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Music professors step out of the classroom to play

Jim Pugh
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Jim Pugh

Trombone Jim Pugh has spent the summer touring with Steely Dan.

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10/1/2013 | Dusty Rhodes, Arts and Humanities Editor | 217-333-0568;

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — University of Illinois School of Music professors are performing in a variety of high-profile venues this fall.

Larry Gray

Larry Gray’s Oct. 9 faculty recital will feature members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. | Photo by John Broughton

On Oct. 8 (Tuesday), Illinois trombone professor Jim Pugh wraps up another tour with the seminal jazz/rock group Steely Dan. Pugh toured extensively with the Woody Herman Band and Chick Corea, and recorded with Paul Simon, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Madonna, Yo-Yo Ma, Frank Sinatra and many others.

A faculty member since 2007, Pugh was featured in Boston’s “Trombone Day” on Sept. 29. He gave a master class and performed in a gala concert at the event, which was sponsored by The Boston Conservatory.

On Oct. 9 (Wednesday), jazz bass professor Larry Gray will be joined by members of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians for his faculty recital at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana, at 7:30 p.m.

Gray, who also holds degrees in cello performance, has performed and collaborated with artists ranging from jazz legends Ramsey Lewis, McCoy Tyner and Nancy Wilson to the Lyric Opera of Chicago and dancers from New York City’s Joffrey Ballet. His composition “Five Movements” was commissioned and performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Chamber Ensemble.

He will perform his recital with the Chicago saxophone and clarinet player Ed Wilkerson, known for his leadership of 8 Bold Souls, Shadow Vignettes and the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; and percussionist Avreeayl Ra, who has performed or recorded with a long list of notable musicians, including Sun Ra and Henry Byrd (“Professor Longhair”).

On Oct. 12 (Saturday), saxophone professor J. Michael Holmes will be among the musicians of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as they perform Prokofiev’s Suite from “Romeo and Juliet” under the baton of Riccardo Muti in Krannert Center’s Foellinger Great Hall. As a relatively modern instrument, the saxophone isn’t typically used in symphony orchestras, but Prokofiev included several novel instruments in the “Romeo and Juliet” score. Holmes, who has performed and toured with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, will also play with CSO at Chicago’s Symphony Center on Oct. 3, 5, 8 and 11.

Charles “Chip” McNeill, the chair of the U. of I. jazz studies program, returned Oct. 1 from a two-week tour with “The Tonight Show” legend Doc Severinsen and his Big Band. Severinsen is now 86, but “still sounds great,” McNeill said.

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