Jazz-ology achieves highest musical award

Vocal ensemble wins DownBeat magazine student group honor


Denis Perez / The Advocate

Jazz-ology singers Joseph Saeteurn (left) and Jesse Chao practice Monday during a sound check for Friday’s last showcase of the year in the Knox Center.

By Michael Santone, Associate Editor

Ending the spring semester on a high note, Contra Costa College’s Jazz-ology group has won the 2017 DownBeat Magazine 40th Annual Student Music Award for best small vocal jazz group in the community college division.

This prestigious award is the highest recognition that can be earned in the academic music field and equivalent in prominence to that of a Grammy.

The award will be formally presented to Jazz-ology at the Jazz Vocal Gala Friday at the John and Jean Knox Center for the Performing Arts at 8 p.m.

Music department Chairperson  Stephanie Austin said she is elated by the news and is proud of the music program and its students.

“It’s nice to celebrate when things go well. It’s great. Everybody works very hard.”

The songs which catapulted Jazz-ology to its national win included “Open Invitation,” “Something’s Changed” and “You’re No Good,” which will be featured on their third album that’s set to be released on Friday.

Austin said winning has been such an honor because of the quality of professionalism that DownBeat Magazine has a reputation for recognizing.

“One is always excited because the competition is fierce,” she said. “Preparation is immense and rehearsals are intense at all times.”

Along with an award, announcements in the June issue of DownBeat Magazine will also feature stories on the winning groups.

Submissions which include recordings made throughout the 2016 calendar year were critiqued by a panel of industry judges between January and March.

Entrants were judged in a “blind” format that keeps all information about the group and school completely anonymous.

Austin said she was notified in March of the win via e-mail but had to keep the information suppressed until April 25 when the June issue was mailed out to subscribers.

Tenor Joseph Saeteurn, who has been a member of Jazz-ology for two years, said he was extremely surprised when he found out that he could not comprehend what was actually going on.

“I couldn’t come to terms with knowing that we had won the DownBeat award until I actually held the award in my hand.”

Saeteurn said that it’s hard to imagine a college in San Pablo, California competing on levels with universities and even top recording groups in the industry.

“This was not on any of our radars,” he said. “It definitely feels great knowing that all of our hard work has paid off.”

Laura Karst, who has been singing for alto for Jazz-ology for three years, said she was speechless when she found out.

“I cried happy tears, while I held my cheeks in my hand.”

“It really feels like winning a Grammy,” Karst said. “I really had to pinch myself because it took a while for the shock to wear off.”

Lead soprano Laurena Alm, who has been with Jazz-ology for two years, said it’s been amazing to find out that they won this award which has so much prestige.

“We were all just surprised. Like is that what I think it is?” she said.

The group operates at a level that’s almost unheard of, Alm said. “I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of this group.”

A former member of the 2016 Jazz-ology group, Lucia Perez, contributed to the win with current members including Saeteurn, Karst, Alm, tenor Jesse Chao and baritone NinoAngelo Lastimosa.

Austin said that it is CCC students who make up Jazz-ology and each year they bring to the table different strength and weaknesses.

“I’m very careful about the artistic choices and the level of difficulty that I present to the students,” she said, “I expect every student to give 150 percent at all times.”

Lastimosa said being a part of Jazz-ology has a perpetual feeling of constant growth and trust of musicianship.

“I feel as if I’m sharing one of the community’s strengths and talents,” she said.