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Award News

The Jazz Studies Area of the Department of Music and Theatre Arts continues to be in the news. See the articles below for more information about the nationally acclaimed Jazz Ensemble I, directed by Robert Baca, and outstanding students participating in the Jazz Studies Area.

 


  2003 Down Beat Award


UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I
Again Receives National Honors

--News Bureau, UW-Eau Claire

April 24, 2003

UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I

For the fifth time in seven years, a national magazine has named University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I one of the best collegiate jazz ensembles in the country.

Down Beat magazine — considered the premiere jazz publication in the United States — again gave one of its “Best College Big Band” awards to UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I, giving it special recognition for the sub-category of “outstanding performance.”

“I am so proud of our students,” said Robert Baca, director of jazz studies at UW-Eau Claire. “We can commend them not only for their outstanding musical talent and hard work, but for their selfless attitude toward each other and the dedication to the music they have such a passion for.”

Junior music major Tom Krochock of Minneapolis also won a Down Beat award for Best Classical Trumpet.

While Jazz Ensemble I has received the Down Beat honor five times, it’s the first time many of the current members have received such a prestigious award, Baca said.

“Their success lies in their dedication and well-rounded training as classical musicians,” Baca said. “These musicians fit our university’s expectation for excellence and are proof that excellence is possible in a smaller university atmosphere.”

Baca said he doesn’t know of another group that has received the magazine’s top award as many times as UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I. And other colleges and universities winning the award in past years have been significantly larger institutions, with many of them having full-time jazz faculty members, graduate programs in jazz and/or undergraduate degrees in jazz studies, he said.

Down Beat magazine is a national publication for student, amateur, and professional musicians and educators seriously involved in various types of contemporary music, including jazz, rock, blues and electronics. Baca describes the magazine’s annual awards as the “educational Grammys” because they are so prestigious.

Jazz Ensemble I received yet another honor this month when it was invited to perform at the Midwest Band and Orchestra International Clinic in downtown Chicago. With more than 14,000 participants, it’s the largest gathering of music professional people at one clinic in the world, Baca said. “It’s the largest event we could hope to perform for,” Baca said, noting that the ensemble attracted more than 2,000 audience members when it last performed at the clinic in 1997. “It’s an honor to get an invitation.”

In recent years, members of Jazz Ensemble I have toured throughout the world, with Europe, England and China being among their performance destinations.

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2002 Down Beat Award

UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I Receives National Recognition -- News Bureau, UW-Eau Claire

April 22, 2002

For the fourth time in six years, a national magazine has named University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I one of the best collegiate jazz ensembles in the country.

Robert Baca

Down Beat magazine - considered the premiere jazz publication in the United States - again gave one of its "Best College Big Band" awards to UW-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I, recognizing its latest CD release titled "Jazz In Clear Water-Vernal Fields." The CD received special recognition for the sub-category of "outstanding performance."

"I am absolutely beside myself in the pride I have for our students in the jazz studies area and music department," said Robert Baca, director of jazz studies at UW-Eau Claire. "Only because of the kind of students that exist at UW-Eau Claire is this 'magic' possible."

Baca said he doesn't know of another group that has received the magazine's top award as many times as UW-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I. And other colleges and universities winning the award in past years have been significantly larger institutions, with many of them having full-time jazz faculty members, graduate programs in jazz and/or undergraduate degrees in jazz studies, he said.

Down Beat magazine is a national publication for student, amateur, and professional musicians and educators seriously involved in various types of contemporary music, including jazz, rock, blues and electronics. Baca describes the magazine's annual awards as the "educational Grammys" because they are so prestigious. Baca said when he arrived at UW-Eau Claire 16 years ago, he "never realized the unbelievable potential of these upper Midwest kids."

"After teaching here for one year, I had a saying outside my door that stated, 'The reality of dreams comes from naïve idealism.' To this day, I think this saying describes our students," Baca said.

UW-Eau Claire's music faculty and UW-Eau Claire administrators also deserve credit for their part in the ensemble's success, Baca said, noting that students need to feel that their efforts are supported to achieve success at this level.

The ensemble's last CD, "Jazz in Clear Water-Things to Come," was nominated for a Grammy.
Jazz Ensemble I has toured throughout the world, with Europe, England and China being among its performance destinations.

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 2001 Student Awards

UW-Eau Claire Student Wins
Prestigious Music Award

--News Bureau, UW-Eau Claire

“I was proud that my hard work and
dedication to my music has paid off,”
[Suarez] said.

May 11, 2001

Down Beat magazine recently recognized Adrian Suarez, Oconomowoc, a percussionist and senior music major at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, with one of its prestigious Down Beat Student Music Awards.Down Beat annually selects the best student jazz musicians in the country and honors the winners by publishing their names in the June issue of the magazine.

