The Lawrence Conservatory of Music’s jazz program has received a national honor that speaks to its ability to creatively make music amid the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawrence earned an Outstanding Performance award in Downbeat magazine’s annual Student Music Awards, marking the fourth consecutive year the Conservatory has been among the honored programs. The Downbeat awards, now in their 44th year, are among the highest honors in jazz education.
This year’s award, announced on May 6 and being featured in the June edition of the magazine, comes in a new undergraduate category set up specifically because of the pandemic—Asynchronous Large Jazz Ensemble. Downbeat created the new category for students in large ensembles who did not rehearse together as a full band but instead recorded remotely and asynchronously.
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“It is an honor for these outstanding students to see their hard work and musicianship be recognized on a national level,” Darling said. “With limited rehearsal time, social distancing, and the weirdness of not being together as a big band, I am grateful for not only everyone’s incredible talent and dedication but for their support of each other and their ability to create beautiful music during these challenging times.”
This marks the 30th time Lawrence has earned a Downbeat award, coming in categories that have included large ensemble, small group, jazz composing, jazz arranging, solo performance, jazz vocal group, and Latin group. The annual awards are presented in five separate divisions: junior high, high school, high school honor ensemble, undergraduate college, and graduate college.
The challenges the past year have been unlike anything the Lawrence jazz program has faced in its nearly five decades of music-making. Some LUJE members were on campus, rehearsing at times outdoors or physically distanced in various settings. Others were connecting virtually. Creativity and patience were at a premium.
“Our biggest challenge was figuring out how to record bass and drums separately on TipToe and St. Thomas at different times—the groove between bass and drums is such a critical foundation for the rest of the group, and we didn’t want to use a click track,” Darling said.
She credits Ali Remondini ’21, Clay Knoll ’20, and Liam Fisher ’21 with finding a workable solution that didn’t compromise the music.
Another challenge came when students recorded their parts for Optimistic with cell phones. They were then synced and mixed using Logic Pro X software.
“Liam was instrumental in recording an awesome drum track with just one overhead mic,” Darling said.
The recordings were done over the course of two terms—last year’s Spring Term in which all 15 student musicians were remote and this year’s Fall Term in which there was a mix of remote and in-person among the 19 students.
The recordings found life and engagement thanks to “great improvisational solos” by multiple students in the band, Darling said. The musicians rose to the occasion despite obstacles at almost every turn.
“We haven’t played as a full ensemble since last March—new LUJE students have not even met everyone in the band in person yet,” Darling said. “We can’t wait to start outdoor full ensemble rehearsals in mid-May.”
Lawrence University’s jazz program has earned a prestigious DownBeat award for the third consecutive year, this time in the Latin Group category.
The LU Jazz Band, performing as a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble, earned a Latin Group award in DownBeat’s 43rd annual Student Music Awards, announced April 28.
DownBeat’s student awards, released each spring, are among the highest honors in jazz education. The 2020 honors will appear in the June edition of DownBeat magazine.
The Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban endeavor started out as a bit of an exploration last year for the LU Jazz Band. A number of Conservatory of Music students expressed interest in expanding their knowledge and skills in Afro-Cuban music. Jose Encarnacion, an assistant professor of music and director of Jazz Studies, and two students from the percussion studio, Alex Quade and Nolan Ehlers, just so happened to be in the process of learning to play Bata music, sacred African music of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Africa.
“Nolan had been in Cuba studying abroad, learning about Afro-Cuban rhythms and traditions,” Encarnacion said. “I found these conditions to be perfect timing for converting Jazz Band into a Latin Jazz/Afro-Cuban ensemble. In collaboration with Nolan, we put a concert together. Nolan, as co-director, would teach some of the traditional rhythms and songs as I worked with the style and feel of the music.”
For more on the Lawrence Conservatory of Music, see here.
It was the performance from that concert, Afro-Cuban Roots and Traditions, which included Afro-Cuban rhythms such as Rumba, Guiro, Bata and Salsa, that garnered the Jazz Band the DownBeat Award.
