The ‘mother’ of the Mary music department hits a milestone


Kyia Zubke

BISMARCK, ND — For many current and past music students, Kyia Zubke has been their mom away from home. And for music faculty, she’s been the harmony that makes the department sing for the past three decades. From selling T-shirts and concert tickets, to coordinating the guest artists’ flight schedules and making sure the event goes off without a hitch, Kyia Zubke has done it all during her 30-years as University of Mary’s music department administrative assistant, and more appropriately — “jazz fest queen.”

“One festival in particular, I remember seeing one of the guest artists stopping a young participating musician and asked about the bari sax he was carrying and the guest artist talked to him about playing the bari, what reeds he uses, etc. and then offered to autograph something for him,” recalled Zubke, who enjoys being part of the student-musician’s experience at Mary. “That guest artist taking the time to visit with this young musician meant the world to that student as I could tell by the look on his face. We bring in the best musicians as guest artists for the festival. It is a wonderful opportunity for our students to play beside them in the concerts as well as hear their clinic sessions, and a fantastic chance for the participating school students to see and hear these talented musicians in concert. The University of Mary Jazz Festival is a tremendous learning experience for all the students and directors involved.”

The University of Mary Jazz Festival, the premier jazz event in the Upper Midwest, always brings an eclectic group of world-renowned musicians to the stage and this year’s 45th annual promises to be just as entertaining and awe-inspiring. The highly anticipated concerts feature individual artists and one quartet: Helen Sung, piano; Steve Davis, trombone; Corey Christiansen, guitar; Josh Johnson, saxophone; and True North, vocal jazz.

Music enthusiasts across the region have a chance to listen to these internationally acclaimed artists Friday, January 26, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, January 27, 4 p.m. in the new state-of-the-art Founders Hall in the Lumen Vitae University Center. Tickets are $9.99, while University of Mary students and employees receive complimentary free admission and are available online at, through Eckroth Music and at the front door.

Helen Sung

Award-winning jazz pianist and composer Helen Sung, a child prodigy growing up in Houston, TX, began her piano playing at a young age, and is now a main attraction at famous venues around the world. Sung began with classical piano and violin lessons at age five, then by her 20s during a Harry Connick, Jr., concert, had a change of heart that would lead her to the prestigious New England Conservatory (NEC) and the brand new Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance. As one of only seven students selected in the world for the two-year school, she became the jazz pianist for the inaugural class that featured a Who’s Who of master teachers including Clark Terry, Jackie McLean, Sir Roland Hanna, Jimmy Heath, Wynton Marsalis, Barry Harris and Jon Faddis to name just a few. Sung’s sixth release, and first with Concord Jazz, “Anthem For A New Day,” topped jazz radio charts. Wynton Marsalis named Sung as one of his “Who’s Got Next: Jazz Musicians to Watch.” She can often be heard playing with Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Steve Turre, MacArthur Fellow Regina Carter and ensembles such as Mingus Big Band, the T.S. Monk Sextet and ‘Monk on Monk’ Tentet, and Terri Lyne Carrington’s Mosaic Project and her GRAMMY Award-winning album. “Getting to be on the stage with folks like that is so heavy,” said Sung. “You just learn so much. Working with someone like Terri Lyne has been a great experience and inspiration. She’s had such a fascinating and diverse life. I love how she continues to be open and curious about music.”

Steve Davis

Jazz giant Steve Davis is regarded as a leading improviser on the trombone today and most talented composers on the jazz scene. “Steve is one of the greatest trombone players in the world,” said Freddie Hubbard. He gained worldwide recognition in the 1990s for his lyrical, hard-swinging style while working with legendary jazz musicians and bands like Art Blakey, Jackie McLean, Chick Corea’s Origin and the cooperative sextet, One For All. Davis appears in Downbeat Magazine and Critic’s Polls on a regular basis and has been recently nominated by the JJA four years in a row as Trombonist of the Year. His recent album “Think Ahead” is regarded as a master class in the art of reacting to the unpredictable by performing with an elite group of jazz all-stars such as Steve Wilson, Jimmy Greene, Larry Willis and Peter Washington.

