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Columbus Makes Art Presents Professor and Saxophonist Pete Mills

Terence Womble Terence Womble Columbus Makes Art Presents Professor and Saxophonist Pete MillsPete Mills (middle) with Bryron Stripling (left) and Dwight Adams (right). Photo by Stephen Pariser.
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Like many organizations, Jazz Arts Group has pivoted its offerings to a streaming format over recent months. The group recently launched JAG.tv, an online platform for live-streamed and on-demand concerts like Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O (Dec. 17-27) and Home for the Holidays (Dec. 25 – Jan. 3). Pete Mills is JAG’s program director for the Jazz at the Lincoln Theatre concert series, a long-time member of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra’s saxophone section and professor of music at Denison University. We caught up with Mills to talk about the impact of the pandemic on the arts and how he has adapted his classes and performances to it.

Terence: What impact do you think the pandemic has had on the cultural life of the city?
Pete: The pandemic has devastated the ability for the arts community to interact in- person with folks at any scale. Columbus has for years enjoyed a very vibrant music scene and night life but all of that has been turned upside down.

Terence: Do you feel COVID has highlighted problems that gig economy workers, especially musicians, have long faced?
Pete: Yes, certainly. Many within the arts community are struggling, and not just those creating and making the arts. This has impacted the livelihoods of all the people who support the arts, too – the venue operators, stagehands, restaurant owners, waiters, bartenders and especially concertgoers.

Terence: How have you had to rethink and retool what you do as a professional musician, educator and arts administrator?
Pete: When the pandemic hit, the college where I teach had to pivot very quickly to online learning only. Over the summer, we were able to develop protocols that allowed us to bring students back for the entire semester.

Lessons and rehearsals took place outside with good distancing and masks. We had our share of challenges for sure, but everyone got a pretty deep understanding and appreciation for performing and playing music together, and how important that was, and is. Throughout the summer there were opportunities to perform outdoors from time to time but it’s been a real challenge.

At the Jazz Arts Group, we’ve had to rethink what “presenting” looks like which is why we’re launching JAG TV, a new online performance platform.

CJO Saxophonist Pete-Mills.
Photo by Stephen Pariser.

Terence: Has the transition from in-person to online been a smooth one?
Pete: I wouldn’t say the transition was smooth, but it was clearly necessary and will eventually be a complement to the in-person efforts we hope will happen again very soon. Much like everything else this year, we approached this with the understanding that at any moment things could change, that we’d have to pivot yet again to account for travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders, artist availability. And there is always our primary concern for the safety and health of staff, artists and audiences. I can see why some organizations have decided to cancel this season and start fresh next season. Getting JAG TV launched has taken tremendous effort and a huge leap of faith on the part of our staff, musicians, our partners and donors.

Terence: What can we expect to see at JAG TV?
Pete: JAG TV launches this week with a performance of Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O. Matt Wilson is a New York-based drummer of renown and originality, and his holiday show is the perfect antidote for our times. It was a huge hit on NPR’s Tiny Desk series, and I think our audiences will love it.

Within the coming days and weeks, we’ll present performances on our Jazz at the Lincoln Theatre series, the Jazz at the Southern Theatre series and PBJ & Jazz, our series of concerts for kids and families. Some of the local artists you can expect to see include Rachel Azbell, Phil Clark, Kelly Crum Delaveris, Sydney McSweeney, The New Basics Brass Band, Dave Powers, Byron Stripling and the musicians of the CJO. We’re also presenting internationally renowned artists including two remarkable young female saxophonists – Melissa Aldana and Alexa Tarantino – and drummer-composer Jerome Jennings.

JAG TV will help Jazz Arts Group share its music and art with its community here and the jazz community beyond Columbus. Get access to their live-streamed and on-demand concerts like Matt Wilson’s Christmas Tree-O (Dec. 17-27) and Home for the Holidays (Dec. 25 – Jan. 3) and see the full season rundown at www.JAG.tv.

Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the arts and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Learn more about local artists, organizations and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.

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