“These students really embraced diversity, opening themselves to new
cultural and musical concepts,” Encarnacion said.
In the previous two years, the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble took home
the prize in the large ensemble category.
DownBeat’s SMAs are presented in five separate divisions: junior high, high school, high school honor ensemble, undergraduate college, and graduate college. Lawrence has fared well in those undergraduate awards over the past four decades. Students and ensembles in the Lawrence Conservatory have won 29 awards in various categories, including large ensemble, small group, jazz composing, jazz arranging, solo performance, and jazz vocal group. They now can add Latin Group to the list.
Seeing the Conservatory take home a top prize for the third year in a row is
a huge honor, Encarnacion said. It’s not something the jazz faculty or students
take for granted.
“Every year the students push themselves to rise to new heights,”
Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The best in the country. So says DownBeat Magazine.
The “bible” of the jazz world has named the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE) and the student quintet Jake Victor 5TET winners in its 41st annual Student Music Awards (SMA) competition. Results were announced in the magazine’s June edition.
Under the direction of Patty Darling, the 19-member LUJE was named undergraduate college winner in the SMA’s large jazz ensemble category. Seniors Jake Victor and Jack Kilkelly-Schmidt, who formed a band last fall while studying abroad at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in the Netherlands, won the undergraduate college SMA for small jazz combo/student-led ensemble as the Jake Victor 5TET for the album “Twisted Heads.”
This was the fourth time in its history LUJE has been honored by DownBeat. It was previously recognized in 1985, 2000 and 2007.
DownBeat’s SMAs are considered among the highest music honors in the field of jazz education. They are presented in 13 categories in five separate divisions: junior high, high school, performing high school, undergraduate college and graduate college.
“Winning the DownBeat award is certainly not something we take for granted, said José Encarnación, director of jazz studies at Lawrence. “Being recipients of the DownBeat award is an honor and privilege we receive for loving what we do. We are most grateful.”
Darling said the award is a confirmation of the quality of jazz studies at Lawrence.
“It is such a great honor,” said Darling, a 1985 Lawrence graduate and protégé of the late Fred Sturm, founder of LUJE. “It’s wonderful to have Lawrence recognized nationally as having a strong jazz program. I knew our performances were very strong, but I also know how the DownBeat awards are very competitive. As a large ensemble, it’s difficult to try to guess what music would be considered really dynamic.”
LUJE was selected for the SMA from a submitted recording of three songs: an arrangement by Sturm of Marcus Miller’s “Splatch”; “Wyrgly” by Maria Schneider and “Egberto” by Florian Ross. “Splatch” was performed by LUJE last October at the Kaleidoscope concert at the Fox Valley Performing Arts Center and then again as the opening number last November at Lawrence’s Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend concert where it was recorded.
“There is no way LUJE is as strong as it is without Lawrence’s outstanding jazz faculty working so closely with the students. It’s very rewarding as an educator to be the one to channel this talent from the students and from the faculty, and all that energy, into something that is recognized as successful. It’s truly a great privilege and a joy for me to have the opportunity to create music with them every day.” — Patty Darling, director of LUJE
“All three submissions were good, but ‘Splatch’ was the absolute best,” said Darling, a 1984 DownBeat winner herself as a Lawrence student for her arrangement of “Seven Steps to Heaven.” “The performers and soloist were outstanding and the live mix was outstanding. It’s tough to get big bands to sound great in the Chapel. The band played with so much energy. It was one of those perfect performances where everything went right.”
Two of the selections submitted were from the 2016-17 version of LUJE, but Darling said both last year’s and this year’s ensemble are special.
“Both bands have lots of depth, with good rhythm sections and several students with strong improvisation skills,” said Darling. “There is something about this year’s band that makes almost every rehearsal fun and engaging. They support each other, they’re excited, they’re absolutely dedicated, they have this camaraderie that I’ve never seen in a band before. They really want to work together and help each other.”
