In a journey that's taken him from Steamboat Springs High School to UNC, then to Africa, then to a stint as a professional musician and finally back to UNC, Kenyon Brenner has followed his love for jazz.
After graduating from high school, Brenner started his undergraduate studies at UNC in 2007.
"I wanted to study at the best place possible and staying in-state was a great bonus, so I came here," he said.
Brenner started his jazz studies in middle school as a percussion student, but "saxophonists looked like they were having a lot more fun, so I switched to saxophone," he said.
From there, he began attending jazz camps, where listening to recordings from professional saxophonists accelerated his interests in the genre.
That was about 14 years ago. Since then, Brenner has grown in both skill and experience.
"There are so many great jazz musicians at UNC that I was able to build a lot of great musical relationships and perform with a lot of people who helped me get better," he said, "I think that instructors here are a really well-rounded team. They all bring something different to the table and by working with all of them separately, I received a really comprehensive jazz education."
As an undergraduate, Brenner won the College of Performing and Visual Arts' Freshman Scholar Award, noting that compliments may come often, but the love for what you do is a great motivator to improve.
It was that continuing passion for jazz that led Brenner to Ghana, Africa. He joined the Study Abroad Program and found himself surrounded by rhythms and traditions that were both familiar and eye-opening.
"Jazz started in New Orleans, that's the birthplace, it came out of two styles of music, ragtime and blues," Brenner said, "Most of the people who were blues musicians, blues people, were slaves who came from West Africa. I thought that by going back there and studying those rhythms and studying their tradition of music, I could gain a better understanding and a better ability to play jazz music,"
In Africa, Brenner studied African hand drumming as well as African rhythms and dancing.
With his diverse musical skills that include the Jambay and Kpanlogo African drums, the saxophone and electric saxophone, and with his degree from UNC, Brenner was in demand soon after earning his bachelor's degree.
He became part of a band on the Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Epic and Jade cruise ships. Then he accepted a position as a saxophonist in the Glenn Miller Orchestra, touring the U.S. and Canada in a bus for 10 months.
He returned to UNC last year to pursue his master's in Jazz Studies with an emphasis in composition, a choice he said stems from his success and experience as an undergrad.
"If there's anything that I could say that would really summarize UNC in my opinion, I just think that it's the best jazz school around and we're all very lucky to have it in Colorado," he said."I would encourage any jazz student on any instrument to come and study here."
Brenner's composition titled "Pensitivity" won a 2014 Graduate Student Jazz Composition Award from Downbeat magazine. Listen to it at http://www.kenyonbrenner.com/live/
Brenner will play at the Kress Cinema and Lounge in Greeley Aug. 14 and 28, and Sept. 22 at Dazzle in Denver.
Kenyon Brenner plays his saxophone during a recent performance at the Kress Cinema and Lounge in Greeley.
Photo by Morgan Alexander