Entrants submit tapes of performances, which are judged by a panel of professional musicians and educators; the panel then selects and notifies the winners.

Suarez, who has played percussion for 12 years and won the award for best drummer, said he was astounded when he heard he was one of the winners.

“I was proud that my hard work and dedication to my music has paid off,” he said.

Future goals and plans for Suarez include going to graduate school and playing professionally at the highest level possible.

Down Beat magazine is a national publication for student, amateur, and professional musicians and educators seriously involved in various types of contemporary music, including jazz, rock, blues and electronics.
In the past few years, several UW-Eau Claire students and ensembles have won Down Beat awards

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2000 Student Awards

Jeff Walk, Chippewa Falls native and trumpet player in UW-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I, has earned national recognition from Down Beat magazine and the Henry Mancini Institute in Los Angeles.
--by William Foy, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

November 23, 2000

You can measure the strength of UW-Eau Claire's jazz program by looking at national standard bearers or at the school's least experienced ensemble.

Jeff Walk, a trumpeter in Jazz Ensemble I, stands as a prime example of UW-Eau Claire's high regard on the college jazz circuit. Earlier this year, the24-year-old Chippewa Falls native was named outstanding college jazz soloist in Down Beat magazine, the bible of jazz. He also was one of just four trumpeters accepted at the international Henry Mancini Institute in LosAngeles, which is akin to earning a Rhodes scholarship in jazz.

But Walk is just one of UW-Eau Claire's high achievers. Andy Frisinger, a former member of Jazz I, also received a Down Beat college award. Frisinger, a North High School graduate and leader of the local band Planet Vinyl, was chosen for best rhythm and blues player.

Another Jazz I player, Andy Neesley, last year won first place in a national trumpet competition in Washington, D.C., and third place in a contest sponsored by the International Trumpet Guild.

In fact, jazz faculty members Robert Baca and Ron Keezer decided that the group's next compact disc, due out in mid-January and tentatively titled "Things to Come," will include performances by all five jazz ensembles, or about 110 jazz students.

"We felt all of the jazz ensembles were so strong and have so much depth we needed to take this one time out and record all five jazz ensembles," Baca said.

Jazz Ensemble I will showcase some of the department's skills in its fall concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, in Gantner Concert Hall.

Baca is especially proud of Walk because of the musician's work ethic.  "Jeff's strength is his attitude," Baca said. "Jeff is not a natural player, but through sheer will, Jeff will succeed at whatever he sets his mind to.  That's a great example for most of us, because most of us who have gone out and played are not natural players."

For his part, Walk gives much of the credit to his school and his teacher.  "Mr. Baca is the biggest reason for any of this. He knows what you need to do.  He'll bend over backward for you anytime," Walk said, adding that other faculty members share Baca's dedication.

In winning the Down Beat award, Walk got to see his name in a publication where he was used to reading about his idols.  "I'd flip through them ever since I was a kid," he said.

The honor might be comparable to a college player's version of a Grammy Award, and its prestige became apparent when he was in Los Angeles for the Mancini Institute and met trumpeter Terence Blanchard and bassist Christian McBride, two premier jazz players.

"They both came up, and before I even introduced myself, they said congratulations," he said. "I was like, ‘What are you talking about?'

"They said, ‘I saw your picture in Down Beat.' "

For the Mancini Institute, which like the Down Beat honor came about through an audition tape, Walk spent a month at the University of California-Los Angeles. Room, board and tuition, which cost about $3,800, were paid for each student.

Basically, Walk got to play up to nine hours, including rehearsals and gigs, and work with giants of the industry, including director-composer PatrickWilliams, trumpeter Charley Davis, trumpeter-saxophonist-arranger Jerry Hey, saxophonist Ernie Watts and trombonist Bill Reichenbach.

Besides playing, the musicians visited professional recording sessions, where Walk got a glimpse of the work he'd love to do as a career.

Some of the best learning opportunities came at social gatherings with great musicians. "We'd go out to eat or something and just talk," he said.

Having just switched his major from education to performance, Walk said he's looking at several graduate schools. Eventually he would love to be a studio musician because of the need for versatility, but he also would be happy in the educational realm, taking a small school and helping to build it into prominence, as he's seen his teacher Baca do.

While Walk has big dreams, it doesn't appear that ego will get in the way of them, to judge by the way he regards his fellow UW-Eau Claire students.

"We're all in this boat together," he said. "We're not out to cut each other's throat; we're here to work with each other. That's why we practice together all the time. One person has one skill I could definitely improve on, and I might have something they could improve on."

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1998 Down Beat Award

Jazz Ensemble I  Awarded Down Beat Best College Big Band for 1998
--by William Foy, Eau Claire leader-Telegram

May 6, 1998

Musicians in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire's Jazz Ensemble I can read about themselves and their heroes in the latest edition of Down Beat magazine.

