is a senior at NKU who’s working toward a degree in music and jazz studies.

Fitzpatric’s history with jazz runs deep; that dates back to when he was 16 years old, performing at the old location of the Blue Wisp. He was the one responsible for putting the event together.

“It’s a student ran group. The ensemble is made up of students but they perform on their own terms,” says Fitzpatric. “People hear about how great a program is, but you don’t understand how good it is until you hear them … [Indiana University] did it and we wanted to get NKU involved.”

Budding musicians occasionally find that playing in front of the public eye is a bit nerve racking, but for those who performed at the Blue Wisp, they found it to be exciting.

“We have to compete with [the College Conservatory of Music], it’s a good way to let the city know that NKU’s group is good,” Ben Bratton said. Bratton is a sophomore at NKU who spends his time in jazz studies with an emphasis on percussion.

Bratton has been involved with jazz music since the 4th grade; influenced from his father. Bratton performs monthly at the Blue Wisp in a group called Northern Lights Jazz Tech, a group that also includes Sean Fitzpatric.

Faces in the crowd consisted of locals from around Cincinnati, parents of the students who were performing on the night, and even some faculty members; most notably Brian “Boss” Hogg, assistant professor and director of jazz studies at NKU. Hogg has been playing gigs since he was 17 years old, and went on to College Conservatory of Music for his masters degree.

Hogg won a nomination for Best Jazz/Instrumental Group at the National Association of Music Merchants Convention in 1999 and has also recorded with popular performers such as The Temptations, Lonnie Mack, and Josh Groban. This is Hogg’s fourth year teaching at NKU, and describes the rest of the jazz faculty as “professional musicians.”

“[Students] learn humility, how to be humble, and they learn how to play,” said Hogg. “If they don’t succeed, it’s not because we didn’t prepare them.”
Out of the 17 students who were performing on the night, seven of them were performing in public for the first time.

“We expect them to play at a high level, and how to handle themselves,” Hogg stated. “We teach them how to handle themselves and that school comes first … not gigs.”