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School of Music

Jazz Studies

The jazz studies program at Southern Miss has been in existence for nearly 50 years. Its ensembles include two big bands, and four to five combos of various shapes and sizes including the award winning Southern Miss Jazztet. Among the notable guest artists who have performed with the Jazz Lab Band I are Ellis Marsalis, Jeff Coffin, Jovino Santos Neto, and many more. 

The program’s course offerings help students develop a foundation in improvisation, theory, arranging, and history. All of the jazz performing groups and most of the jazz core courses offered are open to non-jazz majors with the instructor’s permission.  

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

Alumni Accomplishments

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

  • Steve Wiest (BM Music Education) was appointed director of the famed 1 O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas. Wiest who grew up in Hattiesburg and performed in the Southern Miss Jazz Lab Band 1 under Raoul Jerome (retired) went on to tour with Maynard Fergusen and earned his Master of Music degree at UNT. He spent time directing the jazz activities at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater before winning the post at UNT. 
  • Tom Luer (MM Performance) performs regularly with the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Big Band and the Mike Barone Big Band in Los Angeles 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 and currently resides in Los Angeles and is active performing, recording, and teaching at Cal Poly Pomona. He also toured with Queen Latifah on her jazz oriented “Travelin’ Light” concert tour. Luer is one of the founding members of the USM Jazz Sextet and went on from USM to the University of North Texas where he performed as a member of the 1 O’Clock Lab Band.  
  • Alexander Pershounin (MM Performance, DMA Performance) was recently appointed as the full-time instructor of bass at the University of Northern Iowa as a member of the jazz and classical faculty.  He was professor of bass and director of jazz ensembles in the Schwobb School of Music at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia and also served as an assistant professor of bass at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He came to Southern Miss from Moscow, USSR where he performed with Anatoly Kroll’s MKC Big Band and performed at many international jazz festivals. Alex was one of the founding members of the USM Jazz Sextet.  He continues a very active performing schedule and is in demand as a performer in both jazz and classical settings. 
  • Darrien Douglas (BS Business) is performing regularly with not only the patriarch of the Marsalis family, Ellis Marsalis, but also with his sons Delfeayo and Jason Marsalis. During his time at Southern he performed drumset in the Jazztet as well as Jazz Lab Band I and was one of the busiest performers in the program. He is releasing his first album as a leader with his group, “The Session.” 
  • Frank Pesci (BM Jazz Studies) is active composing choral and sacred works and oversaw the work of two fine arts organizations in the Boston area serving as the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Music Festival and as the Associate Artistic Director of Boston Opera Collaborative. His composition work includes songs, choral works, operatic pieces, and instrumental works and can be heard on his website.
  • Paul Garcia (DMA Conducting) is the Director of Bands at North Carolina State University and is active as a marching band, wind band, and jazz clinician/adjudicator throughout the region. In addition, he is also an active percussionist and drum set artist throughout the United States, and holds endorsements from Vic Firth and Sabian. His professional credits include recording with United Brass and performing with entertainers such as Ellis Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Jim Walker, Dave Pietro, Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, and Bob Newhart.
  • Bryan Hooten (BM, Jazz Studies) is tearing up the music scene in Richmond, Virginia with his trombone playing in an eclectic mix of musical situations from the Salsa music group, Bio Ritmo, to genre bending groups like Ombak and Fight the Big Bull, and the New Orleans inspired brass band, NO BS Brass!. He recently released his first solo CD entitled Richmond Love Call featuring improvisations for solo trombone to critical acclaim. In addition to his performing work, he teaches adjunct at Virginia Commonwealth University directing jazz groups of various sizes, teaching composition and theory as well. 

Frequently Asked Questions about the Jazz Studies Program:

Click here for audition requirements

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 your audition. Non-jazz majors should audition for their respective applied instructor for a scholarship which is also issued through the department of bands. Non-music majors interested in some sort of music scholarship should contact the University Bands at 601.266.4990 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 367 Improvisation I is designed for people who have never improvised before and can help you get started on your creative journey and is offered every Fall semester.

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