WSU Friends of Jazz

Jazz Program

WSU features many opportunities to perform and study jazz. The department of music has initiated a new Jazz Studies Minor offering courses in jazz history, jazz theory, jazz piano and a four-semester sequence of jazz improvisation. This minor is an option for students regardless of their major.

The WSU Friends of Jazz website gives more updated information on the happenings in the jazz program, along with a photo gallery, audio examples and many other features.

Jazz Ensemble and Combo

The staple of any jazz program is its ensembles. The WSU Jazz Ensemble (MUS 244) is an elite group of outstanding musicians, selected by audition each fall semester. This 18-piece group performs both traditional and contemporary jazz in all styles from concert jazz to dance music.

WSU Jazz Combo (MUS 239) offers small group settings of four to eight players, performing Dixieland jazz through be-bop and modern fusion styles. Many of the combos feature original compositions and arrangements by the students. There is an audition required to participate in the combo program, which serves to place students in ensembles of equal experience.

The jazz ensemble and jazz combos are some of the most active groups on campus, performing several times each year. Many of the jazz concerts feature guest jazz artists from the U.S. and abroad, who perform with and clinic the groups, and provide additional individual instruction opportunities for students.


Dr. R. Richard MacDonald, a professional jazz drummer/vibist and professor of music at WSU, directs the WSU jazz program. Since joining the WSU faculty in 1996, Dr. MacDonald has been committed to developing a comprehensive jazz program.

His experience as a performer in the jazz lab bands at the University of North Texas and as performer and director for jazz ensembles at the University of Northern Colorado give him a solid understanding of jazz in the university curriculum.

In addition, Dr. MacDonald has performed with many professional jazz artists including George Benson, Eddie Daniels, Slide Hampton, Milt Hinton, Rich Matteson, Arturo Sandoval and others.

Dr. MacDonald is assisted in the jazz program by:

These fine educators, along with twin cities bassist Eric Graham, make up the WSU Faculty Jazz Quintet, which performs throughout the region. This group is also available for performances at schools. Contact Dr. MacDonald for information on school appearances.

For further information about the Jazz Program, please contact Dr. R. Richard MacDonald.

WSU Faculty Jazz Quintet

Richard Hammergren, trumpet

Richard Hammergren is a native of Cochrane, WI. He attended Winona State University for two years and went on to receive his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota (Minneapolis).

In 1961, Mr. Hammergren was hired to play lead trumpet with the Grammy-winning Si Zentner Orchestra, and in 1962 he was voted best lead trumpet on a national big band recording (The Wonderful World of Si Zentner, Liberty Records) by N.A.R.A.S.

Mr. Hammergren moved to Los Angeles in the mid-60s, where he maintained a busy schedule playing regularly for motion pictures, TV specials and varied studio recording. His trumpet can be heard on soundtracks for Out of Africa, The Sting, True Lies, An American Tale and many others.

He also worked the Easter Seals Telethons for eight years, the Academy Awards for six years and the Jerry Lewis Telethon for four years. In 1964, Mr. Hammergren signed on with the CBS staff orchestra and became the first trumpet and assistant musical director of the Emmy-winning Dinah Shore television series, which aired from 1964-1980.

Mike James, guitar

A native of the midwest, Mike James moved to Phoenix, Arizona in 1991, where he began a lengthy study of guitar with Pete Pancrazi, who is a graduate of the Berklee School of Music. Mr. James also studied under David Baker through the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Program. 

In 1994, he relocated to La Crosse, WI, and from 1995-1998 he taught guitar and bass at SSE Music in La Crosse. In 1996 he began teaching at Leithold Music in La Crosse, where he remains a full-time teacher of guitar and bass. He also teaches a beginning guitar class of 12 to 15 students twice a year at Leithold’s Music.

Mr. James was invited to join the faculty at Winona State University in 2001. He teaches guitar lessons and a guitar methods class at WSU. He also teaches guitar at St. Mary's University in Winona, MN.

Mr. James is an active performer.  He can be heard in large and small jazz groups in the tri-state region. He is also a music technology specialist, having recorded several digital music projects at his home studio.

Larry Price, piano

Larry Price grew up in Florida and began his musical career playing Dixieland jazz on the clarinet. He later switched to piano and studied jazz at the University of Miami. After moving to Germany, he studied music at the Conservatory of Music in Luxembourg.

He won the jazz performance prize for piano at the Trier Jazz Symposium three times. Mr. Price studied privately with European pianists John Taylor and Michel Herr. While in Europe he performed frequently with big bands, singers and with his own trio.

He also was a concert band director and has performed with gospel choirs. Since returning to the U.S., he has performed with Steve Houghton, Eric Schneider, Bobby Lewis, Steve Yeager and has played numerous engagements in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

He is presently an adjunct instructor at Winona State University and St. Mary's University in Winona, MN. Mr. Price has composed and arranged several pieces for the WSU Faculty Jazz groups and has produced recordings with many area musicians.

Eric Graham, bass

An active jazz bassist and composer currently residing in the twin cities area, Eric has appeared at the Dakota, Artists' Quarter, Brilliant Corners, Dixie's, Rossi's Blue Star, Cedar Cultural Center and other notable venues.

His group ZeeBop has been featured on KBEM's Cooking at the Dakota, and he recently completed an east coast tour with guitarist Paul Renz, supporting the nationally-broadcast album Hubbub

Graham holds a Masters Degree in Music Composition from the Peabody Conservatory of Music of Johns Hopkins University. In addition, he has studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music and University of North Texas and Hindustani music at the Ali Akbar College of Music.

Graham is currently a full-time music professor at Century College in St. Paul, MN, where he directs the jazz combo and teaches courses in world music, jazz and popular music.

He has held previous positions at Moorhead State University, Baker University, Washburn University, Kirkwood Community College, University of Iowa, National American University, Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical and the University of Alaska.

Rich MacDonald, drums/vibraphone/director

Rich MacDonald is a Professor of Music at Winona State University. His responsibilities include teaching studio percussion lessons, Percussion Methods, Jazz Improvisation, directing the WSU Percussion Ensemble, the WSU Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combos.

Dr. MacDonald performs regularly as a jazz drummer and vibraphonist in the southeastern Minnesota, western Wisconsin region. He is also principal percussionist with the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra.

Dr. MacDonald holds Bachelor of Music and Master of Music Education degrees from the University of North Texas and the Doctor of Arts degree in Percussion Performance and Pedagogy from the University of Northern Colorado. He has taught extensively in Texas, serving on the faculties of the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington and Eastfield College.

His performance credits include Milt Hinton, Slide Hampton, Arturo Sandoval, George Benson, Eddie Daniels and three years touring experience with Ice Capades. He has also performed on numerous CD recordings, live radio and television broadcasts, and national tours.