UMass Amherst Jazz Program Wins Two National Collegiate Awards from Downbeat

Above left: Chris Foe. Above: The UMass Brazilian Jazz Combo, from left: Justin Esiason, trumpet; Peter da Silva, saxophone; James McCarthy, drums; Matt Twaddle, piano; Ben Powell, guitar; not shown: Ben Gunderman, bass.
Above left: Chris Foe. Above: The UMass Brazilian Jazz Combo, from left: Justin Esiason, trumpet; Peter da Silva, saxophone; James McCarthy, drums; Matt Twaddle, piano; Ben Powell, guitar; not shown: Ben Gunderman, bass.

AMHERST, Mass. – Two ensembles from the University of Massachusetts Amherst department of music and dance’s jazz and African-American music studies program have garnered awards in Downbeat Magazine’s 2018 Student Music Awards (SMAs).

The Chris Foe Project won for Outstanding Performance, Graduate College Blues/Pop/Rock Ensemble. The UMass Brazilian Jazz Combo won for best Undergraduate College Latin Group.

A native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Foe earned his master’s in jazz composition and arranging from UMass Amherst last year. The work submitted to Downbeat was a multi-movement setting of Psalm 88 that drew on elements of jazz, Renaissance-era polyphony and “heavy music.”

Beside Foe on guitar, The Chris Foe Project featured instrumental and vocal graduates and undergraduates from music and dance, including Luis Granda, bass guitar; George Robinson, drums;  Justin Esiason, trumpet; Zachary Bartolomei, alto saxophone; Dann Friedman, tenor saxophone; Nicholas Biagini, baritone saxophone; Jessica Erving, soprano; Grace McKay, alto; Henry Zagarella, tenor; and Eric Weloth, bass.

The UMass Brazilian Jazz Combo consists of Justin Esiason, trumpet; Peter da Silva, saxophone; James McCarthy, drums; Matt Twaddle, piano; Ben Powell, guitar; and Ben Gunderman, bass. The group worked with faculty member Felipe Salles in studying and performing music of prominent Brazilian musicians, like Egberto Gismonti and Hermeto Pascoal, while exploring current trends in Brazil’s local jazz scene.

Program director Jeffrey W. Holmes said this year’s winners are part of a proud tradition of music and dance department students who have been recognized with Downbeat Student Awards. “Individual students and ensembles related to the jazz and African-American music studies program at UMass Amherst have won in virtually every performance and writing category over the years, with 52 Downbeat awards to date,” he said.

Recognized as the top publication devoted to “Jazz, Blues, and Beyond” since its inception in 1934, Downbeat publishes the SMA winners each year in its June issue.

Recordings are submitted from institutions nationwide in a variety of categories and are judged by panels of respected Jazz performers and educators who pick winners and give outstanding performance citations.