Eastman Musicians Win DownBeat Student Awards

May 2, 2014

DownBeat, often described as “the bible of jazz,” has recognized the Eastman School of Music’s Eastman Chamber Jazz Ensemble under director Jeff Campbell for outstanding undergraduate college performance in the magazine’s 37th annual Student Awards competition. The publication also chose a work by Eastman musician Michael Conrad as the best original composition for a large ensemble.

Conrad, a trombonist, composer, arranger, and teacher, was recognized for “West Point,” which he wrote when he was selected to participate in the West Point Jazz Knights Composer Forum. It’s the second DownBeat Student Music Award for Conrad, who also won in 2011.

“West Point” expresses Conrad’s excitement to have the chance to work with Canadian jazz composer Darcy James Argue and the military ensemble. The eight-minute work incorporates the melodic language of jazz trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas, whose compositions Conrad had been transcribing, and the textural language of composer and bandleader Gil Evans. Since its premiere by the Jazz Knights, the work has been performed several times and recorded by Colossus, a Rochester-based big band.

At Eastman, Conrad played lead trombone in the Eastman Jazz Ensemble and performed the music of Gil Evans with the Eastman Chamber Jazz Orchestra at the 2012 Umbria Jazz Festival.  His arrangement of the University of Rochester’s alma mater “The Genesee” was performed by the Eastman String Quartet at the 2012 Presidential Inauguration Luncheon.

Conrad is also the recipient of a Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composer Award and a commission from the New York Youth Symphony’s Jazz Band. He received his Master of Music degree at Eastman in 2013. Conrad holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and currently teaches at Waterloo West High School in Iowa and serves as a clinician for local music educators.

The Eastman Chamber Jazz Ensemble was recognized for its performance of the music of Marty Paich on March 22, 2013, in Kilbourn Hall featuring keyboardist, singer, and composer David Paich and drummer Dennis Mackrel. Campbell, who is associate professor and chair of Eastman’s Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media Department, had previously reached out to David Paich to have the department perform some of his father’s music. The Eastman Chamber Jazz Ensemble performed Marty Paich’s arrangements from the jazz album Art Pepper + Eleven, released in 1959, and invited David Paich to workshop the ensemble and hear the music performed live.

The Eastman Chamber Jazz Ensemble is a select ensemble which has performed both locally and internationally. In March 2012 the group, under the direction of Dave Rivello, collaborated with composer/conductor Ryan Truesdell on his most recent endeavor, The Gil Evans Project. Truesdell and the Eastman Chamber Jazz Ensemble performed the music of Gil Evans at “PrezFest 2011 – Celebrating Gil Evans” at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City, along with guest artists Phil Woods, Helen Merrill, Andy Bey, and others. The group also performed at the 2012 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival leading up to their concerts at the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia, Italy. During this time, the Eastman Chamber Jazz Ensemble performed works of Evans from albums such as New Bottle, Old Wine; Great Jazz Standards; The Individualism of Gil Evans, and Out of the Cool, as well as more than 50 of Evans’ works discovered by Truesdell that had never been recorded or released. Truesdell’s research resulted in his CD Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans, which was released on May 13, 2012, Evans’s birthday.

The awards were announced in the June 2014 issue of DownBeat magazine, which will be on the newsstands later this month.

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