By Michelle Vires
The FIU Jazz Vocal Ensemble was recently honored with a Student Music Award from Downbeat Magazine, widely recognized as the most prestigious publication in jazz education.
Led by adjunct professor Lisanne Lyons, the group was named a 2021 DownBeat Winner for Outstanding Large Jazz Vocal Performance in the undergraduate category. Every year, recordings are submitted from institutions nationwide in a variety of categories and are then adjudicated by panels of respected jazz performers and educators.
“Although this past year was challenging, I was able to record these fabulous students and bring long-overdue recognition to their great work. I’m so proud of them and especially proud that the ensemble is now being recognized as one of the top jazz vocal ensembles in the country,” Lyons said.
Started in the School of Music 2013 with just five Jazz vocal principles and one master’s student in jazz performance, the group has grown to now include students majoring in jazz performance (both vocal and instrumental track), music education, music business and even non-music majors at FIU.
The group has kept a very active concert schedule in South Florida with featured performances with Sugar Pops Orchestra, Hallandale Orchestra, Sunrise Pops Big Band, and Live at Lynn American Songbook Series, among others.
In 2019, they were the first-ever jazz vocal group to be invited to perform for the Florida Music Educators Association conference held in Tampa throughout its 60-year history.
“My time at FIU as a part of the Jazz Vocal Ensemble was exciting and so growing," said recent grad Kristine Bover '20. "The opportunities available to students specifically at this school are simply unmatched. From smaller classes with close and personal instruction to various ensemble and performance opportunities, FIU gave me a myriad of chances and challenges to not only take notes in the classroom but to put it into action.
"Working directly with Lisanne Lyons was the highlight of my time here. She has a passion for excellence in music and her craft that is contagious. She believed in me and pushed me further than the vision I ever had for myself. I am beyond grateful for my time at FIU and I feel as though I got to be a part of the inception of something extraordinary.”
To date, more than 25 students have graduated from the vocal track of the Jazz Performance program. Some recent success stories of grads and current students include:
- Cindy Ellis '15 – director of Middle School Choirs at Miami Arts Studio—students have gone on to become all-state participants and have the record for having the most students selected for the FMEA choirs.
- Wendy Pederson '15 – Recording artist who performs locally and nationally
- Melinda Rodriguez '18 – 2019 Downbeat winner for Outstanding Jazz Vocal Performance; a finalist on Season 17 of “The Voice”; winner of the 3rd Annual International Ella Fitzgerald Jazz Vocal Competition; winner of 2020 Johnny Mercer Award; and winner of the 2020 Ben Tucker Jazz Award in the American Traditions Vocal Competition.
- Roxana Amed '19 – Sony Latin Jazz recording artist; recently released album Ontology received a four-star review in Jazzwise Magazine
- Michael Miguez '21 – Grand prize winner of Artful’s 2020 Next Broadway Star
- Chis Santiago '24 – 2021 Young Arts Winner – Jazz Vocals
View the announcement in the June edition of Downbeat Magazine.