Kutztown University’s Department of Music has been named the recipient of a DownBeat Student Music Award (SMA). KU’s Blues and Rock Ensemble I took the prize for Undergraduate College Outstanding Performance in the category of Blues/Pop/Rock Group. The group is under the direction of Dr. Kevin Kjos, director of jazz studies and professor of trumpet at KU since 1998.
Kutztown is the only institution of higher education in Pennsylvania to receive a 2018 Student Music Award.
Down Beat magazine is the premier jazz magazine for professional jazz musicians as well as those who contribute to the industry, like producers, engineers, advertisers and students. For its awards, institutions nationwide submit recordings in a variety of categories. Panels of respected jazz performers and educators select winners and outstanding performance citations.
The DownBeat Student Music Awards, founded in 1976, are considered the most prestigious awards in jazz education. Hundreds of musicians, music educators and music industry professionals received their first international recognition as DownBeat Student Music Award winners. At least six winners have gone on to appear on the cover of DownBeat as professional artists. Scores have been featured in the magazine and have won either Critics or Readers Poll honors. Even before becoming professionals, students have used this recognition to garner more than $10 million in scholarship opportunities. Being a DownBeat Student Music Award winner is an accomplishment line on any college application or professional resume.
“This is an affirmation of the incredibly hard work the students do at KU,” said Kjos. “They are always willing to go the extra mile to make themselves better. For me, it is like working with young professionals, not only professional skills, but professional and mature attitudes. Since this is a team activity, it is critical that they all enjoy working with each other and learning from each other. No egos. Just playing for the joy of making music at a high level.”
Bryan Rojas, a commercial performance major from Reading did not have a music program in his high school, Berks Catholic. Coming to KU was the best choice for him.
“It’s a beautiful blessing to be a part of such a talented ensemble; talented enough to win a national award of this caliber,” he said. “KU’s music program was a much-needed breath of inspiration. It helped me challenge myself both as a musician and as an ambitious soul working towards my goals.”
“I know how important this award is for our music program,” said Brianna Parry, a music performance major from Coplay. “It is very humbling to bring recognition to our school by performing music and fostering the creative atmosphere we have here at KU. We perform music that we all enjoy and it is that much more gratifying to recognized for this on a national level.”
This is the first ensemble award for the Jazz and Commercial Studies from Down Beat. Kristin Cochran (nee Grassi) won for Best College Jazz Vocalist in 2007.
“We are so proud of our students and faculty in the Department of Music,” said Dr. Michelle Kiec, dean, Kutztown University College of Visual and Performing Arts. “This recognition validates what we already know, that Kutztown University is an exceptional music program full of talented students who are doing great things.”
Kutztown University’s Department of Music, an All-Steinway program, offers an outstanding undergraduate education for aspiring musicians while serving as a primary cultural resource for the region. With an emphasis on active learning, the comprehensive music curriculum gives our students extensive experience in their chosen field of study.
The Commercial Music Ensemble, in its second year of existence, is dedicated to playing classic songs from a variety of genres within the commercial music field: from pop to rock to rhythm and blues to funk and beyond. Students learn about the many rhythmic idioms of popular music, and the skills needed as instrumentalists and vocalists to perform in today’s commercial music world.
The band consists of a rhythm section, horn section, and vocalists. Students are also encouraged to bring their own transcriptions and arrangements into the ensemble. Auditions are held twice a year, and both music and non-music majors are invited to participate.
Video is available at https://www.kutztown.edu/news-and-media/news-releases/april-2018/blues-and-rock-ensemble-receive-downbeat-student-music-award.htm.