A Golden Opportunity

Photo by Anna Webber; Illustration & design by Sean David Christensen.

April’s live events at USC Thornton start off with a bang when GRAMMY Award-winning jazz group Yellowjackets performs with USC Thornton Winds on April 1.


Audiences are in for a treat during USC Thornton’s first event in April when the USC Thornton Winds is joined by GRAMMY Award-winning jazz quartet Yellowjackets, who were named the USC Thornton Ensemble-in-Residence for the 2021-2022 academic year. The concert marks the start of a month full of live performances from students across USC’s Thornton’s departments and programs.

Thornton Jazz Studies Department faculty members Bob Mintzer and Russell Ferrante, Thornton Popular Music program faculty member William Kennedy and Australian bass player Dane Alderson comprise the commercially and critically lauded Yellowjackets, a group who has recorded 25 albums, received 17 GRAMMY nominations and won two GRAMMYs in its more than 40 years of history.

During the concert, held April 1 at 7 p.m. in the USC Bovard Auditorium, USC Thornton Winds will perform together with Yellowjackets on a pair of their original songs: “With These Hands,” from Yellowjackets’ 1997 release Blue Hats, and “Father Time” from 1995’s Dreamland. Yellowjackets will also perform as a quartet.

“The musicians that make up the Yellowjackets are brilliant, world-class musicians, and there’s a reason why they’ve had a successful career of 40-plus years. Our wind and percussion students will benefit immensely from their talents. We are so looking forward to this collaboration,” says Sharon Lavery, chair of the Thornton Winds & Percussion Department and resident conductor of Thornton orchestras. 

Student saxophonist performs onstage indoors with an orchestra led by a conductor in the background.
Feb. 11, 2022: Guest conductor Gregory X. Whitmore leads the USC Thornton Winds in a performance of Jules Pegram’s Concerto for Alto Saxophone and Wind Ensemble, featuring student-soloist Francis Cisneros. (Photo by Dario Griffin.)

Lavery, along with guest conductor and USC Thornton Composition program faculty member Frank Ticheli, will lead the USC Thornton Winds. The evening’s program also includes Lux Perpetua, written by Ticheli, which explores the idea of light as a protector and illuminator. Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman pays homage to Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, even employing its same instrumentation. The program ends with Omar Thomas’ Come Sunday, a two-movement tribute to the central role of the Hammond organ in Black worship services.

Mintzer calls this collaboration between his celebrated jazz ensemble and Thornton orchestral musicians “a golden opportunity” for students in the school’s classical division to hone their skills in a new musical style with instruction from expert players and educators.

“The broad stylistic repertoire of the Yellowjackets encompasses elements of classical music and so much more. The educational experience of our students having the opportunity to diversify their musical palate is something that will broaden their artistry and give them a wider assortment of skills that can only enhance their professional activities later in life,” he says.

Thornton master’s student and tubist Derek Zimmerman says he’s overjoyed to learn from storied jazz musicians like Mintzer, Ferrante and Kennedy, let alone to share the stage with them.

“There are different types of syncopation in Yellowjackets music that we wouldn’t find in Mozart or things we would typically play. It’s a new, fresh sound we get to make as an ensemble,” he says.

Lavery says this kind of “cross-pollination” across departments can only lead to improved musicianship for her students.

“Not only is this a style that our classical students need to learn for their careers, but the idea of exploring improvisation can also make for a more well-rounded musician,” she says. 

“The quartet has performed with symphony orchestras around the globe,” Mintzer says, “and the opportunity for the Yellowjackets to join forces with the Thornton Winds ensemble is an important introduction into the area of possibilities where jazz and classical come together at Thornton, something which is long overdue. Hopefully there will be many more projects of this kind down the road.”


Live events at USC Thornton continue throughout April with a host of musical styles ranging from popular music to jazz to choral music to opera. Below is a complete list of April’s live events at USC Thornton. RSVP in advance to attend.

USC Thornton Winds with the Yellowjackets perform at the USC Bovard Auditorium Friday, April 1 at 7 p.m.

Students in the USC Thornton Studio Guitar program perform at the Studio Guitar Ensemble Showcase Friday, April 1 at 8 p.m. at the Carson Center.

Jazz Night at Carson on Monday, April 4 at 7 p.m. in the Carson Center features a blend of original compositions and standards featuring the Honors Combo led by Thornton faculty member Jason Goldman, the USC Thornton Concert Jazz Orchestra, led by trombonist and alumnus Jon Hatamiya, and a combo led by pianist and Thornton faculty member David Arnay.

Joseph Pereira leads the USC Percussion Group in a program including “Unexpected Paths,” percussion ensemble music by JaRon Brown and Masakazu Natsuda, as well as mallet quartets led by Pereira and Steve Reich on Tuesday, April 5 at 7:30 p.m. in Newman Recital Hall.

Students from the Pop Strings Ensemble and the Americana Ensemble perform an intimate showcase on Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m. in The Songwriter’s Theater.

The USC Thornton Concert Choir presents selections of music from all over the world in a kaleidoscope of stories, including the works by celebrated contemporary composers Dale Trumbore and Morten Lauridsen on Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m. in Newman Recital Hall.

