The Jazz Band follows the direction of Jose Encarnacion during a Jazz Celebration Weekend performance.
The Lawrence University Jazz Band, led by José Encarnación, performs during the 2022 Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. (Photos by Danny Damiani)

Two jazz ensembles in Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music brought home huge honors in DownBeat magazine’s annual Student Music Awards, announced May 4, adding to a run of success that has seen the jazz program win six DownBeats in six years.

The LU Jazz Band, under the direction of José Encarnación, was named a co-winner in the Latin Group category. The LU Jazz Ensemble (LUJE), under the direction of Patty Darling, earned the Undergraduate College Outstanding Performance Award in the Large Jazz Ensemble category.

“These are two of the most coveted categories for collegiate jazz,” said Brian Pertl, dean of the Conservatory.

The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble, led by Patty Darling, joined Liam Teague as part of a Jazz Celebration Weekend performance.
The Lawrence University Jazz Ensemble joined Liam Teague and guests for a performance in Memorial Chapel during the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend in November. 

The DownBeat Awards, now in their 46th year and featured in the magazine's June edition, are among the highest honors in jazz education. Pertl called it “unprecedented” for two Lawrence ensembles to win top awards in the same year.

“Even more amazing is that with these two awards, it means that Lawrence has garnered six top DownBeat Awards in the past six years,” he said. “That is a remarkable run.”

Lawrence’s jazz program has now brought home DownBeat Awards 32 times over the past four-plus decades. Winning two in the same year “demonstrates enormous program depth,” Pertl said. 

Grow your artistry, build your technical facility, and expand your musical possibilities in a community of collaboration and support. 

The Latin Group award came for a concert performance delivered by the Jazz Band in the fall as part of Lawrence’s annual Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend. It featured music from Venezuela, Africa, and Cuba.

“We went into it with a lot of different concepts about how to approach the music, how to feel the music,” Encarnación said. “This is music that’s coming from different parts of the world. What was amazing was the response from the students. They embraced everything about it.”

The winning entry in the Large Jazz Ensemble category, meanwhile, came from a series of performances from LUJE last spring and this fall. They featured contemporary music compositions that required a lot of improvisation.

“The passion, the execution, it was there,” Darling said.

The awards speak to the high-level of consistency that has been built in a jazz program with an impressive track record dating back to the 1970s. Now led by Encarnación, the program has been intentional in diversifying its repertoire in recent years, exploring sounds from around the globe.

“The students we get here are smart, they’re curious, they like to explore. So, we bring them different kinds of music, and they’re in, they’re engaged."

Jose Encarnación, director of jazz studies

“The creative process is the most important thing,” Encarnación said. “The students we get here are smart, they’re curious, they like to explore. So, we bring them different kinds of music, and they’re in, they’re engaged. For me, it’s seeing how they grow, how they engage with the art. That is so rewarding for all of us, and it is an honor for our students to be recognized for the work they are doing.”

Darling said the work of faculty across the Conservatory is a collective effort that shows up in the stellar performances of music students both individually and in ensembles. The DownBeat Awards speak to the talent, teamwork, and collegiality that makes the Conservatory thrive.

“Our jazz faculty are incredible musicians and jazz educators,” Darling said. “Students learn so much from them in their private lessons, classes, and in combos, and that is the foundation of the work we are doing in the jazz ensembles. Doing it together, especially after the pandemic, there’s a heightened appreciation and joy in the collaborative creative process.”

Take a listen