Andrew Wray

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing health concerns for large gatherings of people, Lincoln’s Jazz in June festival will be held online this year. University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior and percussionist Andrew Wray will be the first performer in this year’s virtual concert series.

Wray grew to love music from his pianist dad and will get a chance to share some of his own work this Tuesday in the online version of Jazz in June.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic limited UNL’s music opportunities, the percussion performance major could be found participating in several different music groups, including the Percussion Ensemble, Graduate Jazz Combo, Jazz Orchestra, and Wind Ensemble.

“The Glenn Korff School of Music, and especially the percussion studio, is filled to the brim with people who are kind, helpful, skilled, and passionate about what they do,” Wray said.

Wray specifically noted his relationship with Dave Hall, an associate professor of percussion and jazz studies at the School of Music.

“He’s been more than a teacher; he’s been a mentor,” Wray said. “Going into college, I knew that I wanted someone who would fill that role of a mentor, not just someone who was really good at music, which Dr. Hall definitely is.”

Because of the encouraging professors and accomplished students at the music school, Wray said he’s been able to be a part of a lot of different musical projects in Lincoln and Omaha.

“[Performing jazz] has been one of my favorite things about living and studying here,” Wray said. “I’ve been able to play with people who are much better than I am, and I’ve learned so much from those experiences.”

Some of the musical opportunities Wray has experienced include playing at The Jewell, a jazz club that opened last year in Omaha, and with the Percussion Ensemble at the 2019 Percussive Arts Society International Convention, the largest percussion convention in the world featuring top drummers and percussionists. Last June, Wray was also able to travel with the UNL Graduate Jazz Combo to China, where they performed and taught masterclasses for 10 days.

Wray said he believes music is one of the most beautiful things that exists, as its diversity comes from so many different cultures and people from around the world.

“Music just somehow communicates on a deeper level than words can,” Wray said. “I think that music has an incredible ability to communicate with people directly and bring people together, and I want to continue investing in music so that I can be the most effective at connecting with people.”

Wray’s musical talents are shared beyond UNL. Prior to the pandemic, he frequently played with the Aaron Stroessner Quartet, a jazz group in Lincoln, vocalist Emily Bass and the Near Miracle, a rock-soul-gospel-R&B band.

While Wray was saddened by the university’s closing, he said he’s used his extra free time to compose more music. Wray said he wrote his first percussion ensemble piece and hopes to have it performed sometime in the coming year.

Wray said he mostly plays jazz music, but his own works have a fusion style made by combining different genres of music together. Wray’s set will include a mix of pieces he has previously written along with improvisations and live-looping, through which he will record several beats and then play over them to create a track.

“Improvisation is how I usually function musically, even when I compose,” he said. “I like to say that my compositional process is to improvise, then fix it.”

Wray said he’s upbeat to be a part of Jazz in June for the first time, no matter the format.

“I hope people will take inspiration from it to create their own art, whether music or any other kind,” he said. “I definitely hope they can dance to some of it too.”