MSU President's column for Traill County Tribune

May 30, 2015 

Jazz On Tap +2 will provide a grand finale to Alumni Day 2015 festivities


Last year, a long-awaited dream came true during Alumni Days, when former jazz band students of Francis Colby were on the Mayville State campus to perform. These musicians were some of the best in the region and nation … and they still are today. I can’t stress enough the impact these young performers and their leader Fran Colby had. It was a thrill to enjoy their music, together with a wonderful crowd of listeners and dancers.

During the heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s, Mayville State’s music program was known as one of the top programs in the upper Midwest. Under the direction of Francis Colby, the concert band and jazz ensemble excelled. Mr. Colby assembled instrumental groups of primarily North Dakota and Minnesota kids, and in a short time, they became a strong musical force in North Dakota and throughout the Midwest.

Though the concert band took a back seat to no one, it was the jazz band that brought the national spotlight to Mayville. The group won “Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band - College Division” by the prestigious journal of jazz, DownBeat, in 1978, winning the Shure Gold Microphone Award. Other competitors included bands from the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, N.Y.; Ohio State University; Northern Illinois University.

Members of Mayville State’s Student Recording Award-winning jazz ensemble were John Pederson, Fred McMurry, and Roberta Knute on trumpet; Mark Vrem, Tom Loff, Lynn Schroeder, and Dan Finley on trombone; Conrad Miska, Merlin VanBruggen, Kelly Willwand, Diane Strong, and Paul Dickson on saxophone, clarinet, and flute; and Kirk Overmoe, Kris Eylands, Harley Strong, Scott Greenwood, and Mike DeFoe, all in the rhythm section.

In February of 1978, Mayville State was awarded “Outstanding Big Band” recognition during the renowned Elmhurst College’s Mid-West College Jazz Festival in Chicago, Ill. Mayville State joined Ohio State University and Northwestern University as one of the top three bands in the competition, which initially involved 50 schools from eight states. 

In addition, the Mayville State jazz band was runner-up at the sixth annual University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Jazz Festival in 1971. Sixteen college-university jazz groups attended the festival, with ten competing for honors. The six finalists were from De Paul University, Chicago, Ill.; Hamline University, St. Paul, Minn.; Laurence College, Appleton, Wis.; Moorhead State College; University of Wisconsin at Madison; and Mayville State. The Eau Claire Festival was considered a major jazz festival with well-known jazz educators contributing their talents.

In the contest, two members of the Mayville State band members received Outstanding Soloist awards, Dennis Connelly, who was a senior saxophonist from Lawton, N.D., and Steve Faison, a drummer from Elk River, Minn. In addition to these two, members of Mayville State’s ensemble were Steve Michels, Larimore, N.D., Mike Schroeder, Northwood, N.D., Dennis Clow, Selz, N.D., and Tom Orvik, Northwood, N.D., on saxophone; Wendel van Wechel, Mayville, Larry Ketterling, LaMoure, N.D., Jim Snustad, Hendrum, Minn, Alan Cooper, Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Tom Moe, Mayville, on trombone; and Jeff Nelson, Northwood, Douglas Barta, Minto, N.D., Curt Stegman, Neche, N.D., Wayne Hola, Hillsboro, N.D., and Kent Dalzell, Walhalla, N.D., on trumpet. The rhythm section included Steve Wymore, Mayville, on piano, and Jeff Jacobson, Bismarck, N.D., on bass.

Do you see any familiar names here?

Great news! You’ll have another opportunity to hear from a few of these fabulous musicians! Jazz On Tap +2 will be performing in the MSU Campus Center Luckasen Room from 8 to 11 p.m. Friday, June 26. Nationally and regionally recognized Mayville State music alumni Kirk Overmoe (’78) and Denny Connelly (’72) will be joining Jazz On Tap “regulars” Kris Eylands (’79) on guitar, Bob Cary on bass, and Mike Blake on the drums and vibes. 

You may be familiar with the Jazz On Tap group. They’ve provided their much-loved music on the Mayville State campus for the Northern Lights Art Gallery Gala held each year in January. The Grand Forks, N.D.-based group has been bringing their music to clubs, restaurants, wedding receptions, and private parties in and around the Red River Valley since 1984. Years of professional experience and a collection of performances with stars of stage and screen include Bob Hope, The Smothers Brothers, Martin Short, Ed Saindon, Mike Mainieri, Orlando Cotto, and Bo Diddly, to name a few, have helped shape their distinctive style.

You’re invited to come and dance or just listen. Enjoy the group’s unique arrangement of jazz, funk, and vintage rock music, and experience pure musical chemistry! You must be 21 to attend, and there is no admission charge. Please mark your calendar and plan to join us at Mayville State for this grand finale to Alumni Day 2015. You can see all of the plans for Alumni Day at Questions may be directed to or 701-788-4750.