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University of Iowa News Release


Oct. 8, 2009

Fulfilling graduation requirement, UI saxophone student's CD is opening ears

Programming directors and on-air personalities at jazz radio stations keep their ears open for exciting new work in the ongoing stream of new CD releases. When they hear something fresh, they share the music with their listeners.

One of the recent CD's to catch their attention is "Complete Life," by saxophonist Joel Vanderheyden (, which has already captured airtime in Iowa, New York, California, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Nebraska and Michigan, and was named CD of the Month for August 2009 on KCCK 88.3FM in Cedar Rapids. But his recording is not the typical product to have an impact in the jazz market: It was self-produced as part of his graduate requirement for a doctorate from the University of Iowa School of Music.

After working for several years as a jazz musician and educator, Vanderheyden, who grew up in the Twin Cities area, came to the UI to expand his career opportunities. "I always thought I would ultimately want to end up in an academic teaching situation," he said. "In the sax world there is a demand for people who can play and teach both classical and jazz, and there isn't really a wealth of supply to meet that demand. So I thought it would be a good move to bone up on my classical saxophone chops."

While an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota-Morris, he met UI saxophone faculty member Kenneth Tse (photo, to right, with Vanderheyden), and later rekindled their relationship while serving as director of jazz during a one-year sabbatical replacement at his alma mater. Tse has a strong international reputation as a classical performer and teacher, and he was recently elected vice president of the International Saxophone Committee.

Serendipitously, at the time that Vanderheyden was arranging to pursue his doctorate in classical performance, John Rapson of the jazz studies area was looking for a teaching assistant, so Vanderheyden, who holds a Master's Degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Maryland, got involved in the jazz program as well.

"The Doctor of Musical Arts degree at the UI typically involves a language requirement, but they recently added an alternative to that, which is a secondary area of emphasis," Vanderheyden explained. "You meet with a professor in an area secondary to your major, and develop a curriculum that will fulfill a designated number of credits.

"So I met with John, and one of the thesis requirements for jazz masters students is to write, produce and record an album. Although it wasn't a necessary component of my secondary emphasis, it was something that I wanted to do anyway, and I knew that would be a great way to motivate me, so I told him I wanted to put that in as part of my requirement to graduate."

While studying classical saxophone in Tse's studio, Vanderheyden was also having regular jazz-composition sessions with Rapson, who provided critical ears and offered creative advice as he sought to create music that transcended routine formulas. "I wanted to get away from just having 'this is the melody' and 'this is the improvisation,' with each player taking his turn."

Eventually Vanderheyden combined new arrangements from works he had composed for the Koplant No quartet in which he performs ( with new compositions for an expanded version of the band, featuring contributions from additional artists, including well-known Iowa pianist Tim Daugherty, who is now pursuing a master's degree in jazz studies, and jazz faculty members Steve Grismore and James Dreier.

"I knew that I wanted Steve Grismore involved in the project, ever since I first heard him play," Vanderheyden said. "He's one of my favorite guitar players."

With the help of some flood-relief funding, Vanderheyden took his group into Iowa City's Minstrel Studios for four days in April of 2009 to record a set combining recognizable bebop and post-bop styles with more adventurous and eclectic tunes, incorporating elements of rock, funk and electronics.

Included is a tribute to the nonprofit "Tanzania Life Project" that was founded by his grandfather, who had helped engineer the autopilot for the Apollo moon missions. "They are an organization dedicated to empowering people in small villages in Tanzania, focusing on providing basic resources like water and electricity," he explains. "It started with a village that had a well that was broken and their water source, a dirty pit of muddy water, was miles away. Now they have three or four villages that they are helping get water and electricity, supporting the development of self-sustaining small businesses, promoting Women's Rights, and implementing HIV testing and support networks for orphans of AIDS victims with corporate partner Abbott Labs." (Learn more at

Ryan Maloney of the Institute of Jazz Studies responded to the CD, "The album combines distinctive and original compositions, skillful use of electronic effects, and solid grooves performed by a group of outstanding musicians, all of whom share the leader's clear artistic vision and creative goals ... the album immediately makes you feel good ... and is an album that is sure to open the ears of many new listeners."

A review in AllAboutJazz stated, "The ensemble's blustery and at times, hard-hitting work-ethic is devised on popping backbeats, synth-driven themes and Vanderheyden's moody yet often powerful sax lines ... occasionally hued with a driving wall of sound amid ethereal overtones ... ['Complete Life'] is a curiously interesting engagement ... the leader charges out of the gate with the impetus of a lion on a hunt. He's methodical, savvy and exhibits raw power when the situation demands it."

You can hear Vanderheyden and Koplant No this month in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota:

--Oct 15, 9 p.m., the Sanctuary, Iowa City.
--Oct 19 11 p.m., Elbo Room, Chicago.
--Oct 21, 8 p.m., Yacht Club, Iowa City.
--Oct 28, 9 p.m., Artists' Quarter, St. Paul.

"Complete Life" is available through Vanderheyden's Web site, and also through CD Baby, Amazon and iTunes.

The School of Music is a unit in the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: For additional arts information, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

CONTACT: Joel Vanderheyden,; Winston Barclay, 319-384-0073,