DownBeat Magazine recognizes Sturm and Fatbook with awards

Rebecca Carvalho

(Fatbook)

DownBeat Magazine recognized Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music and Director of Jazz and Improvisational Music Fred Sturm with the Jazz Education Achievement Award in its 32nd Annual Student Music Awards last week. The student band Fatbook, which last year became the first non-curricular ensemble at Lawrence to win a DownBeat award, was recognized this year with another music award.
Sturm explained that his love of jazz arose early in his life, though his musical interests were varied. “I come from a family of classical musicians,” said Sturm. “Dad was a cellist with the Chicago Symphony, Mom an operatic contralto, one sister a French hornist in a German opera company, another sister a collegiate clarinet professor.”
When Sturm’s uncle, who was a pop and jazz pianist and organist in Chicago, heard of Sturm’s intent to follow the classical path, he decided to introduce Sturm to jazz. “My uncle was the black sheep in the family,” joked Sturm. “He sat me down and played Louis Armstrong records for me. It turned my head around.”
In addition, Sturm’s high school band director took his students to clubs and concerts to hear live jazz.
When Sturm arrived at Lawrence as a freshman, jazz was not in the Lawrence curriculum. Students interested in jazz only had access to a jazz band organized by the campus music fraternity, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, which was directed by a senior music education major.
“When I was a sophomore, the band was so lame that nobody wanted to conduct it – except for yours truly,” Sturm said. “As a 19 year old, I found myself setting up chairs, running rehearsals, ordering music, planning programs and doing the promo for a collegiate jazz ensemble.”
The ensemble was later approved as one of Lawrence’s first student-designed courses. “We packed the chapel for our May concert. Those experiences changed the course of my life. I knew then that I wanted to eventually teach jazz as my livelihood and passion,” explained Sturm.
Sturm expressed some concerns, however, about the future of jazz. “The most superficial and accessible versions of jazz trickle onto the television, radio, film, the Internet,” claimed Sturm, “leading the world to believe that jazz is a bad collection of corny big band swing, old guys with straw hats playing bad Dixieland, monotonously smooth jazz or the likes of Kenny G.”
Sturm believes jazz should continually reinvent itself. “The great jazz performers and composers must point us in the right direction, and those of us who love and respect the music must nurture and support it.”
Though Sturm’s successful teaching and significant contributions to jazz were recognized, he considered the DownBeat awards granted to his students to be more significant. Sturm has been a mentor to Fatbook since its formation in late 2007. Besides being the first non-curricular ensemble at Lawrence to win a DownBeat award, Fatbook is also the first Lawrence recipient to be recognized two years in a row – a rare feat for any DownBeat award recipient. The band was honored for their 2009 album “No Time to Lose.”
Fatbook consists of seven former and current conservatory students. Though many of the group’s members have graduated, the band recently performed in the Campus Center to a large audience. Harjinder Bedi, Fatbook’s lead singer and guitarist, was surprised by the news of their second DownBeat award. He said he feels “honored and reaffirmed” and that “the award tells me that what we have going on with this project is worth investing our efforts in.”
Fatbook will be touring throughout the Midwest this summer from June 15 to mid-July, with performances scheduled in Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota.
The Lawrence University Wind Ensemble, conducted by Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Bands Andrew Mast, joined the list with a DownBeat award for a classical group.
“Those honors illuminate their talents and accomplishments as performers and composers, and they say a lot about the contributions of my faculty colleagues, too,” said Sturm.
Sturm recommends the following advice for students considering studying jazz: “Jump right in. Sample a course like Professor Mark Urness’ wonderful jazz history class. Attend one of the Monday night jam sessions in the Warch Campus Center and watch the jazz players interact. Sit down with a Lawrence jazz student and ask him/her to articulate what they do. Catch one of the many Lawrence jazz concerts.

(Fatbook)

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