Meet The Jazz Audience

Meet The Jazz Audience: Ben Heemstra

Tonight, trumpeter Terell Stafford will perform in NPR Music's Live at the Village Vanguard live webcast series, in partnership with WBGO. Last month, as part of an ongoing social media experiment during our broadcast with pianist Aaron Goldberg and his trio, Blogger Supreme Lara Pellegrinelli wrangled students into our chat room from Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Kansas and Princeton University, where she's a guest lecturer for the semester. VCU Junior Ben Heemstra logged in from his off-campus apartment in Richmond, Va. And here's the rest of our Meet The Jazz Audience series. —Ed.


Ben Heemstra, 21
Performer: Aaron Goldberg Trio + 1
Venue: Village Vanguard, New York, N.Y. (accessed online)
Date: Feb. 2, 2011

Ben Heemstra of Mitchell, S.D. listened from VCU in Richmond, Va.

Ben Heemstra of Mitchell, S.D. listened from VCU in Richmond, Va. Courtesy of Ben Heemstra hide caption

toggle caption Courtesy of Ben Heemstra

How did you wind up in our virtual audience for Aaron Goldberg's Live at the Village Vanguard webcast? I play trumpet, I compose, and I'm a jazz studies major. The professor for my jazz history course [clarinetist Darryl Harper] gave us the option to check out the concert online for class credit, so everybody tuned in.

So your professor made you do it? Oh, no. It was awesome. I was already a big fan of the webcasts from Smalls and I was super excited because I'm also a huge Aaron Goldberg fan. I bought his album Worlds around six months ago. It's really moving. Aaron's playing is so light and tasteful. I was struck by his rendition of the Jobim tune "Modinha"; it's a bossa nova, but he did it as a swing — a really slow swing.

So Richmond. It has an interesting history, being that it was the capital of the Confederacy and all. It has a lot of jazz history, too. Rene Marie is a Richmond native; the bass player Nat Reeves, from Kenny Garrett's band. Steve Wilson, probably one of the top alto players in New York City, is a VCU grad and is from the Richmond area. James Genus, the bass player from the Saturday Night Live band, went to school at VCU. Today the scene is about more progressive jazz like Fight the Big Bull, a freer Mingus-ish type of setting. People are very open to experimentation as compared to a New York-style straight-ahead thing.

Have you ever been to the Vanguard? No, I've never been to New York. I'm pretty new to the East Coast. I'm from Mitchell, South Dakota. I grew up without much exposure to dense urban places like [Washington,] D.C., Richmond, or Baltimore.

You're telling me that Mitchell, S.D. isn't densely populated? Yeah, right. It's about 14,000 people.

I bet you have a CVS, a Dunkin Donuts, a Starbucks. No, no Starbucks. We got a Wal-Mart when I was in middle school and that was the biggest deal ever. It's not the wilderness; it's suburban, but there isn't a lot of live music. The entire state has one jazz club. When I was home over Christmas break, I played a gig with my high school band director and some friends. I was surprised to see the little coffee house we played so packed that there wasn't anywhere to sit. People there are hungry for more.

That means when you're home in Mitchell, you could be an excellent Goodwill Ambassador for jazz webcasts. Will you go back when you graduate? I can see wanting to move north to D.C. or Philadelphia. I'm also interested in Eastern Europe. Last semester, I got to go to Turkey and work with Skip Gailes, a Fulbright specialist at VCU who's been commuting back and forth to Ankara State Conservatory. They just started their first jazz department over there. I was amazed by the number of people in the jazz clubs every night, and we were supported in ways that I haven't experienced in the United States. That's something I'm thinking about as a potential life choice — trying to move to Turkey, to see what kind of opportunity awaits with the thousands of people who just got hip to the Internet and are now in tune with American music. It could be a really exciting place that most people aren't thinking about.

Well, let us know. If you're in Turkey, maybe we should be webcasting you: Ben Heemstra, Live from Ankara. That sounds cool!

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