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Arts & Culture

The Performance of a Lifetime

The NC State Jazz Orchestra was the first collegiate ensemble from North Carolina invited to perform at the Midwest Clinic, the world's largest instrumental music education conference.

A large group of student-musicians in matching outfits holding their instruments
Members of the Jazz Orchestra after their performance at the Midwest Clinic

Over the last 16 years, the jazz program at NC State has grown from less than 20 students to one of the larger programs in the state, with two big bands and four combos. Last month, the Jazz Orchestra brought the program to new heights when it was selected to perform at the 76th annual Midwest Clinic International Band and Orchestra Conference.

Held in Chicago, more than 18,000 people attended the Midwest Clinic — predominantly music educators — from all 50 states and more than 40 countries. NC State’s Jazz Orchestra was chosen by a selection panel to perform at the conference following a highly competitive application process. In fact, it was the first collegiate ensemble from North Carolina invited to perform at the Midwest Clinic in its 76-year history.

“This prestigious performance was a unique and treasured experience for the students in the Jazz Orchestra — one that they will likely remember for the rest of their lives,” said Wes Parker, director of jazz studies in NC State’s Department of Music. “They have worked very hard to help build on the tradition of excellence that the students who came before them worked hard to establish in our jazz program, and they were all very excited to show the Midwest Clinic audience just how hard we can swing here at NC State!”

In addition to jazz students, three incredible local musicians — two of which are part-time music faculty — accompanied the group and were featured in the performance. Jason Foureman (bass), Keenan McKenzie (saxophone) and Kobie Watkins (drums) contributed their talents, and they were also joined in Chicago by world-renowned jazz artists Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Mike Dease (trombone). 

A trombonist at the front of a stage, with a band behind him
Trombonist Mike Dease and the Jazz Orchestra perform at the Midwest Clinic

About the Jazz Orchestra

The performing ensembles of the NC State jazz program consist of two big bands, the Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Lab Band, and include a wide variety of three to five combos each semester. In addition to the performing ensembles in the jazz program, there are also opportunities to study jazz improvisation and jazz history, as well as to earn a minor in music performance with a jazz emphasis. 

The NC State Jazz Orchestra is the premier performing group in the program and has twice been invited to perform at the North Carolina Music Educators Association Conference in the last seven years. The NC State Jazz Combo is the top combo in the program and has performed throughout the state. In 2019, the group released its first full length studio album, Whistlin’. The album consists of nine original pieces composed, arranged, performed and produced by members of the group and was guided under the direction of Parker and Jason Foureman. The NC State Jazz Combo recently recorded its soon to be released second album, For the First Time Again, in May 2022. 

The NC State Jazz Orchestra with their instruments in front of a sign that says "Go Pack"
The Jazz Orchestra pictured in Reynolds Coliseum last fall

The NC State Department of Music offers a strong music minor program consisting of general music studies, music performance and arts entrepreneurship. The department will also be launching a degree in music technology this fall. A large percentage of the jazz program is composed of students majoring in engineering and various other STEM disciplines, with approximately 20 jazz students per semester studying in the performance minor. 

NC State Jazz thrives by acknowledging the fact that many of these student-musicians are talented and experienced enough to pursue careers in music, but decided to choose a path toward another profession. The program provides solid foundational and rewarding experiences in jazz performance, and graduates leave with a profound understanding of the arts and an ability to perform jazz music at a high level. While some students in the NC State jazz program go on to careers in music, many others continue playing in their communities as they work in other professions. 

The jazz ensembles at NC State are open to all currently enrolled students from all majors by auditions that take place during the first week of the fall and spring semesters. Students interested in participating in the jazz program at NC State should contact Parker at You can also learn more about the jazz programs on the music department’s website,



Niko Badalamenti (Sciences)

Travis Pipes (Engineering)

D Alex Thomas (Engineering)

Garret Hitmar (Design)

Duncan Pickett (Engineering)

Ethan Newhouse (Engineering)


Gage Fringer (Engineering)

Marceli Lewtak (Engineering)

Aidan Dumain (Engineering)

Matt Farmer (College of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Sam Grant (College of Humanities and Social Sciences)

Quinn Morris (Wake Tech/Inter-institutional)


David Sweasey (Engineering)

Henry Sallard (Engineering)

Spencer Byrd (Engineering)

Holden Carroll (Engineering)

Jonathan Bennett (Engineering)

Ben Poovey (Poole College of Management)

Rhythm Section

Piano: Elaine Wolochuk (College of Humanities and Social Sciences/Poole College of Management)

Guitar: Jerin Smith (Engineering/College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Bass: Max Hammer (Poole College of Management)

Bass: Justin Kern (Engineering)

Drums: Isaac Drown (College of Natural Resources)