The USC Thornton Apollo and Oriana choirs present I Can and I Will, a musical journey through despair and fear to ecstasy and love, proving music’s power to encourage us to persevere on Sunday, April 10 at 7 p.m. in Newman Recital Hall.

Two student performers on stage in fantasy costumes for a theatrical production.
April 21-24 at the Bing Theatre, USC Thornton Opera and Uniarts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy collaborate on the U.S. premiere of All The Truths We Cannot See: A Chernobyl Story, an opera chronicling the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. An international cast will feature student-performers from USC Thornton and the Sibelius Academy with a production directed and designed by faculty and designers from both countries. (Photo courtesy of the Sibelius Academy)

Jazz Night at Carson on Monday, April 11 at 7 p.m. in the Carson Center includes a series of three combos led by Thornton faculty members Vince Mendoza and John Thomas.

Faculty member Donald Crockett leads new music ensemble Thornton Edge in an evening performance featuring Olly Wilson’s classic, “A City Called Heaven,” on Tuesday, April 12 at 7:30 p.m. in Newman Recital Hall.

The USC University Chorus performs selections from Hugo Wolf, Abbie Betinis and Claude Debussy to provide commentary on the true nature of beauty, which can be found in both light and dark, in happiness and in sorrow, on Friday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. at the Shatto Chapel, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

On Friday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Bovard Auditorium, the USC Thornton Chamber Orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Robert Moody, performs beloved works from the greats, including Piano Concerto No 14 in E-flat Major from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johann Sebastian Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, Igor Stravinsky’s one act ballet, “Pulcinella,” and Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 in D Major, also known as his “Classical” symphony. Percussionists Soojin Kang and David Riccobono and pianist Katelyn Vahala are featured student-soloists and winners of the USC Thornton Concerto Competition.

Jazz Night at Carson on Monday, April 18 at 7 p.m. at the Carson Center features a blend of original compositions and standards performed by USC Thornton students, including the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra, led by jazz studies department chair Jason Goldman; the Landon Grigsby Big Band and a combo led by Thornton faculty member Kathleen Grace.

Pepe Romero, a classical and flamenco guitarist and adjunct professor in the USC Thornton Classical Guitar program who has been invited to play at the White House and the Vatican for Pope John Paul II, will present a series of masterclasses on theory and technique at USC Brain and Creativity Institute’s Joyce J. Cammilleri Hall April 18 and 19.

From April 21-24 at the Bing Theatre, USC Thornton Opera and Uniarts Helsinki’s Sibelius Academy collaborate on the U.S. premiere of All The Truths We Cannot See: A Chernobyl Story, an opera chronicling the Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. An international cast will feature student-performers from USC Thornton and the Sibelius Academy with a production directed and designed by faculty and designers from both countries.

Popular music students perform indoors on a colorfully-lit stage.
A choir of music students performs indoors.
A concert jazz orchestra of music students performs indoors.

Live events at USC Thornton continue throughout April with a host of musical styles ranging from popular music to jazz to choral music to opera.
(Photo credits from left to right: Christian Ng, Ben Gibbs, Dario Griffin.)

On Sunday, April 24 at 7:30 p.m. at Los Angeles’ Saint Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, the USC Thornton Chamber Singers present Bridging the Pacific, a showcase of a variety of choral pieces that represent diverse traditions. Featuring compositions by USC Thornton alumni — including premieres by composers Dale Tumbore, Matthew Brown and Stacey Gibbs — alongside compositions by Pacific Rim composers, this concert serves as a preview for the Chamber Singers’ tour of Taiwan.

As part of USC Thornton’s series of chamber music showcases, students from the winds & percussion department present an evening of chamber music on Monday, April 25 at 5 p.m. at Newman Recital Hall.

Students from the strings department present an evening of chamber music on Tuesday, April 26 at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Newman Recital Hall.

Students from the USC Thornton Popular Music program, hailed by Rolling Stone as “the cutting-edge department that’s become the site of Los Angeles’ most productive new music scenes,” refine their songwriting craft in the second-year showcase on Wednesday, April 27 at 8 p.m. at the Carson Center.

Classical guitar students present an evening of chamber music on Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. in Newman Recital Hall.

Students from the USC Thornton Popular Music program, hailed by Rolling Stone as “the cutting-edge department that’s become the site of Los Angeles’ most productive new music scenes,” refine their songwriting craft in the first-year showcase on Thursday, April 28 at 8 p.m. at Tommy’s Place.

Baroque Sinfonia, the early music ensemble of USC Thornton led by Adam Gilbert, presents Music of England and Colonial America, featuring music by Henry Purcell and William Billings, African American spirituals and shape-notes hymns and anthems on Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. in Newman Recital Hall.

Students from the USC Thornton Popular Music program, hailed by Rolling Stone as “the cutting-edge department that’s become the site of Los Angeles’ most productive new music scenes,” refine their songwriting craft in the third-year showcase on Friday, April 29 at 8 p.m. at the Carson Center.