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Violinist Randy Sabien joins McNally-Smith faculty

I noted in the Jan. 30 jazz picks that violinist Randy Sabien hadn’t played the Twin Cities since February 2005. He was about to play two nights at the Dakota on Feb. 3 and 4.

I noted in the Jan. 30 jazz picks that violinist Randy Sabien hadn’t played the Twin Cities since February 2005. He was about to play two nights at the Dakota on Feb. 3 and 4. I went both nights, not knowing when we’d see him around here again.

The good news is that we’ll be seeing much more of Sabien in the future. Last Wednesday, he told his Dakota audience that he would be joining the faculty of McNally Smith College of Music to head up its new string department. Today it became official when college President Harry Chalmiers made the announcement.

“A contemporary music school couldn’t ask for a more qualified and more exciting string department head than Randy Sabien,” Chalmiers said in a press release. “His credentials as a performer and an educator are at the very top of his field, and he is a person of outstanding integrity as well.”

This isn’t the first time Sabien has joined a music school; in 1978, at the tender age of 21, he founded and chaired a new jazz string department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Since then, as he quipped during Wednesday’s show, “I haven’t had a job in 30 years.” He has, however, taught, performed, toured, recorded and written highly respected instructional texts.

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Sabien is usually described as a jazz violinist, but in fact he roams wherever his considerable musical curiosity takes him. He often calls himself a fiddler. At the Dakota, we heard gypsy jazz (from Sabien’s first great jazz influence, violinist Stephane Grappelli), blues, country hoedown, folk, rock, Celtic, and Western swing, along with a gorgeous interpretation of the jazz standard “Nature Boy.”

It was high-energy, foot-stomping music. Pianist Laura Caviani, who played with Sabien on both nights, said that after the first night she had to go home and soak her arms.

The McNally Smith string department will begin offering courses in September 2009. You can meet Sabien and other faculty members at the school’s first open house of 2009 on Saturday, Feb. 21, at 10 a.m. McNally Smith is at 19 E. Exchange St. in downtown St. Paul.