Cornell jazz musicians bring home awards from DownBeat Magazine

For the first time in university history, Cornell students have won Student Music Awards from DownBeat Magazine, one of the world’s premiere jazz publications. 

A collection of nine students from the After Six ensemble won the award for outstanding performance in the blues/pop/rock category: Kobby Adu ‘24, Turner Aldrich ‘26, Austin Burgett ‘25, Luke Ellis ‘24, Kaleb Kavuma ‘25, Noëlle Romero ‘24, Summer Seward ‘26, Tife Sokan ‘26 and Josh Sokol ‘25. Jack Dobosh ‘26 won a separate award for outstanding recording in the engineered studio recording category. 

Several of the world’s premiere jazz musicians got their start after winning awards in the Downbeat Student Music Awards, which started in 1976. 

people smiling and laughing with each other
Members of After6
Paul Merrill

“The DownBeat Student Music Awards are considered the most prestigious awards in jazz education,” said Paul Merrill, Herbert Gussman Associate Professor of Practice and Director of Jazz in the Department of Music and advisor to the ensemble. “It is an international competition with submissions from multiple continents. This year’s student winners study at some of the most respected conservatories, music schools and youth programs in the U.S., Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland and Austria. It is an honor for our students to be recognized as some of the best young performers in the world."  

Members of After Six say they enjoy managing every aspect of the process.

“The group has been an area to experiment with the contemporary sound that you don’t usually get to play within a typical jazz combo,” Ellis said about his experience as After Six president. “We pick our own repertoire, we compose and arrange and we get to experiment a great deal in that regard. I learned a lot of lessons about figuring out what may or may not work as a composer and performer."

person at a mixing board in a music studio
Jack Dobosh ‘26
Paul Merrill

Dobosh, who is also a saxophonist in the Cornell Jazz Ensemble, started working with After Six during the pandemic, which challenged the students’ ability to play together.

 “So much was learned about recording technology during the pandemic and students like Jack were able to explore and fine tune their skills on equipment purchased for instruction,” Merrill said. "As an adviser and mentor, I strive to provide unique opportunities and look for 'sparks.’ In this case, the 'magic' happened when After Six and Jack began to collaborate in the studio. Each made the other shine.”

Students in After Six come from a wide variety of musical backgrounds: Kavuma ‘25 studied violin, saxophone and piano growing up; Dobosh ‘26 started saxophone and music production in elementary school; and vocalist Seward ‘26 has been singing gospel music since the age of 3, then sang in a cappella groups in high school.

“My entire experience around music has been centered toward being as good of a musician and an artist as I can be, and After Six has been one of the most phenomenal ways to do that,” Kavuma said.

“I have loved doing music with other people, learning with other people and laughing with other people,” Seward said. “It has been incredible to create friendships in music, and to create success through these friendships. So this award to me is just one step to what is possible for After Six.” 

Recordings of the students can be viewed here and here on YouTube. View all of the student winners at the DownBeat Magazine site.

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