FAIRBANKS — The people who passed by the convenience store on those nights in Bloomington, Ind., must have wondered what was going on when they heard the trumpet roar.

Keith Karns was working four nights a week in the store to help pay his bills after graduate school. During the empty minutes when no one was in the store, he blew his horn.

“I worked four nights a week for eight months and it wasn’t really busy, so I brought my trumpet and practiced when the store was empty,” he said.

This dedication to music began when Karns attended North Pole High School and studied under John Harbaugh at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He knew early on that he wanted to try to make it his career.

“John Harbaugh and others at UAF really gave me the tools and the work ethic I needed to go out and pursue this thing,” Karns said.

He is in Fairbanks this week with his wife, Courtney Karns, also a North Pole graduate and musician, teaching music at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival.

Karns and the other members of the jazz faculty will play at 9 p.m. Friday at the Silver Gulch Restaurant in Fox and 9 p.m. Saturday at the Pump House Restaurant on Chena Pump Road.

The jazz band from the festival, directed by Karns, will play at 5 p.m. Saturday at Silver Gulch.

Karns, 27, has made remarkable progress in the nine years since leaving high school and has already made a name for himself in the Midwest as a composer, bandleader and trumpet player.

The son of Curt and Cindee Karns, former Fairbanksans now in Anchorage, he earned a bachelor’s degree in music at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire and a master’s degree in music at Indiana University.

Keith and Courtney recently moved to Denton, Texas, where he will be an assistant instructor in jazz studies at the University of North Texas. Courtney will work there as an elementary school music teacher.

Keith plans to pursue a doctorate in jazz performance at the university and will remain as the central figure in the Keith Karns Big Band, which released its first CD this spring.

Courtney sings on the CD and the rest of the band is made up of musicians Keith met in school and other professionals from the Minneapolis area. He said they hope to go on tour again next year.

I asked him if he played and conducted on the CD, “Thought and Memory.” He mentioned Doc Severinsen, the longtime leader of the Tonight Show band during the Johnny Carson era, saying he admired his ability to both play in the band and conduct it at the same time.

“But I don’t sound like Doc Severinsen and I’m not as snazzy a dresser,” he said.

Karns said he has been excited to work with students in the festival’s jazz program and already is excited about coming back next year.

He said he learned a lot by attending the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival during his high school years, when it was led by Jo Scott, and he loves working with others who share his passion for music.


HISTORIC SALE: When I made mention here the other day that Candy Waugaman was going to sell “lots of junque” this weekend, a few people questioned my choice of words.

Waugaman, who has a sharp eye for Alaska collectibles, has long used that term in jest to describe the amazing items at her unique annual garage sale. All proceeds go to charity.

The four charities to benefit this year are the Literacy Council of Alaska, the Fairbanks Community Food Bank, the 4-H program and the Pioneer Museum at Pioneer Park.

The junque sale, featuring thousands of Alaska items, is 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday on Dalton Trail, which is off Yankovich Road.