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Jazz I wins another prestigious Down Beat award

| Judy Berthiaume

UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I continues to gain national recognition, winning yet another prestigious honor from Down Beat magazine.

For the seventh time, the UW-Eau Claire ensemble has won top honors in the magazine’s "Best Undergraduate College Big Band" category.

“I am absolutely ecstatic for the students,” says Robert Baca, director of Jazz I and head of the university’s jazz studies area. “I’m ecstatic for how this award will help their careers as a measure of their aptitude as it has for so many alums receiving it in the past.

“It also gives our students pride to be part of a larger family of alums who have previously received this award, Blugolds who they look to for guidance and wisdom given their successful careers.”

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, Baca says.

Many consider the Down Beat awards the educational Grammys, he says.

The magazine will include UW-Eau Claire’s award in its April 24 edition.

This year’s Jazz I audition tape comprised four songs recorded during the ensemble’s live winter concert in December, Baca says, noting that winning a Down Beat based on songs recorded during a live concert is an even more impressive accomplishment given the quality of the music submitted to the magazine for consideration.

While he is thrilled the ensemble earned honors, he is not surprised, Baca says.

“The ensemble this year possesses all of the characteristics necessary for creating high excellence,” Baca says. “They are limitless in their aspirations. They dream and consciously create the steps toward making the dream a reality, no matter how long it takes. They truly enjoy the journey no matter what the outcome. They understand they cannot do things alone and have developed relationships with each other to accomplish our goals. They are selfless and interdependent. Their excellence is a natural outcome.”

Jazz I has been recognized by Down Beat magazine multiple times, and numerous Blugolds have received individual Down Beat awards for composition, rhythm and blues, and improvisational soloing. Jazz I also has had two CD recordings nominated for Grammy awards.

Consistently earning these kinds of honors is especially meaningful since UW-Eau Claire’s jazz area is part of a much larger classically oriented music department.

“There is no jazz studies degree and the curriculum is primarily classical,” Baca says of UW-Eau Claire’s music programs. “By nature, through the approach of learning classical music, we gain a paradigm of thinking that directs our ears and muscle memory to create and produce any sound that comes to our head.

“Once this process becomes natural, classical music, jazz, indie, alternative, world music and others all become an interpretation of style and color. For the classical musician, learning jazz turns on all kinds of other switches in our creative mind that greatly enhances the emotion of classical music.”

To reach high levels of musicianship in all genres, which has become the industry standard today, the fundamental approach needs to be that of a classical musician, Baca says.

“In that way, I believe UW-Eau Claire musicians are being well prepared for the new challenges that exist in today’s music industry,” Baca says.

The latest Down Beat award reflects the overall quality of UW-Eau Claire and its music programs, Baca says.

“I am beyond proud of the musicians in the jazz ensemble, which is one of many ensembles and classes that create the UWEC experience for our students,” Baca says. “The music department is fully engaged in The Power of AND, working with the greater university to create the most holistic thinking student possible to conquer a larger world beyond graduation.

“I feel very blessed to be teaching in such an environment and cherish every moment of interaction with students brought up in it.”

In addition to the Down Beat award, the UW-Eau Claire Jazz I ensemble also learned this month that it will perform at the International Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic, the largest gathering of professional jazz musicians in the world.

“This is the grandfather of all conventions,” says Baca, noting that more than 19,000 musicians will attend the December gathering in Chicago. “They invite one jazz ensemble and we are it. It is the crème de crème of all experiences. I cannot believe all the great things that are happening. It’s euphoria.”

Photo caption: UW-Eau Claire’s Jazz Ensemble I continues to gain national recognition, winning yet another prestigious honor from Down Beat magazine.