Arts & Culture

UK Jazz Saxophonist Upbeat About DownBeat Award


Video by UK Public Relations and Marketing. View transcript here. 

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 12, 2015) — University of Kentucky School of Music doctoral student and tenor saxophonist Carlos Espinosa Jr. is the recipient of the Outstanding Performer Award in the Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist category in DownBeat’s 38th annual student music awards featured in the magazine's June issue.

DownBeat is one of the world’s leading jazz and contemporary music publications. Students and educators can nominate themselves for the magazine's annual awards, and applicants range from junior high to graduate level individuals and ensembles. There are a variety of categories that include large jazz ensembles, jazz chamber groups, vocal ensembles and individual awards for composition, improvisation and producing.

The DownBeat award nomination process involves an online application and submission of audio recordings to be judged by professional musicians and educators from across the country. Judging criteria are based on musicianship, creativity, improvisation, technique, sound quality and balance, excitement and authority. 

The DownBeat Music Awards are considered the most prestigious awards in jazz education. More than 1,000 entries were submitted across all categories this year.

"This DownBeat award is an achievement of the highest honor," said Miles Osland, director of UK Jazz Studies and professor of saxophone. "The international competition is fierce — especially in the graduate category"

Espinosa, a third year Doctor of Musical Arts candidate in saxophone performance from Killeen, Texas, submitted a few recordings from one of his doctoral recitals, all of which were original compositions.

"I owe a debt of gratitude to the musicians that performed along with me: pianist Ben Geyer, bassist Rob Barnes, and drummer Paul Deatherage," Espinosa said. "I would not have won this award without them. As musicians, we are constantly inspiring and pushing each other to grow, so even though it is an individual award, they were the reason I was able to bring my compositions to life."

This is the third DownBeat award Espinosa has won, but his first in an individual category. The other two were in the Large Jazz Ensemble category as a member of the University of North Texas 2 O’Clock Lab Band.

Osland is far from surprised with Espinosa's recognition. "Carlos has been my doctoral teaching assistant for the past three years. In that time, he has proven to me to be the most passionate and talented performer and educator that I have had the privilege of mentoring."

There are numerous award winners in the 38-year history of DownBeat awards that have gone on to become successful professional musicians. The individual awards are especially prestigious, as the name recognition is helpful in networking with other professional musicians and educators. The awards also help bring recognition to the university and the professors who work with the up-and-coming artists. Espinosa is thrilled that UK and Professor Osland will receive well-deserved recognition for this award as well. 

During the time Osland has led UK Jazz Studies, the university's program has had eight previous award winners in the DownBeat competition. UK Mega-Sax has won three times in the Jazz Combo category, and in 2007 the UK Jazz Ensemble won in two categories (Jazz Combo and Classical Chamber Ensemble), the only time this has happened in the history of the magazine. In addition, alumni David Harper, Angela Ortega and Dieter Rice have previously won in the Classical Soloist, Jazz Vocalist and Blues/Pop/Rock Soloist categories.

"It is humbling to be acknowledged by my musical peers and heroes for my improvisation," Espinosa said. "It is a good feeling to have others recognize the hard work and dedication invested in your craft."

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