New Jazz Touring Endowment Honors Dr. Steve Wright

A generous gift from Mike Johander '99 and his family will support touring opportunities for Gustavus jazz students.
Posted on March 24th, 2022 by

Dr. Steve Wright plays with the Gustavus Jazz Ensemble at Crooners Supper Club on Saturday, March 19. The endowment was announced at the event.

An alumnus of the Gustavus Adolphus College music program has made a major gift to create an endowment fund supporting the Jazz Ensemble’s international tours. The endowment fund established by Mike Johander ’99, his wife Holli, and their children is named in honor of his former professor, Dr. Steve Wright. Wright was a longtime director of the Gustavus jazz program. 

Founded in 1970, the Gustavus Jazz Program is a dynamic and acclaimed part of the College’s Department of Music. After taking leadership of the program in 1990, Wright led the Jazz Lab Band on multiple national tours, in performances at numerous venues, and a live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. Under Wright’s direction, the Jazz Lab Band was chosen to perform at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival. In recent years, the Jazz Ensemble has added international trips to its regular touring schedule, with visits to Europe in 2016 and Southeast Asia in 2020. The Dr. Steve Wright Endowment Fund for Jazz International Touring will help student musicians with demonstrated financial need participate in future international tours.

In making the gift, Johander recalled his own experiences touring with the Gustavus Jazz Lab Band. During his stint as a bass player with the band, the group visited some of the “capitals” of American music. Students performed at Harry Connick Jr.’s high school in New Orleans and cut tracks in a Nashville recording studio. “My time at Gustavus was punctuated with life-changing experiences, none more impactful than the music ensemble tours,” Johander said. “The touring experience galvanized lifelong friendships and a curiosity about the world.”

The endowment fund honors a longtime Gustavus faculty member who was not only a dedicated and beloved teacher but also a nationally recognized musician. After starting his career as lead trumpet player and arranger for the U.S. Air Force Jazz Ensemble, the Airmen of Note, Wright went on to take the stage with the Minnesota Orchestra and Orchestra Hall Big Band, play in recording sessions for Motown Records, and perform with artists such as Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, and Johnny Mathis. Wright has also written dozens of compositions and arrangements for jazz ensembles, brass groups, and wind ensembles. Since his retirement from Gustavus in 2014, Wright has continued to work with  young musicians at jazz clinics and as soloist in concerts around the Midwest.

Now under the direction of Dr. Dave Stamps, the Gustavus Jazz Program is a vibrant, growing area of music education at Gustavus. The program includes two big bands, a vocal ensemble, and multiple combos. This week, during the College’s Spring Break, the Jazz Ensemble is performing at various locations in Minnesota

The Johander family will match any contributions to the endowment fund up to $25,000. Persons interested in making a gift to the fund should contact Jennifer Vickerman ’97, CFRE, Gift Planner and Friends of Music Program Lead, at or 800-726-6192.

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Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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