Jazz graduate student wins $10,000 innovation award

Jazz graduate student wins $10,000 innovation award

Jazz graduate student wins $10,000 innovation award
April 29
23:43 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

When Drew Zaremba was a toddler, he told his parents he wanted to play every instrument in the world.

He learned the piano at the age of five and picked up the saxophone when he turned 10. He began composing his own music in high school.

Now, the jazz studies graduate student plays six instruments and directs the Four O’Clock Lab Band. His largest endeavor yet was founding the Unity Orchestra, an effort that led to his nomination and subsequent win of $10,000 in UNT’s second annual Sherman/Barsanti Inspiration Awards.

On April 7, Zaremba was presented the top prize for creating the large-scale, 50-musician jazz and classical orchestra that premiered in concert with jazz bassist Eddie Gomez on Feb. 2 in Voertman Hall.30_zaremba_web2

Out of Drew Zaremba’s many musical talents, he also knows how to play the piano and compose. Zaremba doesn’t know exactly what is in his future but he knows it will involve music. Photo by Hannah Ridings – Staff Photographe

“This is just a project that I’ve been dreaming of doing for years, and now it’s something that I want to really continue as a sustainable ensemble,” Zaremba said. “I’m really hoping that I can invest this money…into the future of this orchestra.”

The Sherman/Barsanti Inspiration Awards were established two years ago by Bob and Bette Sherman, who set aside $350,000 to provide students the financial assistance to help advance their original works.

Any UNT faculty or staff member can nominate a full-time student for the awards, which come in three levels: $10,000 for first place, $3,000 for second and $1,000 for third.
“Often students work on projects that go unnoticed. There are many talented students on campus but few are being recognized,” Innovation Greenhouse executive director Nancy Hong said. “This is an opportunity for us to showcase innovation and creativity among our students. We hope to inspire other students to try and not be afraid of trying something new or different.”

Receiving the nomination

No stranger to awards, Zaremba has received acclaim through his compositions and arrangements.

In 2012, he was named Downbeat’s Best Undergraduate Soloist on saxophone, and in 2014, he won second place in the Vandoren Emerging Artist Competition. His original works, “Race to the Finish” and “Blues for Gabe,” earned him the Jazz Education Network Student Composition Showcase and Herp Alpert Young Jazz Composers awards.

However, when Zaremba was nominated for the Sherman/Barsanti award last year, he didn’t make it past the first round.

His mentors — Richard DeRosa, director of jazz composition and arranging, and John Murphy, chair of jazz studies — never gave up, nominating him a second time for his contribution to the College of Music.30_zaremba_web3

Jazz graduate student Drew Zaremb

DeRosa said he first met Zaremba in 2010. He enrolled in DeRosa’s required and advanced jazz arranging classes as a sophomore, forging a personal student-teacher relationship when Zaremba switched his major from jazz performance to jazz arranging and began studying privately with DeRosa.

After Zaremba graduated with his bachelor’s degree, DeRosa encouraged him to pursue his master’s degree, and the two spent the next couple years working together.

On top of his instrumental talents, DeRosa said Zaremba can sing harmony parts in a vocal jazz ensemble as well as conduct and rehearse with students as a substitute teacher for his classes.

“Drew is probably the best student I’ve ever had,” DeRosa said. “There have been and are others who are also at his level, but Drew is quite special because he is such a comprehensive musician.”

Zaremba said he wants the Unity Orchestra to be made into a nonprofit organization in order for its players to begin receiving donations and grants from individuals and corporations, allowing them to sell the idea of a jazz orchestra based primarily on string instruments, which is uncommon for ensembles.

“There are dozens of amazing big bands across the country, but there are no real identifiable jazz orchestras in the nation right now, so I think that gives us a good vantage point and selling point,” he said. “I think that’s an artistic presence that’s missing in the United States.”

Honoring the students

Behind the Sherman/Barsanti awards were a panel of judges including Hong; UNT president Neal Smatresk; David Holdeman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; James Scott, dean of the College of Music; Cindy Tysinger, CEO of Global Solutions and Technology, Inc., in Denton; and Michael Monticino, president of Academic Analytics.

About 23 students were nominated for last year’s awards. This year, the count reached 49.

The two other award-winning students were English doctoral candidate Sidney Thompson and Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science student Aayush Goyal, who received $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.

Thompson was nominated by English professor Miroslav Penkov for work on his dissertation, a novel entitled “Bass Reeves,” which is based on the true story of an African-American Deputy U.S. Marshal of the same name.

Reeves was considered the most successful lawman in the American Old West, a fact that has been lost in history possibly due to discrimination, Thompson said. With “Bass Reeves,” he said he hopes to tell the story of an important period largely negle
cted by society while gaining a readership in the UNT community after he presents his dissertation Friday.

“Writers rarely get recognized, and maybe we’ll get something published, but that doesn’t always translate into money and literal enjoyment, so I’m excited about the potential of this book,” Thompson said. “I’m very grateful to Sherman/Barsanti for seeing that their money can be used [to] benefit the broader community – not just me and my family.”

Looking to the future

In May, Zaremba will graduate with his master’s degree in jazz composition and arranging. He leaves for China at the end of the month to teach a two-week jazz class in Zhuhai, a city directly west of Hong Kong. Despite his teaching stints, Zaremba said he
wants to continue freelancing as a musician.

“I’ve done six years here at UNT, and each year has gotten better and better, [but] I think it’s time to get out of academia and really pursue the profession,” he said. “There’s such a difference between academic experience and professional experience, and I’m ready to get more professional experience.”
Zaremba said his immediate goal is to build the orchestra until it is supported by a regular budget and a scheduled concert season where he can invite artists to perform either his or their own compositions and arrangements.

“I want to experiment in many different genres and styles to draw in audiences of many different backgrounds, ages and cultures,” he said. “By working with artists of a high caliber, there’s a chance we can have a strong audience base going forwar
d. That’s what I want to develop in the years to come here in the North Texas area.”

DeRosa said he expects Zaremba to not only develop as a composer, arranger and conductor over time, but also become a major force in the music business.

“The sky is the limit for this very talented young man,” DeRosa said. “It is his work ethic and great desire to develop and share his musical gifts with the public at large that will ultimately keep transporting him into greater limelight.”

Featured Image: Drew Zaremba practices conducting inside the Murchison Performing Arts Center. Zeremba won the grand prize at the Sherman/Barsanti Inspiration award, which came with $10,000. Photos by Hannah Ridings – Staff Photographer

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