In 1968, students in the music department approached Stanley Hettinger, director of the University of New Hampshire concert bands, and requested that he lead them in a rehearsal and training jazz ensemble. For the following several years, the students’ interest in the rehearsal band grew. Ultimately, the faculty of the music department felt that it was time to hire a full-time jazz band conductor whose duties would also include teaching improvisation and developing a jazz program. In the fall of 1972, David Seiler was hired and the University of New Hampshire Jazz Band became an official ensemble of the university.
Under the direction of Seiler, the UNH Jazz Band quickly became a proficient ensemble with high quality performers. The number of musicians in the jazz program grew so much that tin 1975 it was necessary to add a second jazz band. The new band was titled the Bratton Hall Jazz Band, named after the recital hall in which they rehearsed. This band was first led by Greg Belfony, a graduate student at UNH. The band continued to be led by graduate students until 1986 when Bill Reeves was hired to direct the Bratton Hall Jazz Band and the UNH Wildcat Marching Band. Both bands were taken over by Christopher Humphrey in 1989.
In 1973, UNH held the first annual jazz festival which was open to high school jazz bands, combos, and choirs throughout New England. Each year the festival featured performances by the UNH jazz bands and special guest artists. Guest artists have included Clark Terry, Bob Mintzer, Eddie Daniels, Al Grey, and Frank Wess. Since 1976, Clark terry has maintained a close relationship with UNH and has helped further the music education of many students at UNH and around the world. In 1986, UNH gave Terry an Honorary Doctorate of Music. Because of Terry’s yearly support and presence at the jazz festival, the festival was renamed in honor of Terry and is now known as the Clark Terry Jazz Festival.
In 1976, the jazz band traveled to Switzerland to perform at the Montreaux International Jazz Festival where the UNH jazz band was the first college band to ever perform on an evening program. Since then, the band has returned several times to the Montreaux Festival, as well as touring France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Austria, and performing on the U.S.S. Norway’s annual Jazz Cruise. UNH was also honored with the privilege of hosting Clark Terry’s 70th birthday celebration. The band’s performances in 1989 have been produced on a compact disc and on a PBS special.
The jazz band has produced several records and compact discs. The first, entitled “Live”, was produced in 1978 and includes performances from the 1978 Montreaux Jazz Festival. The second album, “Looking Into the Future”, was produced in 1981 and featured contemporary compositions and arrangements. The third album, “On Tour”, was produced in 1983and includes performances with Clark Terry at Sandy’s Jazz Revival 50th anniversary celebration. The most recent release was the compact disc in 1992, “Just Passin’ on the Language.” This album features arrangements by UNH students and some previously unrecorded arrangements by Fred Strum and Kim Richmonds.
Both jazz bands have traveled extensively throughout New England, performing at evening concerts and daytime performance clinics at high schools, both to recruit for the university’s Jazz Festival and to broaden and improve the education of the students. The goal of the jazz program is fulfilled by both jazz bands as they continue to strive to produce great music and to improve the lives of the students at UNH and members of the surrounding communities.