Alumni News and Accomplishments

Why do you like studying Jazz @ WMU?

WMU Jazz Studies Alumni continue to be prominent in all fields of the music industry – and are found on the world stage, on screen, in the recording studios, placing in national and international competitions, and teaching in collegiate and secondary school classrooms.

Recent Developments:

Nayanna Holley, tours constantly with national acts, such as Queen Latifah, Sheryl Crow and many others. She is featured on Sergio Mendes’ new CD;

Johnaye Kendrick, won a fellowship at the Thelonious Monk Institute and a professorship at Cornish College in Seattle; She has been performing with Nicholas Payton;

Chris Beckstrom, won a professorship at Columbia College, Chicago;

Johnny Rodgers tours with Liza Minelli and performs at the fabled Oak Room in New York City;

The Davis Brothers, Xavier and Quincy, who record and tour constantly, world wide with many of the great names in jazz;

Logan Thomas performed with Stefon Harris and place second in the Montreux Jazz Piano Competition, Switzerland;

Christine Helfrich Guter, whose students at California State University Long Beach won 3 Down Beat awards this year;

Ryan Andrews, released Requiem, a CD of all original compositions;

Matt Warnock appointed professor at Western Illinois University and the Interlochen Arts Camp;

Matt Giraud is a finalist in the American Idol competition;

Keith Hall performs world wide with singer Curtis Stigers;

Michelle Mailhot, Katie Campbell and Aubrey Johnson are singing on Bobby McFerrin’s new CD VOCAbuLarieS;

Mark Jackson has been named director of Shades of Blue, the Grand Rapids Community College award winning vocal jazz ensemble;

Justin Avery has been performing with Meatloaf;


What people are saying about Jazz@WMU…

“Western Michigan has a great jazz program.  I’ve been there various times over the years and have always found that the students are very talented, dedicated, and they interact well with each other. The faculty is terrific. Keith Hall’s drum choir, originated by Billy Hart years ago, is an inspiration. The faculty works hard and is generous with their knowledge. It’s a great learning environment.  There is a great sense of community and I love the vibe at Western Michigan.”

-Tenor Saxophonist Donny McCaslin

“Tom Knific’s students are always very wide-eyed and willing to take on new challenges,” Haddad said. “His kids are pretty well-informed, so it always makes it easier to convey a message to them.”

-Drummer and Percussionist Jamey Haddad

“The Jazz Studies program at WMU offers conservatory training within a major university as well as accessible, first-rate faculty. A great place for the development of gifted young musicians.”

-Fred Hersch, Visiting Faculty Artist


Quotes about the Jazz Orchestra from judges at the Notre Dame Jazz Festival.


– Drummer Jeff Hamilton

“Ouch … RESPECT. Smokin’ Band”

– Pianist Benny Green

“WOW – this band is bad!”

– Bassist Mark Johnson

“Beautiful band – fabulous ensemble.”

– Trumpeter Lew Soloff

“THIS is what I’ve been waiting for.”

- Pianist Jim McNeely

“Beautiful playing! Great performance, you sound wonderful!”

– Bassist John Clayton

“Excellent dynamics and groove. Excellent!”

– Trumpeter John Faddis


Quotes about the Western Jazz Quartet

“The quartet displayed the group’s signature style – deft, humorous, and imaginative with brilliant flashes of impeccable technique, and a persistence of serious musical intensity.”

- The Chronicle

“These are four incredible musicians. They were the highlight of the entire evening. Impeccable skills and fine musicianship can best describe the group.”

- The Daily News

“It is a rare occasion when performers and their audience connect on a number of levels – professional, personal, and emotional. The WJQ has done this every time out, and I can think of no greater endorsement.”

- Gregory Adams, Cultural Coordinator, U. S. Information Agency

“The Western Jazz Quartet rocked the house.”

- Battle Creek Enquirer

“ Only Brubeck Could Follow WJQ – The WJQ gave an outstanding performance that would be hard to follow by anyone but Brubeck”

- The Kalamazoo Gazette

CD Reviews

“Firebird”  ***** Five star review from Down Beat magazine;  cited as one of the best CD’s of the 1990’s.

“Blue Harts”  **** Four star review from Down Beat magazine.