For the second time in three years, Jazz I has earned the Best College Big Band honor from the magazine, regarded as the bible of jazz music. The UW-Eau Claire group is sharing the honor with bands from the University of Miami in Florida and Western Michigan University.

"That's a neat honor, to open it up and see your school's name in there," said Matt Kendziera, drummer for Jazz I and a four-year subscriber to Down Beat.

"The award is especially satisfying because the bands are not categorized by enrollment," said Robert Baca, director of Jazz I. Consequently, Jazz I was competing against colleges that have doctoral programs and as many as 12 jazz faculty. UW-Eau Claire has two full-time jazz faculty -- Baca and Ronald Keezer -- and no jazz-studies degree or graduate program.

"It is similar to winning the Grammy Awards," Baca said of the honor.

As a testament to that prestige, high-profile offers have poured in since Jazz I won its first Down Beat award in 1996. Notably, the group performed at the Midwest Band Directors convention, the largest event of its kind, in December in Chicago; the Minnesota Music Educators convention in February; and the New York Brass Conference in March.

The brass conference, where Jazz I was the only college band to perform, was especially noteworthy.

Plus, Jazz I has been chosen to record a compact disc for Kjos Publishing Co. of San Diego, Calif. The CD, which contains the company's newest music, goes out to many band directors. "It's always been professionals that had done that in the past," Baca said.

Those standards are evident in the band's five recordings, the most recent of which, "Jazz in Clear Water: Hoe Down," came out last fall on Sea Breeze Vista Records. This month the band will go to the Minnesota Public Radio studio in Minneapolis to finish recording its sixth, to be titled "Jazz in Clear Water: A Timeless Vision."

The audience at Thursday's concert will hear the title tune, which was written by Dennis Luginbill, a 1994 UW-Eau Claire graduate, trumpet player, composer and music teacher at North High School.

Baca said he's especially impressed that Luginbill can maintain the disciplines of playing, composing and teaching. "He has an unstoppable energy," he said.

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1996 Down Beat Award

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Wins Prestigious Down Beat Student Music Award--Best College Big Band for 1996
--by Frank Alkyer, Down Beat Magazine

Elmhurst Ill. - The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has been awarded the prestigious Down Beat Student Music Award for Best College Big Band. Under the direction of Robert Baca, the ensemble is one of two honored in Down Beat's 19th annual tribute to the nations top student musicians and bands.

The group was selected from more than 150 entries in the College Big Band category. Bands entering in the competition sent tapes, which were adjudicated by top educators, composers and performing artists.

"We are very proud to honor the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire," said Kevin Maher, Down Beat publisher. "The standards for the Down Beat Student Music Awards are very high. In essence, our adjudicators have given this award to a college ensemble that is operating on a professional level."

Founded in 1978, the Down Beat Student Music Awards, (informally known as the DB's) have been called the Grammy Awards of music education. The quality of the musicians and bands entering the Student Music Awards each year has been credited by many as one of the key ingredients in jazz resurgence in popularity during the past decade-especially in offering early recognition for many of jazz top young performing artists. Past winners include trumpeter, Roy Hargrove, a protege of Wynton Marsalis, who records for Verve records. Another is Saxophonist Craig Handy, who stars in Robert Altmen's new film Kansas City. Trumpeter Jeff Beal, another "DB" winner is one of the film industry's most in-demand composers. Other "DB" honorees include drummer Greg Bissonette, composer Maria Schneider, pianist Vernal Brown Jr., saxophonist Nelson Rangell, and dozens of other professional musicians. In addition, scores of award winners have gone on to become highly effective jazz educators.

"This is our way of recognizing the next generation of jazz", Maher said. "Jazz is America's classical music, a product that has become synonymous with this country and delivered around the world. It all starts in the classroom with quality programs, quality educators and quality students."

 

UW-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I Wins Grammy Award for Jazz Education
--by Judy Berthiaune, from UW-Eau Claire Alumni Magazine, "The View"

A national magazine has named the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I the best collegiate jazz ensemble in the country.

Down Beat magazine, considered the premiere jazz publication in the United States, announced its distinction in its May 1996 edition which featured its 19th annual Student Music Awards winners.

"It really is a Cinderella story," said Robert Baca, associate professor of music and director of Jazz Ensemble I. It is unusual for a university our size to be honored with an award like this. We were viewed with bigger schools--schools that have master's and doctoral degree program in jazz. We're dancing on the ceiling we're so excited about this honor."

This is the first time a UW-Eau Claire jazz ensemble has received such an honor in a national publication.

"We're very pleased but we just try to have fun," said Adam Bever, a senior music education major from Eau Claire, said of the band. "We weren't shooting for the award. We just did what we do best."

