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About the Straight Ahead Jazz Quintet

February 24, 2012

Straight Ahead Jazz Quintet at Sweetwater Grill & Tavern

If you are searching for smooth, quality jazz, steeped in Denton-University of North Texas musical excellence, you will find it with the Straight Ahead Jazz Quintet. The group is vocalist Heather Paterson; Walter Pearson, saxophone; pianist Neil Slater; Henry Okstel, Drummer; and Bassist Bill Seitz.

Swing by Sweetwater Grill & Tavern, 115 S. Elm in Denton, Sunday, Feb. 28, to take in the SAJQ live from 7 – 9 p.m.

The group, founded by Walter Pearson and Heather Paterson in 1987, performs standard and classic popular and jazz compositions with a style adaptable to club, concert, dancing and special event audiences, public or private.

*Click here for a listen:

Heather Paterson studied music at SMU where she received a degree in vocal performance and pedagogy. She has taught voice in the Dallas area and sung with several jazz-pop groups. In addition to the SAJQ, Heather freelances with other jazz groups and local big bands. She has been a featured individual performer at the Sammons Center Jazz Series and conducted forums for the vocal division of the Department of Jazz Studies at UNT.

* Paterson was named Jazz Performer of the Year 2011 by The Sammons Center for the Arts in Dallas. In earning this singular honor, she joins Straight Ahead pianist Neil Slater who received that designation for the year 2007.

Saxophonist and leader Walter Pearson started playing professionally at the age of 14.  Although his degree is in Banking and Finance from SMU, he attended UNT (then NTSC) for two semesters where he was a tenor sax soloist in the Lab Band program.  During these college years he worked his way through school playing with local big bands fronted by Euel Box, Durward Cline, Sandy Sandifer, Ted Weems and others.  His main gig was playing clarinet and tenor with Rusty Brown’s Cell Block Seven, a regionally acclaimed New Orleans style band. In the early 60’s Walter retired from music to devote time to his family and business career in real estate.  In 1987 he was cofounder of SAJQ with singer Heather Paterson. During the ensuing years he has appeared with other small jazz groups and big bands including a tour with the Les Elgart Orchestra.  After his wife and family, the SAJQ is now his primary interest.

Joining SAJQ in early 1996, award-winning composer/arranger/pianist Neil Slater is the recently retired Chair of the Division of Jazz Studies at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, Texas and director of the internationally acclaimed UNT One O’clock Lab Band. In July, 2008,before retiring from UNT, Neil took the One O’Clock for a triumphant tour of Europe. There the band performed a total of fifteen concerts in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and Holland including the prestigious North Sea, Montreux and Perugia Jazz Festivals. Slater was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1993. He has received the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers “Standard Award” every year since 1987, having written more than 60 compositions for jazz ensembles as well as symphonic, vocal, and theatrical works. He was named as the Sammons Jazz Artist of The Year in 2007. Slater has recorded/performed with many nationally known jazz artists including Don Elliot, Slide Hampton Mel Lewis, Joe Morello, Bill Watrous and Sal Salvador to name only a few. In addition to his inspired and accomplished jazz keyboard skills, Neil has contributed greatly to the size and depth of SAJQ’S vocal and instrumental repertoire.

Henry Okstel, Drummer, – Began his long professional career in NYC where he performed and/or recorded with head liners like Sheila Gordon, Johnny Knapp, Bill Watrous, Anita Bryant, and the big bands of Warren Covington (Tommy Dorsey), and Claude Thornhill. He then spent nine years in the Chattanooga-Atlanta area appearing with many other name bands including those led by Buddy Morrow, Billy Butterfield, Bob Crosby and Billy May. Henry has lived in the Dallas area since 1976, and has played with all of our prominent local performers. In addition, he has played in 13 area musicals, toured with the national company of “Guys and Dolls” and backed nationally known acts including Bob Hope, Kaye Starr, Ray Price, Eartha Kitt and many others. He is also an accomplished percussionist and timpanist having performed in those roles in classical, pop and jazz venues. While maintaining a virtually full-time professional playing career, Henry teaches drum set to students in the Department of Jazz Studies in the School of Music of the University of North Texas.

Bassist Bill Seitz, a native of New York City, began his full-time music career there in 1960. He worked with several big bands of the era including those of Tommy Dorsey (under the direction of Warren Covington), Richard Maltby and Ralph Marterie. The New York years saw him in many small group jazz venues including one year with pianist Peter Nero that included a live appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show. Moving to Dallas in the mid-70’s found Bill playing in Dallas’ premier jazz clubs with leaders like Red Garland and Marcel Ivery. He has remained much in demand since then playing in small and big-band venues, He has appeared with the SAJQ for the past three years and is an integral part of the dynamics and groove of the group.

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