"Bethlehem Meets Prague" Friday, February 5

Moravian jazz faculty members bringing "IQ" to America

Saxophonists Neil Wetzel of Moravian College and Rostislav Fraš of the Czech Republic will perform with the IQ (International Quintet) February 5 at Foy Hall.

With a rich musical heritage that includes the classical compositions of Antonín Dvořák as well as Moravian folk music, the Czech Republic embraces musical diversity. Jazz—a distinctly American music form that relies on the players' creativity—has taken root there too, and the Czech Republic hosts a variety of highly regarded international festivals and workshops.

So when Moravian College music professor Neil Wetzel and artist-lecturer Gary Rissmiller were invited to teach at the acclaimed Karel Velebný Summer Jazz Workshop in 2006, they happily accepted. The following year, workshop director Aleš Benda invited Skip Wilkins, a Moravian artist-lecturer and assistant professor at Lafayette College, to teach and perform at the workshop, too. The three have returned to Frýdlant each summer since then.

"Jazz tunes tend to evolve over time as the musicians provide their own input," said Professor Wetzel. "Jazz is very democratic and creative—that’s why I love this form so much."

Czech bass player Josef Fečo has toured with jazz groups throughout Europe, Asia, and the U.S.

At the 2007 workshop faculty concert held in the historic Frýdlant Castle, alto saxophonist Neil Wetzel, drummer Gary Rissmiller, and pianist Skip Wilkins played together with Czech faculty members Rostislav Fraš (tenor sax) and Josef Fečo (bass).

"We had a blast," said Professor Wetzel, assistant professor of music and director of jazz studies at Moravian. "We all have similar musical ideas, and their level of musicianship is outstanding."

Release of CD Frýdlant Nights Expected this Month

The group, which became The IQ (International Quintet), quickly gained notoriety playing its progressive jazz at top clubs and festivals throughout Czech Republic and Central Europe. In August 2009, the IQ embarked on a tour that culminated in a recording, Frýdlant Nights, a CD that features the group playing their original compositions.

"Touring gives you an opportunity to rehearse original tunes before you record them," explained Wetzel. "Jazz tunes tend to evolve over time as the musicians provide their own input. Jazz is very democratic and creative—that’s why I love this form so much." Recorded at the Czech Radio Prague recording studios, Frýdlant Nights is expected to be released and available by the end of this month.

American Premiere February 5

Next month, IQ makes its American premiere, when Fraš and Fečo join their American counterparts for "Bethlehem Meets Prague," a concert in Foy Hall, Friday, February 5 at 7:30 p.m. The 90-minute program, which features all original songs, will follow an afternoon workshop/jazz clinic (2:00 p.m.) for Moravian students. The IQ's 10-day U.S. itinerary includes performances at the Deer Head Inn (Feb. 7), Chris' Jazz Café in Philadelphia (Feb. 8), and a clinic and concert at Towson University in Maryland (Feb. 11). On February 9 at 4:00 p.m., Aleš Benda, director of the Karel Velebny Summer Jazz Workshop, will present a talk, "Jazz behind the Iron Curtain," in the UBC room of the HUB. The workshop, concert, and presentation are made possible through the support of Moravian College’s Arts and Lectures Committee and the Moravian College Music Department.