JSU Jazz Ensemble Wins DownBeat Award


by Abigail Harrison

JSU Jazz Ensemble I is featured in the June issue of “DownBeat” magazine as the winner of a DownBeat Student Music Award - the university equivalent of winning a Grammy.

The cover of the June 2023 issue of Downbeat magazine. Every December, colleges, universities and high schools submit recordings in various categories – such as Small Group, Large Ensemble, Vocal Jazz, Original Composition, and Arranging – and the best submissions are chosen. JSU submitted three songs and was honored for its outstanding performance in the Large Ensemble category.

“This award recognizes the excellence of our jazz program, and in particular, the students in JSU Jazz Ensemble I and the hard work they put in to learn their music,” said Dr. Andy Nevala, director of the JSU Jazz program. “Each of the students will receive a certificate to be framed that will go on their future office walls. Those things are hard to get, and represent dedication, talent, skill and a strong work ethic. That will help these students when they apply for jobs.”

It's the second time JSU Jazz Ensemble I - the university's premier jazz performance group - has won a Downbeat Award. The group was last honored in 2015. Then, it cost the program nearly $5,000 to professionally record its "DownBeat" submission. This year, the program only had to pay its $15 application fee as the recording was done in-house by Dr. Nevala and Dr. James Woodward, associate professor of music theory. 

JSU Jazz currently boasts four jazz ensembles, including the award-winning Jazz Ensemble I, and six combos and a Latin Ensemble. Admission is open to students of all majors and placement auditions are held the first day of classes each semester. The university offers a Bachelor of Arts in music focused on jazz performance, as well as a minor in jazz studies. Founded with the hiring of Dr. Nevala in 2011, JSU Jazz continues to distinguish itself as Alabama's leading collegiate program. 

“Students are getting instruction from professionals in the industry, and it is showing up big time in the results we are getting," Nevala said. "This award means we have the largest, most successful jazz program in the state, and one of the most successful in the region. For a university of our size, to win two, that’s almost unheard of."