photo of Miles David Jazz Studies Ensemble I at Jazz Championship in New York

Students and Faculty from UNC Greensboro’s Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program are bringing home some top prizes from the Jack Rudin Jazz Championship in New York, where they competed as one of “ten of the most well-regarded university jazz programs in the country,” at the invitation of jazz legend Wynton Marsalis.

The two-day event took place at Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) – the famous “House of Swing”– and honors the legacy of Jack Rudin, founder of Essentially Ellington, the organization’s signature transformative education program. 

Students took part in workshops, a mentoring session, a Q&A with Wynton Marsalis, and a combo showcase, all leading up to the competition. After highly competitive performances from the ten participating schools, seven of the Miles Davis Jazz Studies students received individual awards:

Emerson Borg, The Outstanding Trumpet

Julian Kennedy,  The Outstanding Vocalist

Chloe White, The Outstanding Soprano Saxophone

Jordan Ingram, An Honorable Mention Baritone Saxophone

Leroy Pridgen IV, An Honorable Mention Trombone

Ian Rood, An Honorable Mention Trumpet

James Wood, An Honorable Mention Piano

The judges selected the Michigan State University College of Music as this year’s winner.  Other participating schools were: Brigham Young University; California State University, Fullerton; Indiana University Jacobs School of Music; North Carolina Central University; Temple University; University of Kansas; University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music; and University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

UNC Greensboro College of Visual and Performing Arts Dean bruce d. mcclung says the College is justifiably proud of the School of Music’s Jazz Studies Program:

“This has been an incredibly enriching for our students.  They are returning to Greensboro and to campus having had a transformative experience performing and competing at the premiere venue for jazz in the United States: Jazz at Lincoln Center. The invitation for our students to participate in this competition is a sign of the Miles Davis Jazz Studies’ standing as one of this country’s most prestigious jazz training programs and I could not be more proud of this group of students and faculty.”

Students agree this was a life-changing experience.  Julian Kennedy, a senior jazz studies major with a concentration in piano performance, found himself face-to-face with Wynton Marsalis during the Q&A:

“He gave me great advice about how to organize and write things down in my work.  I will carry his words with me for the rest of my music career.  He was very inspiring, and he is not only a great musician, he’s a fantastic human.”

One of the highlights of the trip was a 2-hour mentoring session with Obed Calvaire, who has performed and recorded with artists such as Wynton Marsalis, Seal, Eddie Palmeri, Vanessa Williams, Dave Holland, David Foster, and Mary J. Blige.  Calvaire went through the band’s competition pieces and gave specific advice to prepare them for the competition – sitting in on the drums while working with bassist Damien Miles.

Doctoral student Dandrick Glenn says, “It’s been an incredible experience. I’m a little speechless. There’s such a different energy being in the room with these jazz musicians we really look up to – hero-figures, really – and they’re giving us advice, handshakes, and hugs.”

Traveling with students were faculty members Thomas Heflin, J.C. Martin, and Steve Haines, who led the band during the performance. Haines says he is thrilled with what the students brought to the stage:

“We have lived with this music for a long.  We have lived and breathed this music. I have watched the students stretch and grow during these months as we’ve prepared for this.  And here we are in the Rose Theatre at Jazz at Lincoln Center – such an incredibly special place to be able to perform.”

Story by Terri W. Relos