SUU Music Faculty Compose Jazz Inspired by Southern Utah Landmarks

Published: March 28, 2022 | Author: Ashley H Palmer | Read Time: 4 minutes

Southern Utah Jazz Collective CoverSouthern Utah University music professors have been busy at work through the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of reflection, they joined together with the faculty of Dixie State University to create jazz music that is inspired by the beautiful land surrounding them.

Dr. Christian Bohnenstengel, Associate Professor of Piano at SUU, shares, “The world of performing musicians came to an abrupt halt with the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of my creative outlets became writing jazz tunes, and I thought that it would be neat to bring southern Utah's best jazz musicians together to record an album. All of the musicians featured on this record and the accompanying Jazz Hands II album by the Shawn Owens Project Trio were on board immediately and excited to start working. The project was funded in part by the SUU Faculty Scholarly Support Fund, and the albums were released in June 2021 on all major digital platforms. It was incredibly fun to play with talented musicians from different backgrounds, and the improvisatory nature of jazz music allowed everyone to infuse their own style. Musicians include SUU faculty, Tom Herb (saxophone), myself (piano), and Jon Yerby (guitar), SUU MMMT alumnus, Ryan Tilby (bass and recording), and DSU faculty, Glenn Webb (vibes) and Robert Matheson (bass). The other featured artists include Nicholas Pierce (guitar), Issac Ericksen (bass), Carlyle Potter (bass), Robert Schmidt (trumpet), Jay Nygaard (trombone), and David Bolsover (saxophone). I actually got to play some flute on one of the tunes, too (Silver Reef).”

The landmarks that inspired many of the tunes will be immediately familiar to anyone who has spent time in southern Utah. Dinosaur Crossing was inspired by the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm; one can imagine walking with the dinosaurs to the medium swing tempo of Dinosaur Crossing. The somewhat unusual choice of baritone saxophone further underlines the connection with the historic giants. Sugar Loaf is a landmark of southern Utah's Saint George. The driving rhythm of the bass and piano accompaniment resemble a ride in a classic convertible along Red Hills Parkway underneath the large red sandstone formation at sunset. The Red Mountain Waltz is an idyllic jazz waltz inspired by the red mountains that are so characteristic of southern Utah. The classical guitar and absence of virtuosity in the melody and instrumental parts lend the tune an Americana character.

Ryan Tilby, alumnus of the SUU Master of Music in Music Technology, says, “It was a blast bringing SUU faculty into the studio; for fifteen years I worked as a full-time musician and audio engineer and had the pleasure of working with many jazz greats - SUU faculty is now on the list! Sometimes you get ‘book-learned’ musicians with great titles and little song-sense, but Christian and Tom are exceptions to that - they bring both to the table. Once we were behind mics we all called upon our time as students to speak the language of jazz. There's a great collaborative energy that happens when everyone, regardless of background, title, or profession, is united to make great art. I think you're going to hear that on this record. I was honored to engineer it and play bass as well!”

You can take the journey with these exciting jazz pieces on Spotify at the following link:

For more information about the Department of Music at SUU, please visit

About the College of Performing and Visual Arts

The College of Performing and Visual Arts (CPVA) at Southern Utah University comprises 26 academic programs including liberal arts (BA/BS) and professional (BFA, BM, BMEd) degrees in art, design, dance, music, and theatre. It includes graduate programs in the fields of arts administration (MFA, MA), music education (MME), and music technology (MM). More than 60 full-time faculty and staff are engaged in teaching and mentoring over 900 majors in the College. CPVA presents over 100 performances, lectures, presentations, and exhibitions each year and is affiliated with the Southern Utah Museum of Art (SUMA), Utah Shakespeare Festival, and the Center for Shakespeare Studies. Southern Utah University is an accredited member of the National Association of Schools of Art & Design (NASAD), National Association of Schools of Dance (NASD), National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), and the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) making SUU the first public university in the state of Utah to be accredited by all four associations. For more information about the College of Performing and Visual Arts, visit

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