For the first time, Willamette musicians earn DownBeat awards

by University Communications,

For the first time at Willamette University, two students and a choral group were recognized for their musical prowess by DownBeat magazine.

The magazine is releasing its 37th annual Student Music Awards in its June issue. In it, Harris Long ’14 was named Best Jazz Soloist and Matt Sazima ’14 won for Best Jazz Arrangement. The Willamette Singers, a 17-member vocal jazz group, was named Best Large Jazz Ensemble.

The awards are given to students and student groups from middle schools, high schools and universities from around the world.

“DownBeat magazine is to the jazz world as Rolling Stone is to the popular music world,” says Wallace Long Jr., director of choral activities and Harris Long’s dad. “The next level up would be a Grammy. I don’t know of a more significant award for a vocal jazz ensemble or these performers.”

Audio submissions — judged blind by professional musicians and educators — were evaluated for such qualities as musicianship, creativity, improvisation and technique.

Harris won for his performances of “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” by Sigmund Romberg and “Remember” by Irving Berlin, as performed by tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley.

The Willamette Singers — of which Matt and Harris are members — won for the music on its CD, “I'll Sing for You,” and Matt was recognized for his vocal jazz arrangement of “Skylark,” a well-known jazz ballad he modified.

Both Matt and Harris say they’re honored and surprised by the awards.

“It was a really nice thing as a young arranger to have this recognition,” says Matt, who, like Harris, is majoring in jazz performance. “It means I’m doing something right.”

Intent on teaching music one day, Matt is attending graduate school at either the University of Oregon or the California Institute of the Arts in the fall, while Harris is focused on performing professionally and writing music for commercials and television.

“I’ve been steeped in music since before I was born, since both my parents are very musical,” Harris says. “I have the performance bug. It’s the one thing I can call my own, the thing I’m good at. I like music, and music likes me.”

In addition to the DownBeat awards, the Willamette Singers have received many honors during the 31 years Wallace Long has directed the group. Recognition has come in the form of honorific performances at regional and national conventions of the Oregon Music Educators Association, Music Educators National Conference, the American Choral Directors Association and the International Association of Jazz Educators.