Every Thursday of this semester, you can hunt down sophomore Joey Stempien and his friends at the East Avenue restaurant (and well-known college student sustenance staple) Stromboli’s. Amidst bites of greasy Italian grub and company from a tank of lazily-drifting fish, Stempien and Eastman School of Music sophomore Dan Atkinson jam out with their friends to every jazz standard under the sun.

The weekly gig is something the two have established to grow the collegiate jazz community in Rochester — with improvised performances from students on the River Campus, Eastman, and other universities such as Nazareth. However, this is only one facet of Stempien’s push to strengthen the connections of the jazz scene on campus.

Stempien, a big band jazz composer and pianist, is set to release his debut album, “Wherever We Go,” on Dec. 15. The album mainly entertains the stylings of contemporary jazz, but also experiments with “funk, Afro-Cuban, and other types of genres,” according to Stempien.

In an interview with the Campus Times, Stempien revealed a great deal of information regarding his musical journey and creative process, as well as the process of working with a diverse big band.

A big band has at least 19 players, but Stempien said his album involves over 50 people as musicians and crew across all of his songs — with him headlining as the pianist on every track. He jammed with a more diverse group of musicians than his earlier EP, released on Jan. 1 of this year, with the hopes of creating something special.

“Everyone involved had their background. Everybody on this album is a musician that I admire and respect,” he said. “I just let them do their thing.”

Stempien was excited he could convince Isaac Romagosa, an Eastman graduate student and guitarist from Spain, to lay down a track for the group. For Stempien, his ability as a River Campus student to interface with the community at Eastman has given him the valuable opportunity to network and learn from other musicians — an opportunity which led to many of the collaborations on his upcoming album.

The collaborations on “Wherever We Go,” however, aren’t limited to the Rochester collegiate sphere. One of Stempien’s favorite YouTubers from his youth, composer “insaneintherainmusic” who is best known for his jazz covers of video game music, is playing on his album. It was a dream of his, he told the CT, after having begun listening to the artist, who boasts over 400,000 YouTube subscribers, in the sixth or seventh grade.

Stempien started writing music in fifth grade. His mom, a local saxophonist, kickstarted his love of jazz. He recalls fooling around on the family computer at a young age and stumbling upon Sibelius, a music composition software program. He’s stuck with the craft ever since.

Taking inspiration from various artists like Bill Evans, Steven Feifke, and Thelonious Monk, Stempien penned five tunes before coming to college that would later make up his EP, “Life Out Here.”

Significant factors in Stempien’s musical growth were his involvement in the Eastman Youth Jazz Orchestra, as well as the River Campus Jazz Ensemble. During his time in the ensemble freshman year, Stempien got his first taste of recording in a studio thanks to the help of a senior in the Audio and Music Engineering program.

“I put together the band, and he booked the session, and then we just made it happen,” Stempien said. “And the band that I formed kind of stayed together.”

Stempien played his first gig earlier this year at the annual Rochester Jazz Fest, where he performed alongside The Pat Metheny Group — one of his long-time inspirations that played a part in his desire to write jazz music.

“It was a really big full-circle moment,” he said.

Stempien’s growing popularity hasn’t been without its own set of challenges. Sometimes, he said, he’s been discredited as an artist because he’s not an Eastman student. He hopes his new album will smash the stigma.

“I mean, this album has brought together a lot of River Campus and Eastman students in a way that has built a lot of relationships and friendships,” he said. “So I think that that has been rewarding for me and also the people involved.”

Stempien’s debut album is just around the corner. Upon listening to the tracks, you might notice a weather motif throughout. That’s because, although Stempien is reaching for the clouds with his music too, he’s actually gunning professionally to become a meteorologist — and it’s clear that even in his passion projects, the sky is his limit.

Stempien’s album concert at the UUU Art Collective in Rochester will be on Dec. 18 at 8 p.m..



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