Western’s jazz program claims top honors in prestigious international music competition

Contact: Megan Looker
A man in a mask blows into a trombone.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Broncos got the beat! Western Michigan University’s jazz studies program is boasting several wins in DownBeat magazine's 44th annual Student Music Awards

Graduate and undergraduate students secured seven awards in what’s considered the most prestigious competition in jazz education. No other Michigan universities received an award this year.

The winners from Western include:

The cover of DownBeat magazine's June 2021 edition.

DownBeat magazine's June 2021 edition

  • Anastasia Chubb, Graduate College Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Outstanding Soloist, Greg Jasperse, professor.

  • Drew Deur Trio, Small Jazz Combo, Graduate College co-winners, Keith Hall, professor.

  • Katelyn Dietz, Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist, Graduate College Outstanding Vocal Performance, Greg Jasperse, professor.

  • Katelyn Dietz, Jazz Arrangement, Graduate College Outstanding Arrangement-Vocal “What About Today?” Greg Jasperse, professor.

  • Faith Quashie, Vocal Jazz Soloist, Undergraduate College Outstanding Performance, Gregory Jasperse, professor.

  • Gordon Sooy Trio, Small Jazz Combo, Undergraduate College Co-Winners, Keith Hall, professor.

  • Gold Company, Asynchronous Large Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Graduate College Outstanding Performance, Greg Jasperse, director.

Hundreds of musicians, educators and industry professionals have received their first international recognition as winners of DownBeat awards. Western’s jazz studies program now holds nearly 200 historic wins in virtually every category, establishing it as one of the top collegiate jazz programs in the world. 

“[It] is an outstanding indicator that our WMU jazz studies program has a long legacy of world-class excellence,” says Dr. Scott Cowan, professor and chair of jazz studies. “It reflects a jazz faculty committed to a standard of excellence within the classroom and ensembles. Our students thrive within a pedagogical environment that both challenges them and nurtures their talent.”

While an impressive honor to receive any year, the pandemic made this year’s victories even sweeter.

“Despite the challenges of a COVID-19 year—entailing the utilization of personal protective equipment and social distancing during all performances and rehearsals—our talented students continued to produce a number of award-winning performances,” says Cowan. “It is truly a pleasure to witness their work ethic and artistry year after year, even under this past year’s pandemic conditions.” 

Alumni Honored

Current students aren’t the only Broncos establishing themselves on the international stage. Several alumni are training another generation of jazz musicians at institutions across the country, and they were also awarded by DownBeat this year. Those educators include:

  • Kate Reid, University of Miami

  • Jennifer Barnes, University of North Texas

  • Christine Helferich Guter, California State University Long Beach

  • Jeremy Fox, Southwestern Community College

  • Justin Binek, Kansas City Kansas Community College

  • Dan Gregerman, Niles North High School

You can view the full list of winners of DownBeat’s Student Music Awards online. Learn more about Western’s jazz studies program at wmich.edu/jazz.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.