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Three Student Composers Win Jazz Studies Contest

Apr. 08, 2009

Charlotte Landrum

Winners Jarrett Carter, Alex Cohen, and Truan Savage (L to R)
Photo by Ma'ayan Plaut ’10
Three young jazz composers from the Conservatory recently won cash awards and the opportunity to have their work heard beyond Oberlin—on CD and in live performances by the Oberlin Jazz Septet.

The winners of the Jazz Studies Composition Contest were announced in February at an awards ceremony that took place at the department’s weekly Forum at the Cat in the Cream coffeehouse. Junior Alex Cohen, a guitarist, won the first prize of $900; fifth-year double-degree student Truan Savage, a trumpeter, won the second prize of $750; and sophomore Jarrett Carter, also a guitarist, won the third prize of $500.

Chair of the Jazz Studies Program Wendell Logan says that the competition was started by the faculty as a way to “encourage students to get involved in writing quality music” that deserves to be heard. Logan says he expects the three winning compositions to be included on a forthcoming issue of Aural Capacity, the Contemporary Music Division’s biennial CD, and performed in several clubs on next year’s Oberlin Jazz Septet tour. This year’s tour took the ensemble to venues in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., and New York, including Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The opportunity to have his music heard by a wide audience is appealing to first-prize winner Cohen, but it won’t be a first. A student of Associate Professor of Jazz Guitar Bobby Ferrazza, Cohen made his recording debut in 2007 with the album The Alex Trio featuring David Wise, a collaboration with three fellow Obies. His music has also been performed by Organ Yank, a new music group based in Oberlin, of which he is a founding member. A self-declared avant-garde guitarist, Cohen’s winning composition is titled “May I Have Some Flowers for My Eunuch.”

Truan Savage says his entry, “Crossfire,” which was awarded second prize, was inspired by a desire to push the boundaries of traditional jazz form.  The through-composed piece includes extended solos for piano and trumpet strung together with shorter ensemble sections. A native New Yorker, Savage studies with Visiting Professor of Jazz Trumpet Marcus Belgrave. “Crossfire” will be the second of Truan’s compositions to be featured on the Aural Capacity series. He is currently in his second year as a trumpeter in the Oberlin Jazz Septet.

The inspiration for Jarrett Carter’s third-prize piece, “E,” was also somewhat conceptual. “The idea was to take a single note, such as “E” … and construct different underlying harmonies, keeping “E” as the main focus of the melody,” he says. Carter, a guitarist, also studies with Ferrazza.

Entries for the contest were submitted in November 2008 and judged by Oberlin faculty members and trumpeter, arranger, and composer Michael Philip Mossman ’82, director of jazz studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at New York’s Queens College. The faculty jury included Ferrazza, Associate Professor of Jazz Piano Dan Wall, Associate Professor of Jazz Trombone Robin Eubanks, and Visiting Instructor in Jazz Studies Jackie Warren.

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