Jazz students again take multiple awards in DownBeat competition

Contact: Mark Schwerin

Downbeat magazine cover, June 2017.KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University jazz studies students and their instructors are upbeat after again earning multiple wins in DownBeat magazine's 40th annual Student Music Awards.

In what is regarded as the most comprehensive competition for collegiate jazz programs, WMU students won four awards, coming in fourth in the international music competition. Earning top honors was the University of Miami with eight wins, followed by the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with six awards and the Berklee College of Music, the University of North Texas and the Manhattan School of Music, each with five awards.

WMU tied with the Eastman School of Music, the University of Northern Colorado and California State University, Long Beach, all with four awards.

Best metric for jazz programs

The DownBeat awards continue to be the most thorough and publicized metric for jazz programs across the globe, with the competition going international more than 10 years ago, says Tom Knific, WMU professor of music and director of the WMU jazz studies program. This year's awards were given to programs in six countries and reflect the University's continued high level of performance.

"WMU jazz studies has completed two decades of winning multiple DownBeat Music Awards," Knific says. "We have been a top-10 program all of those years and a top-five in many of them. This year was very crowded at the top. Having two large ensembles awarded, we had nearly 40 students included in the awards, which is momentous."

WMU award winners

Photo of WMU Gold Company.

WMU's Gold Company was awarded in the Large Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Graduate College Outstanding Performances category. Member James Richardson was awarded in the Outstanding Soloist category. Gold Company is led by Gregory Jasperse, WMU assistant professor of music.

This year's WMU honorees, along with the category of their award and professor, are:

  • WMU Graduate Ensemble, Small Jazz Combo, Graduate College Outstanding Performance, Dr. Scott Cowan, professor.
  • WMU Jazz Orchestra, Large Jazz Ensemble, Graduate College Outstanding Performances, Dr. Scott Cowan, professor.
  • Gold Company, Large Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Graduate College Outstanding Performances, James Richardson, Outstanding Soloist, Gregory Jasperse, professor.
  • Lushh, Blues/Pop/Rock Group, Undergraduate College Winner, Keith Hall, professor.

WMU alumni honored

Knific says it's important also to note the importance of WMU alumni in awards won by other institutions.

"Christine Helfrich Guter, director of vocal jazz at Cal State, is responsible for all of that school's wins," Knific says. "Loren Batley, now a graduate student there, also contributed to their wins. Kate Reid, now director of vocal jazz at Miami, is responsible for an award, as is Linda Alvarado, who is pursuing graduate work there. Lyman Medeiros a teacher at The Musicians Institute Los Angeles had award winning students. Most importantly for us, Keith Hall and Greg Jasperse, alumni and now faculty, had student wins for WMU."

Learn more about WMU's jazz studies program at wmich.edu/jazz.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.