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School of Music

Jazz Studies

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

What Will I Learn?

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 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.



Its ensembles include two big bands, and four to five combos of various shapes and sizes including the award winning Southern Miss Jazz Jazztet. We welcome all participants, especially in Improvisation classes. We have had violinists, French horn players, vocalists, and cellists as well as the traditional brass, reeds, and rhythm players, 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 has since moved on to the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver where he co-chairs the jazz program. 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) teaches 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. He toured with Queen Latifah on her “Travelin’ Light” concert tour.
  • Alexander Pershounin (MM Performance, DMA Performance) was appointed as the full-time instructor of bass at the UNI. He was professor of bass and jazz ensembles in Schwobb School of Music at CSU in Georgia and 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 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 group, “The Session.” 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.
  • 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.


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 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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112 Mannoni Performing Arts Center

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