HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- The University of Southern Mississippi Jazz Sextet was selected as the “Outstanding College/University Combo” at the University of North Texas Jazz Festival at Addison, Texas, March 31, receiving the Rich Matteson Award.
In only its second appearance at the festival, the Southern Miss combo, under the direction of Larry Panella, performed on the final evening concert with five other groups selected from the categories of Jazz Vocal Ensemble, Combo and Big Band. Each member of the sextet was also awarded the festival’s coveted “Outstanding Soloist” award.
“I knew we performed well, but I did not expect this award,” said Panella, director of the Jazz Studies program in the School of Music. “There were many good groups represented there.”
Panella said that often groups play flashy material to impress the judges. “We played what we’ve always played—our own arrangements and even some originals,” he explained. Some of these originals included Panella’s compositions.
The judges cited the group’s musicality and said they were “refreshingly different to listen to,” with the players listening and interacting with each other. They were quite impressed with the depth of soloing and liked the selections played.
“I was worried what their response might be as we were the last group to perform on Saturday—the second day of the festival—and adjudicating can be grueling,” Panella said. Other schools represented included groups from Hawaii, North Dakota, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and more.
Entrance to the festival is through audition and is classified as a “non-competitive” festival. However, an outstanding group is selected in the categories of Outstanding High School, Outstanding College/University, Jazz Vocal Ensemble, Combo, and Big Band. Loyola University in New Orleans picked up the Outstanding Big Band award.
Members of the combo include Chris Shipp of Tucson, Ariz.; Chris Parkin of Spokane, Wash.; Jonathan Rowe of Fairhope, Ala.; Russell Welch of Jackson; Beto Vianna of Campinhas, Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Brent Walsh of Madison.
The Southern Miss combo was founded in 1999 by several graduate and undergraduate students at the time. With one compact disc recording under its belt, “Home Cookin’ Jazz at USM,” the group expects to release a new recording in the fall of 2007.
The Rich Matteson Award holds special meaning to Panella. Matteson was a former jazz professor at UNT, which is home to one of the oldest and most respected jazz programs in the United States.
“Rich Matteson was jazz euphonium player and a rather unique individual,” Panella recalled. “He was also my improvisation instructor, and he helped me through a difficult time early into my sophomore year.” Panella, a graduate of the UNT jazz program, credits the professor for helping him succeed educationally.
Other Southern Miss music professors, present and retired, have studied at UNT, including Dr. John Wooton, associate professor of percussion; retired jazz director Raoul Jerome; and retired School of Music Director Dr. Peter Ciurczak.
For more information on the Jazz Studies program at Southern Miss, call 601.266.4047.
The University of Southern Mississippi Jazz Sextet was selected as the “Outstanding College/University Combo” at the University of North Texas Jazz Festival at Addison, Texas, March 31, receiving the Rich Matteson Award. Members are, from left, Beto Vianna, Brent Walsh, Russell Welch, Christopher Parkin, Christopher Shipp, Jonathan Rowe and Director Larry Panella. (Southern Miss Photo by Steve Rouse)
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss, with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.