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School of Music

Jazz Studies

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The jazz studies program at USM has been in existence for over 50 years. Its ensembles include two big bands, and three to four combos of various shapes and sizes including the award-winning Southern Miss Jazz Jazztet. The jazz program has played host to may outstanding artists including Gregory Tardy, Joel Frahm, The KC Chamber Jazz Quintet, and the Amina Figarova Jazz Sextet. Among the notable guest artists who have performed with the Jazz Lab Band I, are Ellis Marsalis, Jeff Coffin, Jovino Santos Neto, John Fedchock, Carl Allen, Mike Clark, and many more.

What Will I Learn?

The program’s course offerings help students to develop a foundation in performance, improvisation, theory, arranging, and history. Our mission is to use jazz idioms to help students become creative musicians. All of the jazz performing groups and most of the jazz core courses are open to non-jazz majors and even non-music majors so students of classical music and non-traditional instrumentation can add to their musical experiences as well.

Jazz at Southern Miss has had a long and illustrious history and the dedication and hard work of faculty members and talented students, former and current, has helped the jazz program at Southern Miss to be among the best in the Southeast.



The ensembles of the Jazz Studies Program include two big bands, and three to four combos of various shapes and sizes including the award-winning Southern Miss Jazz Jazztet. We welcome all participants, even in Improvisation classes. Numerous violinists, French horn players, vocalists, and cellists as well as the traditional brass, reeds, and rhythm players have taken jazz improvisation classes along with their main program of study, and the curriculum is designed to take students new to improvising and start them on their own personal journey of musical exploration. We invite you to come join in the action and discover for yourself this great art form called jazz!


This is just a sample of some of our alumni and their accomplishments. 

  • Steve Wiest (BM Music Education – USM, MM Jazz Studies - UNT) is an outstanding jazz trombonist and composer as well as a renowned jazz educator. Wiest went on to tour with Maynard Fergusen and earned his Master of Music degree at UNT. He directed the jazz activities at the UW-Whitewater before winning the top post at UNT. He later moved on to the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver where he co-chaired the jazz program. Since his retirement he has continued to keep busy playing and composing. He's got several Grammy Nominated albums and his latest work is with his all-star horn band Vinyl Hampdin.
  • Tom Luer (BME – UW Eau Claire, MM Saxophone Performance - USM) directs the jazz program at Cal Poly - Pomona and performs regularly with LA’s best in the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Big Band, the Mike Barone Big Band as well as being active as a studio session player for recordings and television. He recently recorded his first album as a leader with his group Project Popular with some of his LA colleagues in addition to teaching. His performances can be seen on his Youtube channel and even include work with Bradley Young’s Postmodern Juke Box. He has toured Englebert Humperdink, The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, and with Queen Latifah on her “Travelin’ Light” concert tour.
  • Alexander Pershounin (MM Performance, DMA Performance) serves as the full-time instructor of bass at the University of Northern Iowa. Prior to his appointment, he was professor of bass and jazz ensembles in Schwobb School of Music at Columbus State University in Georgia and earlier served as an assistant professor of bass at MSU-Moorhead. He came to Southern Miss from Moscow, USSR where he performed with Anatoly Kroll and the MKC Big Band and performed at many international jazz festivals. Alex was one of the founding members of the USM Jazz Sextet.
  • Darrien Douglas (BS Business - USM) went to New Orleans after finishing at Southern Miss and was performing regularly with the patriarch of the Marsalis family, Ellis Marsalis, and his sons Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis. At USM he performed drumset in the Jazztet as well as Jazz Lab Band I. He resides in NYC where he is both a leader and sideman performing with his own groups. His credits include Wynton Marsalis, Victor Goines, Jazzmeia Horn, Brianna Thomas, Germaine Bazzle, Jessie McBride, Bob Cranshaw, Bria Skonberg, the late Ellis Marsalis and more. He also serves as the Executive Director of Second Line Arts Collective, a non-profit creating arts education programs enabling young artist to thrive our modern economy.
  • Scott Johnson (BM Jazz Studies, BME - USM) is a New Orleans based saxophonist, bandleader and educator making regular appearances with Delfeayo Marsalis and the Uptown Jazz Orchestra as well as being an in demand performer in other notable groups. He was the recipient of the Presser Award chosen by the Southern Miss School of Music faculty in his junior year and was a member of the Southern Miss Jazztet and Jazz Lab band 1 performing both the lead alto chair and jazz tenor chair. He is a dedicated artist educator who remains active playing in groups throughout the region as well as sharing his knowledge with the students he encounters.
  • Russell Welch (BM, Jazz Studies) has settled into the New Orleans trad jazz and gypsy jazz scene as a member of Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns, and his own Hot Club of France/Django Reinhardt inspired group Showarama Hot Jazz. He toured the UK with the Lake group to rave reviews as well as toured and performed in some of the same clubs Django Reinhardt frequented. He has released several albums as a leader and continues to gain notoriety for his artistry.
  • Bryan Hooten is a trombonist and composer living in the Richmond, Virginia area and is a founding member of the NO BS! Brass, and band that adeptly combines funk, jazz, brass band, and RAP into an infectious mix that has brought them national exposure. Their work can be heard on Audiotree, and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Series. He developed his genre bending mashup of styles with his own group Astrolab while at Southern Miss.


Frequently Asked Questions

No. The audition for jazz lab bands and combos is at the beginning of the semester during the first week of classes. You can contact Mr. Lawrence Panella at lawrence.panellaFREEMississippi for information on times and dates.


Jazz scholarships are available through the department of bands for those students accepted into the jazz studies program and, a request for scholarship would be submitted by Mr. Lawrence Panella pending completion of an audition. Non-jazz majors should audition for their respective applied instructor for a scholarship also issued through the department of bands. Non-music majors interested in some sort of music scholarship should contact the department of bands for information on non-major scholarships.


Yes. Most jazz core classes and ensembles are open to non-jazz and non-music majors pending approval of Mr. Lawrence Panella who will assess your skill level to determine which classes would best suit your abilities.


Yes. Many of our students involved in jazz lab bands also play in other large ensembles or chamber ensembles.


Yes. A four-semester sequence of jazz improvisation is offered and open to non-jazz majors on any instrument including orchestral instruments and voice. MUS 465 Improvisation I - is designed for people who have never improvised before and can help you get started on your creative journey. It is offered every Fall semester.


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