While Darling’s name is on the SMA certificate as the ensemble’s director, she is quick to stress “it takes a village” to win awards like this.
“There is no way LUJE is as strong as it is without Lawrence’s outstanding jazz faculty working so closely with the students,” said Darling, now in her third year of leading the ensemble. “It’s very rewarding as an educator to be the one to channel this talent from the students and from the faculty, and all that energy, into something that is recognized as successful. It’s truly a great privilege and a joy for me to have the opportunity to create music with them every day.”
Where LUJE’s SMA recognition was a bit more calculated, Victor and his Lawrence roommate Kilkelly-Schmidt’s award was full of serendipity. After all, until a few months ago, the Jake Victor 5TET didn’t even exist. But thanks to an open jam session, five virtual strangers collectively found musical magic.
Early in the school year, at a weekly public jam session in Amsterdam hosted by a local establishment, Victor, a pianist, and Kilkelly-Schmidt, who plays guitar, found themselves on stage with a drummer from Spain and a bassist from Belgium. They played one standard together and had a blast.
“We fit like a glove,” said Victor. “Immediately after we finished playing, we looked at each other said ‘let’s get out of here, grab a drink and talk.’”
The next day at a conservatory class, a saxophonist from Estonia turned the new quartet into a quintet. They began playing jazz standards together for the next several weeks before a personal goal of Victor’s altered their history.
“I had set a challenge for myself of doing more writing,” said Victor, who was trying to amass material for his senior recital. “I was writing every day, not necessarily a full tune, but I was writing something every day. I wrote one tune that I liked, I was getting these songs together for my recital back here in the spring. I told the guys, I had this tune and I thought if we could record it on a Zoom recorder, I could send it to my guys back home as a reference recording so they could get an idea of how the tune should sound on my recital in the spring.”
On board with the idea, the band soon recorded another Victor original.
“I told them, ‘well, I do have more. If we could get them all together that would be awesome,’” Victor said, who brought several more of his compositions to the next session. “We came up with the idea to record all of them professionally and make an album. It ended up being The Jake Victor 5TET which was crazy to me. I wrote all the tunes and it was my first time as a band leader.”
The rapidity in which everything came together still makes Victor shake his head.
“The thing that blows my mind, it was October 11th when I brought in the first tune and we recorded the album on December 8th,” said Victor, a percussion performance major from Palatine, Ill. “Start to finish of the album was a two-month period of writing the tunes, learning the tunes and recording the tunes. That’s a testament to all the guys. There’s not many people that I’ve played with that really just fit like a glove that easily. The chemistry of the group is really something special.”
The end result, “Twisted Heads,” was recorded at Key Element Music Studios, which, adding to the serendipity, is owned by Daan Herweg, the pianist who hosted the open jam session at Café Nel in Amsterdam where the musicians first met. The album features seven Victor songs and one track written by his friend, Jason Koth, a 2017 Lawrence graduate.
“I asked Jason to do some electronics on the album after the fact,” Victor explained. “He created a minute and a half interlude based on the rest of my material.”
With Darling’s encouragement and recommendation, Victor submitted two tracks off the album for DownBeat’s consideration. It was late February when an email from DownBeat popped up his phone while he was practicing in the jazz room. Bedlam resided just a click away.
“I opened it, started reading and got crazy excited,” said Victor. “I saw ‘We have the results for the DownBeat Awards and we have good news! I immediately went back, FaceTimed the quintet and said ‘Guys, we won the DownBeat!’ It was pretty surreal.”
“Twisted Heads” was released on April 15. Victor, Kilkelly-Schmidt and their bandmates — drummer Eloi Pascual, bassist Matteo Mazzu and saxophonist Tobias Tammearu — are currently putting plans in place for a 10-day Midwest tour starting in late August from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Lexington, Ky. What the future holds is still to be determined. The three international musicians would like to come to the states for a while, while Victor is contemplating returning to Amsterdam for grad school.
For Victor, winning the DownBeat award was the icing on a valuable personal experience.
