Sixteen jazz musicians, one band director, and one Portland guest artist: Pacific University’s annual Jazz Nite is set for Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Taylor-Meade Auditorium. 

Band Director Michael Burch-Pesses believes any music director’s primary job is selecting the right music for the band and the audience. He describes the music he teaches as his “textbook.” Pieces need to engage the audience, but they must also challenge the band without being overwhelming. Selecting which pieces to play can be the most time-consuming part of being a band director, Burch-Pesses admits. “You have to strike a balance,” he said.

With that in mind, Burch-Pesses chose a program whose style ranges from a New Orleans street march to swing to rock ‘n’ roll. But the piece Burch-Pesses is most fond of is Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “In the Stone.” As a big fan of Earth, Wind, and Fire, he remembers when the song first came out, being captivated by the band’s flashy outfits. The song is rhythmically complex, he says, and he’s been impressed with the band’s ability to pick up on its rhythms. 

Drummer Jonathan Galeana is looking forward to performing a different piece—“Late Night Diner.” While the bluesy piece is mellow, “it gets you pumping,” says Galeana, “to the point where you want to rush.” To keep the band on a steady tempo, Galeana and the bass player have to be in sync or the band will take over. “I feel most attuned to the band when I feel synchronicity,” he said. 

Burch-Pesses has been Pacific’s band director since 1995 — for 24 years. Yet in all his years directing, he claims to never have had a perfect concert, and that’s perfectly fine with him. “I would much rather have a concert that is filled with happiness and humor and the emotion of jazz than a perfect concert that is totally dry,” he said. 

The students are what make teaching so worthwhile for Burch-Pesses. Every morning, Burch-Pesses and his wife play the gratitude game on their daily walk after breakfast. He makes sure to always expresses gratitude for his students. “I just love being with these students, and I like to hope that they sense that,” he said. “It’s all about the students anyway. That’s why teachers teach.” Tickets for the show can be found at


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