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SUNY Fredonia Jazz Flextet wins magazine award

Dr. Nick Weiser announcing the award at a gathering of all Jazz Studies students.

The already high standing of the State University of New York at Fredonia’s Jazz Studies program in DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards competition has reached a crescendo with the Jazz Flextet winning the outright Student Music Award in the Undergraduate Pop/Rock/Blues Group.

The 2024 award comes on the heels of the ensemble winning consecutive Outstanding Performance Awards – in 2023 and 2022 – in the undergraduate division of the Large Jazz Ensemble and Rock/Pop/Blues Group categories, respectively.

“This differs from past years in that we won the category outright this year, as opposed to receiving the Outstanding Performance Award,” explained Associate Professor Nick Weiser, head of Jazz Studies.

“That’s the biggest distinction, not just being recognized in a category, but actually winning the category. This is the outright winner in the Pop/Rock/Blues category,” Dr. Weiser said. Outstanding Performance Awards, while indeed worthy of merit, are analogous to honorable mention in the category.

To give context to the latest achievement, Weiser, who announced the award at a gathering of all Jazz Studies students, projected onto a screen a page from the upcoming DownBeat Magazine edition that announces competition results. On the same page with SUNY Fredonia were well known conservatories, such as the Manhattan School of Music, that were also recognized.

“We are competitive relative to the best programs and some of the best players in the country. That’s one of the amazing things about blindly judged competitions like this, where everybody is on the same playing field; it gives opportunities to programs regardless of size, name or reputation.”

The Jazz Studies program’s initial DownBeat accolade was in 2019, when the New Jazz Ensemble won Outstanding Performance honors in the undergraduate division of the Large Jazz Ensemble category.

“We are thrilled for the Fredonia Jazz Flextet, and honored to receive another significant recognition for SUNY Fredonia and our School of Music. Jazz has been part of Fredonia’s musical tapestry, in various configurations, for nearly 100 years,” said School of Music Dean David Stringham. He added that the school’s rich jazz legacy is a testament to former student and faculty leaders such as Professor Emeriti Linda Phillips and Harry Jacobson and Lecturer Emeritus Bruce Johnstone.

Achieving four DownBeat Magazine honors in a brief six-year span isn’t by accident or chance, according to Weiser.

“It’s not coincidental this year; I always hold the ensembles to incredibly high standards, and all the students in the ensembles take the music very seriously, and there’s a high degree of investment in the jazz program, and in each of the ensembles. Certainly, receiving these awards is a real point of pride for the students in the program and to each of these ensembles,” Weiser said.

Associate Professor Kieran Hanlon has always been impressed by the level of musicianship by Jazz Flextet students.

“Dr. Weiser always has them beautifully prepared for these concerts, and they always execute the repertoire with technical accuracy and stylistic integrity. It is this level of consistency that has contributed to their repeated success in the DownBeat competitions, and it is also the key to their future viability as professional musicians,” Hanlon said.

One of the three selections Weiser submitted for this year’s competition, which he considers to be incredibly difficult, has a direct connection to Weiser’s undergraduate education. “Moot Point” is an original composition written by Director of Jazz Studies and Professor of Music Dan Gailey, of the University of Kansas, Weiser’s alma mater.

“He was a mentor to me, in terms of my influences on my ensemble direction and my taste in jazz ensemble programming,” Weiser explained. “I’ve always looked to Dan’s model and my experience at the University of Kansas as really shaping my ideas of how to run ensembles and how to program for ensembles like this.”

It’s clearly a proven formula for success. Gailey’s program also has a long history of winning DownBeat awards, Weiser noted. “It’s just a really interesting coincidence that we were programming one of Dan’s pieces as one of our submissions for the DownBeat award this year.”

The other two submissions were a Neil Carson arrangement of “In Your Eyes,” a 1986 hit by English singer/songwriter Peter Gabriel, and “Pacified Existence,” by Tony Glausi, an internationally recognized trumpeter, composer and music producer.

Weiser plans to continue development of the ensemble, grow the Jazz Studies program and continue to position it to perform at a very high level. He harbors another ambition – to get the ensembles out beyond the local community and into the entire region and across the country. Taking groups of musicians of such high caliber to perform elsewhere will “illustrate that what we’re doing is at the highest level,” he said.

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