“It turned out to be a really worthwhile challenge. I told myself by the time I graduate I want to have a book of my tunes that I can bring to a gig. When I first started writing seriously, I always sat on tunes for too long — nothing was ever good enough for me to bring in to bandmates and this was a way to work through that.
“I didn’t want to look back on the last three years and have three tunes written,” he added. “I also realized I would have to write a lot of stuff that I didn’t like before I could write stuff I did like. This was kind of a way for me to piece through all of that and start mining and chiseling away at whatever is going to become my compositional voice.”
Since DownBeat launched its Student Music Awards competition in 1978, Lawrence students and ensembles have won a total of 30 SMAs, including 10 in the past eight years.
AboutLawrenceUniversity Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.
What’s better than winning a Student Music Award from DownBeat magazine? How about winning two.
The Lawrence University jazz studies and improvisation department has double reason to celebrate after DownBeat’s announcement of the winners of its 38th annual Student Music Awards.
Lawrence claimed a pair of honorees — an individual and an ensemble — in the magazine’s yearly salute to the best in student music-making. Tim Carrigg was one of two winners in the college undergraduate jazz arrangement category. Tambo Toké, Lawrence’s Afro-Cuban percussion group, was cited for outstanding performance in the college undergraduate Latin Jazz Ensemble category.
The 2015 SMAs, announced in DownBeat’s June edition, are presented in 13 categories in five separate divisions (junior high, high school, performing high school, undergraduate college and graduate college) are considered among the highest music honors in the field of jazz education.
Carrigg, a senior from Westport, Mass., was recognized for his six-minute, big band arrangement “Once Upon a Time,” which was inspired by Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story.”
“When I started arranging the piece, it turned out much, much different than the original tune, so I just renamed it,” said Carrigg, a music theory/composition major with a jazz emphasis.
The SMA was a well-earned reward for Carrigg, who began working on the piece in the fall of 2013 and once spent 40 consecutive hours hunkered down in his room notating the piece.
“Whenever you’re composing anything, you put in a lot of work, literally hundreds and hundreds of hours and at the end of the day, are you going to create something that is really great? Hopefully,” said Carrigg, whose compositions will be showcased in a jazz recital on May. 31.
He recorded “Once Upon a Time” in the spring of 2014, using a 17-piece band he recruited from members of the Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble (LUJE) and Lawrence Jazz Band. Guitarist Sam Genualdi and drummer Dan Reifsteck are featured soloists on the recording.
“Tim incorporates contemporary grooves, fresh harmonic ideas and unique methods of improvisation to create music that is exciting and compelling…He is incredibly talented and still so humble and down to earth.” — Patty Darling
Carrigg says composition has been a part of his entire musical life, but he says his “serious composing” phase began three years ago when he joined the Lawrence composition studio.
“I’ve written pieces that were more compositionally sound, but this is the first piece I’ve ever written for big band,” said Carrigg, a pianist whose playing career has been sidetracked by a severe case of musician’s dystonia, a neurological movement disorder. “This one has a ton of excitement. It has a lot of adventurous things that I tried.”
Carrigg credited the late Fred Sturm, an award-winning composer and former director of Lawrence’s jazz studies program and Patty Darling, a DownBeat SMA jazz arrangement winner herself as a Lawrence student in 1984, for their mentoring on the project.
“Fred said he wanted me to write a big-band piece, so I started on it and it was really tough, really tough, but he kept pushing me and pushing me,” said Carrigg. “I wanted to make it as best for him as I possibly could. He loved it and even sent me an email saying ‘I’ve been listening to it all day.’ I felt I at least lived up to that goal.”
“Patty was fantastic on it, too,” Carrigg added. “She was extremely helpful with all the deadlines and making sure everything was in place. Through the entire process she was very encouraging.”
As a composer and arranger, Darling says Carrigg possesses “a powerful identity.”
