Nationally acclaimed jazz saxophonist Dr. Jordan VanHemert of the Hope College music faculty draws on his professional training and his Korean American heritage to respond to racism in his debut album, “I Am Not a Virus.”
Released earlier this month on Big Round Records, a division of PARMA Recordings, the album features eight pieces composed by VanHemert, who is an assistant professor of music instruction in saxophone and jazz studies. As reflected by its title, “I Am Not a Virus” is in part a response to the prejudice and persecution that Asian Americans have experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the collection of piano-driven jazz band performances explores a wide swath of topics, ranging from the racially charged police killings and resulting Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 to the changing leaves of autumn, and includes an arrangement of the traditional Korean song “Arirang” (“My Beloved One”).
Recorded in two days last July at the college’s Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts while observing social distancing, the album showcases VanHemert’s quintet of trumpeter Rob Smith, bassist Kazuki Takemura, Andy Wheelock on drums and Hope adjunct professor of piano Lisa Sung.
Jazz journalist and historian Scott Yanow has praised “I Am Not a Virus” as “quite impressive,” stating that VanHemert’s piece “Autumn Song” “could eventually become a standard.” Writing for Local Spins, reviewer Dutcher Snedeker noted that the album “is something to be admired, from navigating COVID restrictions to facing such tumultuous times with a collaborative spirit yearning to create new art. It’s an album that celebrates a group effort while sonically providing justice to so many marginalized cultures through engaging musical experiences.”
VanHemert has been a member of the Hope faculty since 2019. He teaches applied saxophone lessons, the saxophone quartet and Survey of Jazz, and directs the Jazz Arts Collective. His research focuses on the intersectionality of classical and jazz saxophone pedagogy and how the two musical traditions can inform each other in the lesson studio through audiation.
He is an active composer whose creative work includes fulfilling commissions for wind chamber groups and jazz ensembles all over the country. He has written for the Zenith Saxophone Quartet, Greenhill (Texas) School Flute Choir and many others.
He is a Vandoren Artist-Clinician and Selmer Paris Saxophones Performing Artist. He performs exclusively on Vandoren reeds and mouthpieces and Selmer Paris saxophones.
VanHemert's many areas of performance expertise allow him to serve as a clinician for a myriad of groups, including jazz ensembles, saxophone sections and other woodwind chamber ensembles. He is frequently invited to serve as an adjudicator and clinician for MSBOA district and state jazz festivals, as well as Central Michigan University's annual Jazz Weekend. In addition, he has been invited to present his work at the Michigan Music Conference and North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial and Regional Conferences. VanHemert is a Vandoren Artist-Clinician.
Locally, he has performed in the orchestra with Hope Summer Repertory Theatre during several seasons; composed a jazz mass as part of a yearly Advent commission for First Reformed Church of Holland; and is the founder and music director of the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, an ensemble dedicated to increasing awareness and access to jazz education and performance programs in the area's youth. Most notably, HCJO recently partnered with Mental Health West Michigan to promote the “be nice” action plan, encouraging students to include music as a part of a healthy mental and emotional life.
VanHemert graduated from Central Michigan University with a Bachelor of Music Education degree in 2012; from the University of Michigan with a Master of Music degree in 2014; and from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 2018. His primary teachers include John Nichol, Rob Smith, Andrew Bishop, Chip McNeill, Ronald Bridgewater, J. Michael Weiss-Holmes and Debra Richtmeyer.
“I Am Not a Virus” is available for download through Amazon for $8.99.