The fall 2007 Jazz Singers. Top row left: Ian Brekke, Robert Murray, Nate Reinking, Caitlin Clarke, Kristen Poirier and Sherrine Mostin. Front row: Anthony Williams, Tim Stephenson, Gaw Vang, Jessie Clemens and Natalie Geeter.
Sacramento State’s Music Department is producing some great vocal jazz groups. That’s no idle boast, that’s the findings of jazz music’s most prestigious publication, Down Beat magazine.
Two of the University’s groups, Jazz Singers and C-Sus, won the magazine’s Outstanding Performance Awards for collegiate groups in 2005. The next year they were declared Best Collegiate Vocal Jazz Groups in America and Canada. Professor Kerry Marsh oversees the two ensembles along with another, Vox2, as director of the vocal jazz program. He’s already sent a CD of the groups’ music to Down Beat for consideration again this year.
Developing an award-winning group takes a lot of hard work, a good repertoire and something else. “It takes a little magic, too,” Marsh says.
Marsh took over five years ago from Julie Adams, who oversaw the program’s development its first 10 years and expanded it from one to two groups her last year. Marsh added the third ensemble, C-Sus four years ago.
The groups’ make-up varies from year to year, depending on the available personnel. This year C-Sus is an a cappella jazz choir of 18 singers. Jazz Singers is a mixed group of six students. Vox2 is the program’s “entry-level” group, although Marsh isn’t quite comfortable with that term, noting the outstanding pool of talent Sacramento State has. “None of the people making Vox2 these days are really beginners,” Marsh says.
The singers also travel off-campus for concerts. Jazz Singers recently appeared at the Folsom Jazz Festival, and will perform at “Music on the Divide” in Grass Valley and the Columbia and Reno jazz festivals. And twice in the past five years, Sacramento State jazz singers have taken a big tour of high schools in the Los Angeles area, stopping off at the Santa Cruz Jazz Festival on their way back last year.
Down Beat’s critics aren’t the only ones taking note of the program—it’s catching the eye of more and more young people looking for a strong yet flexible curriculum with plenty of opportunities. Minnesota native Ian Brekke attended a two-year music school in Iowa before heading to Sacramento State after looking at other programs across the country. “I checked them all out and this one was the best fit,” Brekke says. He even got the chance to work as a student teacher as a junior, an opportunity rarely afforded undergrads at other universities.
Jessie Clemens was attending high school in Santa Monica when Marsh brought the University’s groups through the area five years ago. “I was completely enthralled with the Sac State jazz sound,” she says. “I couldn’t go to school anywhere else except here because I knew this was what I wanted to do.”
She also includes one other item that completes the groups’ award-winning recipe—camaraderie. Getting along with one another makes it easier to rehearse and bond in the shared experience of performing, Clemens says. “Friendship is very important in making our caliber of a group.”
Go to http://www.myspace.com/sacramentostatevocaljazz to listen to the Jazz Singers. For more information about the jazz program, call the Music Department at (916) 278-5155 or visit www.csus.edu/music. A high resolution photo is available at www.csus.edu/news/imagedownload/. For media assistance, call Sacramento State’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156.