Press release: Winter Jazz Night concert features GRCC alumnus Fred Knapp

Kathy Mullins
Executive Deputy to the President and Board Liaison

March 15, 2013 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Community College’s Winter Jazz Night on March 19 will feature a special guest: alumnus Fred Knapp, jazz drummer, band leader and musical entrepreneur.

The concert, which starts 7:30 p.m. at the St. Cecilia Music Center, 24 Ransom Ave. NE, includes performances by the GRCC Jazz Orchestra, Combo, and Shades of Blue Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Proceeds from the event — a $5 donation is suggested — will benefit the Ray Gill Instrumental Jazz Scholarship.

“We were very pleased to partner with the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians to establish the Ray Gill Instrumental Jazz Scholarship Fund in 2012,” said Professor Kevin J. Dobreff, head of the Music Department. “This fund benefits instrumental jazz studies majors to honor the memory of Ray Gill, retired Grand Rapids Junior College music professor and jazz educator.”

Ray Gill was instrumental in establishing the Jazz Studies curriculum at what was then Grand Rapids Junior College. He was with the college from 1973 until he retired in 1988. The scholarship in his name was established in cooperation with the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians Union.

“In addition to being a music instructor at GRCC, Ray Gill was a lifelong music educator and professional musician.  He played with the Grand Rapids Symphony as well as his own jazz big band and jazz combos,” said Gary Sironen, president of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians. "He was also a supporter of jazz as a board member of the West Michigan Jazz Society, an advocate for the business of music performance as a board member and president of the Grand Rapids Federation of Musicians - commonly known as the musicians’ union.

“The union annually offers scholarships to young musicians, and we wanted to honor Ray and his many contributions to music in a way that combined several of his passions – music education, scholarships and professional musicians. The result was a combined concert last year featuring the GRCC jazz ensembles and a Ray Gill Alumni Jazz Orchestra, featuring many area professional jazz musicians who had played with Ray over the years. Donations received as a result of that concert helped create the Ray Gill Memorial Instrumental Scholarship at GRCC.”

While at GRCC, Fred Knapp performed with the Colligates, the College Choir and Shades of Blue. He has since gone on to release four CDs and has worked with Diana Krall, Xavier Davis, Rodney Whitaker, Conrad Herwig, Sunny Wilkinson, Tad Weed, Tom Knific, Trent Kynaston, Shawn “Thunder” Wallace, Kerry Strayer, Rick Holland, Jon Shea, Kurt Ellenburger, Rob Smith, Steve Talaga, Dave Hay, Mel Dalton, Dave Spring, the Kalamazoo Big Band, and Evidence.

“Looking back, I have many wonderful memories of my time at GRCC,” said Fred Knapp. "When I arrived, I had very little to no musical skills, but was given many great opportunities to grow and perform. I was able to learn something from every faculty member there at the time, especially Duane Davis, Mary Scanlan, Kevin Dobreff, Rupert Kettle, Tim Froncek, and John Montgomery. Drawing from their years of knowledge, I studied jazz and classical piano, voice, percussion, composition, and arranging. The diversity of skills and opportunities to apply them really prepared me for my career as a professional musician.”

“I’m looking forward to giving back and hope that we can grow the Ray Gill memorial scholarship fund, so more aspiring musicians can pursue their passion.”

“The Music Department at Grand Rapids Community College provides a wide variety of performance opportunities for students interested in studying jazz,” Professor Dobreff said. "Along with our Jazz Orchestra and Jazz Combo, we also offer a vocal jazz ensemble — Shades of Blue — and private study in jazz percussion, jazz bass, jazz guitar, jazz piano and jazz voice.

“Students who want to learn more about the history of jazz as an art form can also enroll in a 3-credit jazz history course that fulfills a general education requirement for students planning to complete the Associate in Arts Degree.”

Grand Rapids Community College, established in 1914, offers opportunities for over 30,000 students annually in degree courses, certification and training programs, workshops and personal enrichment classes. GRCC holds classes on the downtown Grand Rapids campus as well as several additional locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.