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Dr. James Sawyer, Music Director

Dr. James R. Sawyer is a native of Chicago and moved to Grand Rapids by way of the University of Michigan. There he earned a Master of Music in Trumpet Performance. His conducting experience includes 45+ years of public/private school instruction and serving as Director of Bands at Livingstone College of North Carolina and Assistant Director of Bands at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


He coordinates the jazz camp at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and is adjunct instructor for Teaching Jazz Techniques at Grand Valley State University. He holds degrees from VanderCook College of Music, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and a Doctorate from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. As a performer, his credits include playing for such artists as The Temptations, Bob Hope, Bob Newhart, Shirley Jones, and the Lawrence Welk All-Stars.

Locally, he plays with the Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, the Truth in Jazz Orchestra of Muskegon and is a free-lance trumpeter. He feels honored and blessed to have the opportunity to conduct this prestigious musical organization.

Jordan VanHemert, Founding Artistic Director

Quickly gaining recognition as a diversely-skilled emerging artist, Dr. Jordan VanHemert is a woodwind specialist, composer, and educator. VanHemert’s performing career has taken him to venues around the United States. He has also been invited to perform his compositions at the North American Saxophone Alliance Biennial and Regional Conferences. An in-demand educator and clinician, VanHemert has presented masterclasses and clinics at high schools and colleges around the country. He holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan, and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Central Michigan University. VanHemert is a member of the North American Saxophone Alliance; the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP); Pi Kappa Lambda, and The International Society of Jazz Composers and Arrangers.




Keith Walker, Board Chair

Keith Walker spent 31 years in public education as a high school band director after receiving a Bachelor of Music degree from Western Michigan University. He also holds a Master's degree in Educational Leadership, also from WMU. Keith is a founding member of the HCJO and serves as its board chair as well as sitting in the trumpet section. His work as a teacher spans three decades in three districts and two states. The HCJO mission of "Educate" is obviously a favorite. As a trumpet player he has performed with the West Michigan Symphony, the Holland Symphony, and the HCJO.  

Liam Coussens, Secretary

Liam plays bass in the band. He currently works as an Administrative Coordinator at Calvin university. He holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of Illinois-Springfield and a Master's Degree in Jazz from DePaul University.

Mark Sluiter, Logistics Chair

An active participant in West Michigan’s music community, Mark Sluiter credits an Al Hirt performance at the Ionia Free Fair in the mid ‘60s with inspiring him to pursue the trumpet. After graduation from high school he attended Grand Rapids Junior College and Western Michigan University, where he majored in Music Education.

In addition to working as a band director at area school districts over a period of 25 years (including Grand Haven, Fruitport, and Spring Lake), Mark has appeared as a member of a number of classical and jazz ensembles. Classical credits include the Kent Philharmonia and West Shore Symphony Orchestra (now the West Michigan Symphony). His work as a freelance performer has also led to engagements with the Hark Up Horns, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra, Truth in Jazz Orchestra, Muskegon Civic Theatre, Grand Rapids Civic Theater, Hope College Summer Repertory Theater, and the Grand Rapids Circle Theater. He has also performed with operatic soprano Jesse Norman, gospel artists Steve Green, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Motown group, The Temptations.

Current HCJO Members


  • Nathan Kar, Alto

  • Bill Bier, Tenor

  • Roger Wagner II, Tenor

  • Mike Hamann, Baritone


  • Shawn Nichols

  • Austin Hunt

  • Keith Walker

  • Danny Wade


  • Ed Spier

  • Patrick Parrish

  • James Groelsma

  • Adam Graham

Rhythm Section

  • Liam Coussens, Bass

  • Dave Gillespie, Guitar

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