UM jazz ensemble reflects on first overseas performances

Posted on Sep 12 2018 - 5:50am by Jordan Holman

The University of Mississippi’s jazz ensemble, The Mississippians, traveled to Europe on its first international tour over the summer.

The nine-day tour in France and Italy kicked off on July 14.

“It was great for me because it was my first big experience going abroad and really broadened my horizons as not only a member of an ensemble but also as a music major,” junior music major Jesse Gibens said.

The 19-piece band and its director, Michael Worthy, visited five cities over the course of their trip: Antibes in France and the cities of Genoa, Rome, Santa Margherita and Perugia in Italy.  

“We spent our first day in France among Frenchmen watching the World Cup finals,” Worthy said. “That incredible day set the tone for the whole trip, I believe.”

Worthy had previously traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Jazz Education Network’s Annual Conference in 2012 and to South Bend, Indiana, for the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Festival in 2016 with the ensemble. He said he believed that the next step for the ensemble should be an international performance.

“Europe is where the most prestigious jazz festivals are,” Worthy said. “We had to audition four to five years in advance before we were accepted and had the funding to even go.”

After landing in Nice, watching the World Cup and almost opening for Earth, Wind & Fire — unfortunately they were rained out — The Mississippians traveled to Antibes.  There, they participated in the Jazz a Juan Festival, where the likes Stevie Wonder, B.B. King and Miles Davis have played in the past.

After performing in Antibes, the ensemble traveled by charter bus to Genoa, Italy, where it performed Italian songs at a children’s hospital. That night, the group played in an outdoor amphitheater for the U.S. Consulate.

“The next two days were the highlight of our trip,” Worthy said. “We traveled to Perugia and performed at the Umbria Jazz Festival — one of the most prestigious in Europe. It was just fantastic. We were performing on a big stage in a medieval town square to a fantastic audience.”

The Mississippians’ final stop was Rome, where the group played at a film festival and visited cultural sites, including the Vatican and St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The trip was really kind of humbling,” Gibens said. “You can get into this Mississippi mindset that you’re one of the best bands in the state, but when you’re up there playing with some of the best jazz bands in countries, it is … humbling.”