“Tim incorporates contemporary grooves, fresh harmonic ideas and unique methods of improvisation to create music that is exciting and compelling,” said Darling, who co-directs LUJE and the Lawrence Jazz Band. “He also experiments with acoustic and electronic instruments to create new sounds that help create structure and form in his compositions. He is incredibly talented and still so humble and down to earth. Last spring, Fred told me how much he loved working with Tim and what great potential he has. Fred would be so proud right now of Tim’s success and national recognition.”
The 17-member Tambo Toké, which includes non-percussion majors, is led by student director Eli Edelman, who submitted a video tape of a 30-minute medleyof traditional Afro-Cuban drumming and songs that he arranged for his senior recital in February 2014.
“He’s done a tremendous job of teaching, creating musical arrangements and inspiring his colleagues to embrace this powerful music. The prestigious DownBeat award is well-earned testament to his great work.” — Dane Richeson on Eli Edelman
“It was obvious to me the performance was strong enough for DownBeat to consider it in their annual national student competition. I know there are very few schools that are performing this style of Cuban music in this country,” said Dane Richeson, professor of music and director of Lawrence’s percussion studio.
Tambo Toké grew out of a presentation jazz studies instructor José Encarnación did three years ago on Afro-Cuban music, specifically Rumba.
“Some students from the percussion department starting getting together on a weekly basis to listen to the music and learn how to play the individual parts for the Rumba instrumentation,” said Encarnacion, a native of Puerto Rico, who turned the presentation into a tutorial. “Some of the students had been working on this music with Dane and Michael Spiro, so they were contributing as well on teaching other members of the class, including myself, on how to play this great music.”
With Edelman leading the ensemble, Richeson decided to incorporate it into his world music curriculum, expanding the repertoire to include other Cuban traditional music such as Arara and Bata.
“The fact that our students are open minded enough to learn, respect and embrace music and life from another culture is what makes Tambo Toké special and worthy of national recognition,” said Encarnación.
Edelman, a senior from Hoboken, N.J., brings the experience of two recent visits to Cuba to his position of director of Tambo Toké. With the support of some Lawrence research grants, including a Melon Senior Experience grant, he was able to spend two months in 2013 immersed in the Afro-Cuban folkloric music scene of Havana and Matanzas.
“Almost every single day I had a two-hour private lesson in the morning with one teacher, a two-hour private lesson in the afternoon with another teacher, and then I’d go find live music performances to watch in the evening,” said Edelman, a double degree candidate with majors in percussion performance and history.
“This music is part of an oral tradition, so everything I learned was taught by ear in the way that master drummers teach their students. In the four years that I’ve been in charge of the ensemble, I’ve drawn heavily upon material I learned from my teachers in Cuba.”
Richeson, who has used several sabbaticals to study music traditions in Ghana, Cuba and Brazil, says it is crucial for 21st-century percussion students to have both exposure to, and experience performing, the music traditions rooted in West Africa.
“Eli is a perfect example from several students I’ve had over the years who have fallen in love with one of these African-based music traditions,” said Richeson. “With his command of the Spanish language and his keen musical intuition, Eli learned an impressive amount of repertoire while in Cuba. It became clear that he was ready to take on the role of student directing our Afro-Cuban ensemble. He’s done a tremendous job of teaching, creating musical arrangements and inspiring his colleagues to embrace this powerful music. The prestigious DownBeat award is well-deserved testament to his great work.”
Since DownBeat launched its student music awards competition in 1978, Lawrence students and ensembles have won a total of 26 SMAs, including six in the past five years.
AboutLawrenceUniversity Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.
The short history of the current iteration of the Lawrence University Saxophone Quartet could be told in one word: successful.
When four Lawrence University saxophone students decided in the spring of 2010 to combine their talents to perform interesting music at a very high level, they had no idea just how rewarding that decision would prove to be.
The latest in a long line of successful ensembles in the conservatory’s saxophone studio, this quartet — seniors David Davis, Sussex, and Sumner Truax, Chicago, Ill., junior Will Obst, St. Paul, Minn., and sophomore Phillip Dobernig, Mukwonago — won the annual Lawrence Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition last fall.
