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Best of the bass

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Gunnar Kuehl, a senior at Pequot Lakes High School, was the one and only bass player selected to play in the 20-piece Minnesota All-State Jazz Ensemble, making him one of the best high school bass players in the state.

He’ll perform with the ensemble Friday, Feb. 15, in Minneapolis.

Gunnar, who lives in Nisswa, picked up the bass when he joined band in fifth grade. At that time, he lived in Hopkins.

“I wanted to play tuba, but I almost passed out,” Gunnar said.

He took on the bass instead and has stuck with it ever since.

Gunnar plays in the PLHS Symphonic Band, though the upright bass is not typical to a band; it’s usually an orchestra staple. Gunnar explained that his band teacher allowed him to stay on the bass after he moved to the area, and they found the upright bass fit into the band nicely.

Gunnar’s all-state tryout took place last March in St. Cloud and included sight reading, soloing, playing a piece he was provided in advance and playing scales.

Though other all-state sections were judged on-site in St. Cloud, the Jazz Ensemble auditions were recorded and sent to a jazz specialist for judging.

To Gunnar, this made his acceptance into the ensemble that much more gratifying.

The ensemble spent one week practicing at the University of North Dakota in early August, performing at the end of the week. Feb. 15 is his final performance with the All-State Jazz Ensemble.

Gunnar also has heavy involvement in the PLHS music department. He practices with the symphonic band class for an hour daily, is a member of the after school jazz combo and plays in a before-school jazz group.

In addition, he’s a member of two local bands — Two Beats Ahead and Live from the Attic.

Playing with bands at local establishments, he’s been a paid musician since his first show at Moonlite Bay in Crosslake in ninth grade. He played there with Two Beats Ahead, a jazz trio including himself; his band teacher, Michael Sommerness on saxophone; and Malcom Rosenberger on drums.

Gunnar said he’s never had a bass teacher, though he has been taught in band class, and he said he’s had a lot of influence and guidance.

Bass aside, Gunnar’s looking at the possibility of receiving a full-ride academic scholarship to Concordia College in Moorhead, due in large part to his ACT scores: He scored 35 out of 36.

“I was kind of surprised,” Gunnar said of his ACT scores. “It was way better than I could’ve thought going in.”

He plans to major in economics, with music being a large part of his extracurricular activities. He doesn’t plan to major in or get a minor in music, but he’s open to the idea.

Gunnar enjoys playing bass partly because it’s a lesser-known instrument. It tends to be put in the back of the room.

“You can be creative with the instrument in ways you wouldn’t expect,” Gunnar said of playing bass.

He explained how bass lines are an important aspect of many songs.

“You’re forming the foundation of so many styles of music,” he said.