Corey Christiansen

Downbeat Magazine characterizes recording artist, writer, educator and performer Corey Christiansen as a musical technician. “From the first note, Corey Christiansen lights a rhythmic fire that never flickers, punctuating chords with precision and soloing with zeal on this set of inventive originals and standards,” said the national publication. The jazz guitarist earned critical acclaim throughout the jazz community with his first CD “Awakening.” He followed that up with “MB3: Jazz Hits Vol. 1” marking a great leap in his national and international visibility and spent three weeks as the No. 1 jazz recording on North American jazz radio. Christiansen has also written several method books for Mel Bay Publications as well as articles for many major guitar magazines—including Downbeat Magazine.

Josh Johnson


Alto saxophonist, composer and recording artist Josh Johnson arrived on the jazz scene with a unique sound and approach to improvisation. In 2015, he earned the Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award for a piece called “Remember Forgot” from Holophonor’s debut record. The Chicago area native has made Los Angeles his home and headquarters after earning his bachelor of music degree rom Indiana University‘s Jacobs School of Music. In 2012, he was one of seven musicians selected to participate in the Thelonious Monk Institute’s master’s program where he worked with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. “Johnson remains in L.A., contributing to the rapid youth movement in jazz currently underway,” said Gary Fukushima of the LA Weekly.

True North

True North is a contemporary ensemble of four singers — Katie Campbell, Sharmila Lash, Fletcher Sheridan and Matt Falker — that brings a blend of high-powered vocal and instrumental jazz with elements of pop, rock and soul to present entertaining music. True North has appeared on four albums, including their own 2016 release, “Voyage.” Alan Paul of the Manhattan Transfer loves the quartet’s “tight modern harmonies … solos and improvisation from each vocalist. Keep your ear open for these folks on the rise.”

Zubke believes with all the big name guest artists, the high caliber University of Mary musicians performing and the number of schools attending, that this year’s festival could be the best ever. Knowing that, she’s not sure how many more University of Mary Jazz Festivals she’ll be part of, but knows they’ll keep getting bigger and better every year.

“At my first jazz festival we had 18 participating schools in attendance and one concert,” added Zubke, “For the last several years we’ve averaged between 55 and 64 middle school and high school ensembles participating in the clinics, and we have two concerts.

The greatest aspect of this festival is the opportunity for the University of Mary student musicians perform alongside and learn from the some of the world’s best jazz performers and educators. Additionally, more than a thousand middle school and high school students from around the region and Canada will be part of the festival performances judged by these renowned jazz artists.

University of Mary Jazz Musicians

Barret Smith, Bismarck, ND

Brayden Renner, Bismarck, ND

Chris Riedman, Bismarck, ND

Clare Dalton, Littleton, CO

Daniel Plunkett, Clarkston, MI

David Cicha, Mandan, ND

Gabrielle Nett, Saint James, MN

Hunter Fox, Bismarck, ND

Isaac Schwartz, Bismarck, ND

Jadynn Flowers, Bismarck, ND

Joey Meyer, Ypsilanti, MI

Kayla Sailer, Bismarck, ND

Kolbe Schanzenbach, Vista, CA

Kyle Nesler, Fargo, ND

Landon DeKrey, Bismarck, ND

Liz Haaland, Williston, ND

Marisa Mund, Bismarck, ND

Mary Borow, Winfield, IL

Mary Shrake, St. Paul, MN

Molly Schweitzer, Dickinson, ND

Nick Mortenson, Jamestown, ND

Phil Litton, Bismarck, ND

Rachel Goettle, Mandan, ND

Rachel Morrison, Aberdeen, SD

Rebecca Richardson, Kemah, TX

Sam Kroll, Bismarck, ND

Timothy Miller, Orange, MA