In March, they shared first-place honors in the annual Wisconsin Public Radio-sponsored Neale-Silva Young Artists competition in Madison.
And the nec plus ultra came this month via DownBeat magazine, which named the quartet its 2011 undergraduate college winner in the classical group category of its 34th annual Student Music Awards.
The classical group award was one of two Lawrence musicians received. Garth Neustader, a 2010 graduate, earning outstanding performance honors in the magazine’s undergraduate college jazz arrangement category for his work on “Tenderly.”
The awards were announced April 26 in DownBeat’s June edition. Known as “DBs” and presented in 12 categories in four separate divisions (junior high, high school, performing high school and college) the DownBeat awards are considered among the highest music honors in the field of jazz education.
“With their dedication and initiative, David, Sumner, Phil and Will are truly deserving of their success,” said Steve Jordheim, Lawrence professor of music and an award-winning saxophonist himself. “Though they’ve played together only one year, they have presented three full recital programs and premiered several works by Lawrence student composers. Their commitment to, and high level performance of, the art of chamber music is inspiring.”
The quartet was recognized based on a live recording of a diverse program they performed last fall that included Greg Wannamaker’s “Speed Metal Organum Blues,” “Just a Minute, Chopin” by Adam Silverman and “Quatuor pour Saxophones” by Jun Nagao.
Members credited the quartet’s success to a combination of chemistry, technique and great mentoring.
“Our personalities really allow us to work well together,” said Truax, who plays alto sax in the quartet. “Our rehearsals are very efficient because we don’t have a problem telling each other what we think needs to be fixed.”
“The way we rehearse is very methodical,” said Obst, the group’s baritone saxophonist. “We’ve informally devised a step-by-step process to work on intonation, rhythm, balance or phrasing.”
“I attribute much of our success to having truly amazing teachers,” added Davis, soprano saxophonist. “If it was not for the dedication and intense care and knowledge of Mr. Jordheim and Ms. (Sara) Kind, I would not be half as good as I am now.”
While thrilled with their DownBeat recognition, Dobernig said it’s important to keep the honor in proper perspective.
“One thing that we’ve found from doing competitions is that different judges have contrasting musical preferences that influence their decisions,” said Dobernig, the group’s tenor saxophonist. “The reality is that we played very well, and there were, without a doubt, many other groups that played very well. It’s certainly exciting, though, because of its prestige and national recognition.”
Although Davis will graduate in June, that doesn’t mean the quartet was a one-year wonder.
“We have a couple different possibilities in mind for the future,” said Truax. “All of us will be in the area next year, so we will continue to perform together. The plan is to enter some major national and international chamber music competitions in the future and if things go well, we’re definitely open to the idea of making a career out of it.”
Neustadter, a first-year graduate student pursuing music composition at Yale University, was honored for his arrangement of the 1946 Walter Gross ballad “Tenderly,” a jazz classic that has been recorded by more than 80 major artists. He wrote his five-minute arrangement for studio orchestra and vocalist near the end of his senior year at Lawrence last spring.
“I’ve written a lot of original music but wanted to try my hand at arranging a ‘classic,’” said Neustadter, who won four DB awards in composition, jazz performance and classical performance while a student at Manitowoc Lutheran High School. “‘Tenderly’ has been successful through the ages because it retains the sophisticated elegance of the great ballads without sounding ‘dated’ or ‘old-fashioned.’ With such a wealth and variety of previous recordings and arrangements, it was somewhat intimidating and difficult to bring a ‘fresh’ compositional voice to the arrangement.
“Winning the DB continues to be a huge honor,” Neustadter added, “and I’m indebted to the jazz program at Lawrence for fostering such an atmosphere of collaboration, as well as to [director of jazz and improvisational studies] Fred Sturm for his continued mentorship and guidance.”
The two awards push Lawrence’s total to 19 DBs — including eight in the past five years — since DownBeat launched its student music awards competition in 1978. This year’s competition drew a total of 964 ensemble and individual entries for all categories in all four divisions.