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“Performing in Russ Schmidt’s Jazz Ensemble as an NAU undergraduate was one of the most memorable experiences in my education. Russ is the type of Jedi Musician you want to be around; he’s insightful, energetic, witty, generous, kind — and will 100% kick your butt. He’s a teacher with high expectations, who pushes his students, yet never makes them feel small. After my time at NAU, I was lucky enough to attend the Eastman School of Music for graduate school, where I worked with some of the best performers and educators in our field. Russ Schmidt is certainly one of them, and he’s right here in our backyard. If I could sign up to play in this band, I would.”

Drew Worden
Percussionist, Composer, Educator, Arts Administrator

Entrepreneurship Program Manager, The University of Texas at Austin

"Russell Schmidt is not only a world-class pianist, composer, and arranger, but a first-rate educator and bandleader. He has the unique ability to address students of widely varying levels and inspire them to greater musical achievements. As a teaching-artist Russ incorporates the legacy and tradition of jazz in a modern approach to style, ensemble skills, improvisation, and overall musicianship.”

Chris Finet

Bassist, Educator

Associate Professor of Practice (String Bass) & Jazz Studies Area Coordinator, Northern Arizona University

"Russ has everything that a jazz student could want or need in a teacher: an incredible ear, a complete mastery of the jazz language, the ability to articulate musical concepts in words with amazing clarity, fantastic compositional skills, and an encyclopedic knowledge of music history and repertoire. On top of all of that, his quick wit and kindness make learning from him a joy. Having him as a teacher was one of the best and most valuable experiences of my musical education, and I would encourage any student of music to embrace the opportunity to learn from him."

Alicia Wrigley
Bassist, Vocalist

“Russ Schmidt is one of the kindest, most genuine educators and musicians I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. He is a true master of his craft as well as a respectful, positive influence on students of all ages and abilities. I have always enjoyed watching Russ teach and perform; he is a musician and teacher for all the right reasons and seeks to share that with his students. His performances are real, compelling and enlightening and jazz enthusiasts of all ages can benefit from his artistry.”

Dr. Brian Sproul
Conductor, Educator

Associate Professor (Lecturer) & Director of Athletic Bands, University of Utah

"Russell Schmidt is one of the finest musicians and educators I have ever had the pleasure of working with. During my time at Bowling Green State University, there was not a topic that we covered in classes that Russell did not have complete command/knowledge of, and his excitement in sharing the information with the students was always evident. Additionally, when I later had my own program, Russell was very gracious with my students, and his ability to traverse multiple musical styles was seamless. I am honored to call Russ a teacher, mentor, colleague, and friend."

Douglas J. Neel
Guitarist, Trombonist, Educator

Faculty, Capital University-Conservatory of Music

“Russ Schmidt is an amazing pianist (check out his CD release, "Anachromysticism"!) who has an equally impressive resume in education. His creative approach to music, the learning process, and composition is something every young person should experience!”

Barb Catlin
Pianist, Educator

Jazz Faculty, Caltech, Pasadena City College & Pomona College

"I was very fortunate to study with Russell Schmidt for three years at the University of Utah. In addition to bringing his masterful musicianship, artistry, and attention to detail to every musical encounter, he was also an enthusiastic and sincere mentor. The knowledge he imparted has provided me an exceptional scaffolding for a career in jazz and I could not be more grateful."

Nathan Royal

Hot House West

"I worked with Russ Schmidt in a variety of musical situations in our years of teaching together at Bowling Green State University. I am delighted that he is continuing to share his formidable skills and passion for music with young people. I recommend this ensemble to anyone who has the opportunity to participate."

Chris Buzzelli
Guitarist, Educator

Professor Emeritus of Music Performance Studies, Bowling Green State University

"We had both our sons (each a trumpeter) study with Russ in the VJC from 8th through 12th grade and it was by far the most educational, enlightening, and enjoyable experience they had in any music program. Russ’ endless musical knowledge, enthusiasm for teaching young musicians, and love for jazz was infectious and was instrumental in both boys being selected for the Arizona All-State Jazz Ensembles a combined five times.
Beyond that, Russ patiently infused in my sons the desire to practice and become better overall musicians and humans. They both now share a love for jazz and are extremely skilled improvisational soloists, thanks to Russ and the VJC program. I highly recommend this program to any parent wishing for their young musician to excel at their instrument in the area of jazz studies and have a fun, positive experience under the expert tutelage of Russ Schmidt."

Mike Gray
Parent to two former VJC students

"I cannot say enough about the incredible impact that Valley Jazz Cooperative has made in my children’s lives. The program is led by Russ Schmidt; a talented musician and educator, but also a dedicated and caring mentor. Russ’s wit and humor, combined with his kindness and knowledge is a winning combination that my children thrived under. The program not only fostered musical growth but also instilled discipline, teamwork, and a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jazz. They were given opportunities to learn from some wonderful guest clinicians and performed alongside world-class musicians. These provided invaluable lessons … and memories that will last a lifetime.


As a mother of two very active teens, I can tell you that the time invested and extra miles driven were absolutely worth it for the priceless experiences and knowledge my children acquired during their years with Valley Jazz Cooperative."

Karen Huttenmeyer
Parent to two former VJC students

“He’s really good. [Russ is a] first-class player, because he does things a lot of first-class players don’t do. He listens, he responds...he listens to the soloists, the soloists listen to him.”

Bob Brookmeyer (1929-2011)
Valve Trombonist, Pianist, Composer, Arranger

8-time Grammy Award nominee

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