“Downbeat” Magazine Honors UMass Jazz Students with Three National Awards Category

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Students in the jazz and African-American music studies program in the department of music and dance have been honored with three of “Downbeat” magazine’s 2019 Student Music Awards (SMA). Grace McKay, Matt Twaddle, and the UMass Odd Meters Combo were each selected for one of the awards.

Devoted to “Jazz, Blues and Beyond” since its inception in 1934, “Downbeat” publishes the SMA winners each year in its June issue. Institutions across the nation submit recordings to be judged by panels of respected jazz musicians. UMass ranks among other music institutions that have received regular recognition from “Downbeat,” including Berklee College of Music, University of North Texas, University of Miami, Manhattan School of Music and University of Northern Colorado.

This year, Grace McKay won the award for “Outstanding Performance, Undergraduate College Vocal Jazz Soloist.” A native of Arlington, Mass., McKay earned her undergraduate degree in Jazz and African-American Music Studies (vocal concentration) in December. The works submitted to Downbeat were Bobby Timmons’ “Moanin’” and Cole Porter’s “It’s All Right With Me,” material also performed in her Senior Recital. Professor Catherine Jensen-Hole, McKay’s instructor, helped with recording the music for Downbeat.

The award for “Outstanding Performance, Undergraduate College Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist” went to pianist Matt Twaddle. From York, Penn., Twaddle will graduate this spring with an undergraduate degree in Jazz and African-American Music Studies (piano concentration). Downbeat recognized Twaddle for his solos on Jeffrey Holmes’ arrangement of Snarky Puppy’s “Lingus” as performed by the UMass Jazz Ensemble I, as well as his take on the Brecker Brothers’ classic “Creature of Many Faces” with the UMass Brecker Brothers combo. Twaddle’s instructor is Professor Jeffrey W. Holmes.

The award for “Outstanding Performance, Graduate College Blues/Pop/Rock Group” went to the UMass Odd Meters Combo, consisting of Jeff Gertler, saxophone; Yuval Rosen, guitar; Charles Vadala, piano; Grace McKay, vocals; Chris Robinson, bass and Rashaad Greene, drums.

Coached by Professor Fumi Tomita, the group’s award-winning performance featured arrangements and compositions of songs in odd meters by the students: “Pokemon Theme” by Rashaad Greene, Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” by Grace McKay, and the Beatles’ “I Will” by Yuval Rosen.

This year’s winners are part of a tradition of music and dance department students that have been recognized with “Downbeat” Student Music Awards in the past.

“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 over 50 “Downbeat” awards to date,” according to Jeffrey W. Holmes, jazz program director.