Jazz masters bring swing to Alaska

From left, Jazz musicians Markus Burger, Paul Kreibich, James Linahon, Jan von Klewitz, Michael Schiefel, Marshall Hawkins and Bill Yeager. Photo courtesy Markus Burger

For many, jazz music conjures up visions of rainy Manhattan or sunset washing over Los Angeles. For pianist Markus Burger, however, there’s nowhere more jazzy than Alaska. Alongside bandmate Marshall Hawkins, Burger has made a habit of visiting Alaska and fishing for hours under the midnight sun. Burger’s impressions of the state can be heard on his 2019 album The Alaska Sessions.

“I’m a big Alaska fan,” Burger said. “I love the people. I’ve made so many friends over the years in Homer, Soldotna and Anchorage, that have stayed loyal friends.”

Burger’s band, the North Atlantic Jazz Alliance, will make their Cordova debut at the Cordova Center on Wednesday, July 17. The German-American group includes saxophonist Jan von Klewitz, former Ray Charles collaborator Paul Kreibich and James Linahon, former lead trumpet player for Frank Sinatra. Perhaps the most impressive résumé of the group belongs to Hawkins, who played bass for the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960s.

NAJA will play a set of songs composed by each member of the group, ranging from jazz in the style of the Great American Songbook to Burger’s own melodic compositions, strongly influenced by Alaska folk music.

“We do have great days in the studio,” Burger said. “But being live in front of an audience is really what keeps jazz alive … There’s always a moment during live performances when one of the band members is having the time of his life. Every night that we play live, there’s going to be somebody that really pulls the entire band from 75 percent to 110.”

The band’s visit to Cordova was sponsored by the Goethe-Institut, a nonprofit devoted to promoting German culture abroad. NAJA will also spend two days working with students at the Cordova 4H Music Camp.“Even though you guys have a fantastic bluegrass festival, this will hopefully be a welcome addition,” Burger said. “I hope it won’t be the last time we play in Cordova.”