Meet the artist: 5 questions for Rochester trombonist John Sievers
John Sievers (center of photo) studied trombone at the University of Northern Iowa where he performed with the university’s top jazz ensemble. The band released two critically-acclaimed albums on the Sea Breeze label. Sievers has also performed with notable musical acts like The Buckinghams, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Benny Golson.
In addition, he plays with a wide variety of bands in the Rochester area including Swing Street, After School Special, Brass Etc., and the John Paulson Big Band. The music these groups perform spans the gamut from rock to classical.
Sievers is best known for his small jazz group The D’Sievers. The group plays frequently in intimate settings across southeast Minnesota and also hosts a monthly jazz open mic at the Rochester Civic Theatre. Sievers has composed several works for the small jazz ensemble including the “Mermaid Shuffle” and “It’s All Downhill”, and he has a deep love for musical improvisation.
1. You are an instructor at RCTC, as well as a musician. Is there any overlap with your work as a musician?
Though I teach English at RCTC, I think there is a huge overlap between my teaching and working as a musician: both depend heavily on communicating ideas and shaping them into a form that has the potential to move an audience.
When I teach, I’m trying to convey how my students can form their unique thoughts into coherently expressed written ideas, and when I perform as a trombonist, I’m trying to convey musical ideas to my fellow musicians and ultimately with their assistance to an audience.
I believe the written word and aural melodies, harmonies, or rhythms are all connected by the urge humans have to connect on some level and expel a sense of isolation.
2. Why do you think it is important to have music in your life?
Music is an essential part of living because it allows the creative expression and reception of emotion. It allows the individual to become part of some larger endeavor that gives musicians, listeners, and listening musicians an opportunity to express individualism while also negotiating how this individuality fits within a collaborative community.
Music allows us to express and understand what might be impossible in other creative modes. Through music, we can both expel our fears and vicariously experience other’s perceptions. On another level, music is a wonderful social outlet that has helped me meet nearly every interesting person I’ve ever known.
3. Where is your favorite place to play and why?
I really appreciate every venue that allows musicians the opportunity to share their musical creativity with an audience. Any establishment that chooses to make live music, and especially live local original music, a part of their commitment to the community is doing a tremendous service to encouraging a culture that appreciates the arts.
4. What inspired the creation of the mermaid logo for the D'Sievers?
The mermaid logo for The D’Sievers grew out of dissertation research I did for my Ph.D. in English. My dissertation dealt with the intersections of English Renaissance writers who use the siren trope as a means to express their uncertainty about the morality of writing with a culture of New World exploration that frequently mingled myth and reality to explain the unknown.
To make a long story short, I spent more than five years researching Sirens and Mermaids, and I’m fascinated with how the they represent the power of music to allure. Mike King, a medical illustrator for the Mayo Clinic, and also an excellent guitarist, drew up the logo after we sketched it out on a napkin during a set break at a local club.
The logo includes a Mermaid playing trombone under water who is bent into the shape of a bass clef amidst waves that show the lines on a musical staff and bubbles that transform into musical notation. I like the logo so much that I’ve turned it into temporary tattoos, a t-shirt, buttons, and hats. Jim Fricker (North Coast Productions) II even made an animated version of the logo.
5. Who is your favorite musician and why?
My favorite musicians are those that have the courage to perform their music live to an audience despite the inherent risks of failing to make a connection with an audience. I appreciate musicians who love music and express their love with an intensity that allows creativity to transcend human imperfection. If the music is live, and especially if its local and original, I love the musicians making it. To me, it seems like Rochester has been moving towards a culture much more receptive to nurturing these kinds of musicians.
Click here for previous Meet the Artist interviews.
About Cassandra Buck: Cassandra is a middle school art teacher, as well as a full-time artist. She is involved with the local art community and is an advocate for women in the arts. She is also the creator of the city's first contemporary artist collective, Gallery 24. Cassandra lives in Rochester with her husband and daughter.
(Cover photo courtesy John Sievers)