It's particularly exciting, Bever said, to know that the schools typically winning the award have far more extensive programs than the jazz area at UW-Eau Claire. "This is a really big deal for us to win," he said. UW-Eau Claire shared the top honors in the Best College Big Band Category with the University of Miami.

"It is a great honor to co-win with the University of Miami. It is considered one of the top two or three jazz programs in the country," Baca said, noting that the University of Miami has many jazz professors and a master's degree in jazz studies.

Jazz Ensemble I released its third compact disc "Jazz In Clear Water- Brilliant Corners" in 1995. Baca said he sent Down Beat magazine the disc hoping that individual ensemble members would be recognized.

For music schools, the Down Beat annual awards are similar to the Grammy Music Awards in terms of significance, Baca said. "They became known as being distinctive when many of the top colleges in the country started to participate," Baca said.

"Many of the participating schools offer undergraduate, master's and doctoral programs in jazz studies, while UW-Eau Claire does not offer a jazz studies degree," Baca said of the differences. "As a matter of fact, jazz ensemble is not a requirement for any degree. It is purely voluntary yet we have the one of the largest jazz areas in the Midwest."

"It is well rounded classical training that students receive from good private teaching and participation in all ensembles at UWEC that makes them competitive among schools and jazz areas far larger that UW-Eau Claire," Baca said. "And from teamship and an ultimate respect for each other as musicians and human beings, there is a spirit in the ensemble that one can hear in the music," he said. "And, we take risks with the music!"

Being part of an award-winning ensemble will likely help his career down the road, Bever said. "The experience of being in the band is going to make me a better teacher and a better player," he said. "It's all about having fun and getting better."

The group is currently working on its fourth CD, "Jazz On Clear Water-Harpoon," expected to be released in the fall.

The first two CD's are titled "Jazz in Clear Water" and "Jazz in Clear Water- In Transit."

Jazz Ensemble I has toured throughout the world, with Europe, England and China being primary performance destinations.

UW-Eau Claire's jazz studies area has four large jazz esembles and 18 combos.

While Jazz Ensemble I was singled out for this award, the ensemble's succes is reflective of the quality of UW-Eau Claire's music department as a whole," Baca said.

 

Down Beat Best College Big Band for 1996
by William Foy, Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

May 2, 1996

Down Beat magazine has given the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Jazz Ensemble I a reason to be upbeat.

The magazine, the most prestigious periodical in the jazz world, has named the ensemble a co-winner as Best College Big Band in the 19th annual Down Beat Student Music Awards.

"We are absolutely ecstatic," said Robert Baca, the group's director. As partof the recognition, Jazz I is billing its annual spring show, set for 8 p.m. next Thursday, as a "Down Beat Award celebration concert."

The group, sharing the award with the University of Miami, was selected from more than 150 entrants. To qualify, they sent a tape that was judged byprofessional musicians and educators.

The awards are especially coveted, Baca said, because all bands are put in one group and not divided by school size. For example, two regular winners of the awards are North Texas State University and Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, N.Y. Both have doctoral programs and seven to 10 full-time faculty, while UW-Eau Claire has two full-time educators: Baca and Ronald Keezer.

The award's high profile also comes from the strong name recognition of themagazine, said Ed Enright, Down Beat managing editor.

"It has built quite a legacy," he said, noting that the Chicago-based magazine started in 1934 and is believed to be the nation's oldest music magazine.  "It's as old as swing itself."

Past winners of the contest include trumpeter Roy Hargrove, one of jazz's most acclaimed young musicians, and saxophonist Craig Handy, who stars in the new film "Kansas City," directed by Robert Altman.

Jazz I's celebratory concert will feature jazz standards and pieces by UW-Eau Claire musicians. Some selections will appear on the group's third compact disc, "Jazz on Clear Water -- Harpoon," which is scheduled to be recorded this month and released in October.

Concertgoers can hear the disc's title track, which was written by bassist Scott Pingel from Jazz I.

"We try to have a student composition be the title track on every CD to give them more recognition for their work," Baca said.

Other Jazz I originals to be played at the concert are "Can't We Be Friends?" by trumpeter Eli Grajkowski and "A Strand of Time" by bassist Aaron Doty.

Looking ahead to next season, Baca said, Jazz I is set to perform Sunday, Oct. 6, at the KBEM Jazz Festival, the largest such event in Minneapolis-St. Paul and at the Wisconsin Music Educators state conference in October.  Plus the group is hoping to play at the International Association of Jazz Educators conference in January.

Coincidentally, the event will be held in Chicago, the home of Down Beat magazine. "I think Down Beat will have a definite influence on that decision,"Baca said.

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Contact Information
Robert Baca
Director of Jazz Studies
250 Haas Fine Arts
UW-Eau Claire
Eau Claire, WI 54702
(715) 836-4371

bacarj@uwec.edu

Excellence. Our Measure. Our Motto. Our Goal.