Sacramento State’s Jazz Ensemble I.(Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone)

Sacramento State’s Jazz Program is on a roll. The University’s jazz vocalists are the best in the nation, according to Downbeat magazine, the bible of the jazz industry. The honor was one of five awards received by Sac State’s School of Music in Downbeat’s upcoming June edition (

The C-Sus Voices, directed by Gaw Vang Williams, was named the No. 1 university ensemble nationwide in the Small Vocal Jazz Group category for 2015. This comes a couple weeks after judges at the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival made the same declaration.

The University’s instrumental Jazz Ensemble I, with director Steve Roach, received an Outstanding Performance award in the Large Jazz Ensemble category. Two students received soloist Outstanding Performance awards – Gellimy Sescon in the Undergraduate division and Melissa Fulkerson in the Graduate division. And Samuel Fulkerson received an Outstanding Performance award for a solo on “Giant Steps” performed by the University’s large vocal jazz group.

Williams was a member of the vocal groups as a student and has directed them for three years. “It was such a surprise to get all of these awards,” she says. “We’re very appreciative that they would recognize us.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” says Roach, director of the University’s Jazz Program. “It’s a great benchmark for our program.”

Winning a soloist award came as a surprise to Samuel Fulkerson, whose scat solo during “Giant Steps” earned him an Outstanding Soloist award with the Sac State Jazz Singers. “I’m glad it happened with this group because I thought we did a lot of really good work last year.”

soloistsSacramento State soloist winners Gellimy Sescon and Samuel Fulkerson. Not pictured: Melissa Fulkerson, who has graduated. (Sacramento State/Craig Koscho)

Sescon submitted two pieces: a swing tune and a ballad. “Besides showing how great of a program Sac State has, this award shows the talent there is throughout Sacramento and helps to attract more kids who are passionate about music,” she says.

Melissa Fulkerson, who since has graduated, submitted selections from her graduate recital, a tribute to Joni Mitchell. “This was a project very near and dear to my heart, so getting recognition for that gave me immense feelings of accomplishment and gratitude,” she says.

For Williams and the C-Sus Voices, this spring has been a good one. For the April 10 Next Generation Festival, they were one of six groups chosen nationwide to compete in their category. Their No. 1 selection means they’ll return to perform at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September.

Williams notes that the program has stayed competitive even through recent lean budget years. “We’re staying up there with colleges that have had years and years of solid jazz programs,” she says. “This showcases that our teachers are doing something right and that our students are working their hardest to be noticed.”

She also credited the surrounding high schools and community colleges. “We have really great programs feeding into our university,” Williams says.

Sacramento State’s next jazz performance is a concert featuring all of the University’s jazz vocal groups. It begins at 7 p.m. Friday, May 13, in Capistrano Concert Hall. Tickets are $10 general, $7 for seniors and $5 for students, available at the University Ticket Office, (916) 278-4323 or

For more information about Sacramento State’s School of Music, visit or call (916) 278-5191. For media assistance, call the University’s Public Affairs office at (916) 278-6156. – Craig Koscho