Earl MacDonald can now add a couple of extra lines to his already impressive résumé. He was a 2011 Juno award nominee in the Traditional Jazz Album of the Year category for re:Visions – Works for Jazz Orchestra. And he’s the 2011 Independent Music Award winner in the Best Jazz Song category for his composition, ‘Bad Dream.’
MacDonald is associate professor of music and director of jazz studies in the School of Fine Arts. As these recent accolades suggest, this native of Manitoba, Canada has come a long way since beginning his professional career as organist for the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets when he was still a teenager.
Today, he makes headlines as a teacher, composer, and performer in his chosen world of jazz.
The Juno nomination from the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences – the equivalent of a Grammy nomination from the American Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences – is particularly meaningful to MacDonald due to his heritage. “It was exciting to be nominated,” he says, “because I think back to when I was a kid watching that [awards] show on television. I have always followed who won the Junos. I even remember certain acceptance speeches; those stick in my mind, because musicians I really idolized won.”
Music reviewer Dan Bilawsky, writing about MacDonald’s album for the on-line jazz publication all.about.jazz , said, “The big band era ended long ago, but the world is a better place because people like pianist Earl MacDonald still yearn to keep it alive in some way.” In the same publication, reviewer Mark Corroto said, “re:Visions [is] both flexible and nimble. This buoyant recording is a big band record for those who prefer the dexterity of smaller groups, but dig the beefy energy of multiple players.”
The nomination of ‘Bad Dream’ as best jazz song in the 10th annual Independent Music Awards competition is special in its own right. IMAs honor exceptional independent artists, and nominees are evaluated by a panel of music industry professionals and performers. Sponsored by a network of music industry organizations, the program honors talented independent artists throughout the world.
As much as he is dedicated to music composition and performance, MacDonald is equally committed to teaching aspiring musicians. As director of jazz studies at UConn, he nurtures his students with the same intensity and attention to detail he brings to other aspects of his life.
David Woods, dean of the School of Fine Arts, says that when MacDonald is talking, “You feel like the most important person in the world. He manages to juggle any number of academic, family, and professional interests at the same time, and he always knows exactly what he has to do to reach his goals. Every single jazz major is Earl’s advisee, and every one of them is equally important to him.”
For his part, MacDonald says one of the things that initially attracted him to UConn was its proximity to the Boston and New York music scenes. But, he says, what has made Storrs seem like home since he joined the music department faculty in 2001 is the support he has received from his colleagues.
In 2006, the UConn Chapter of the American Association of University Professors honored MacDonald with its Excellence Award for Teaching Innovation. He has also been the recipient of a number of School of Fine Arts Dean’s Grants, which are designed to fund proposals of high artistic and scholarly merit. He says these awards were instrumental in his receiving a Faculty Large Grant award from the Research Foundation, which in turn enabled him to hire musicians, conduct rehearsals, make the CD, and do all the things that go into producing and marketing music in an increasingly competitive environment.
In addition to serving as coach, mentor, and instructor to UConn’s jazz majors, MacDonald has just put together a 10-piece band called the New Directions Ensemble for the Hartford Jazz Society. And he has a busy performance schedule lined up, including a Magical Evening for The Benton at the Benton Museum on June 18.
Listen to samples from the re:Visions album, including the award-winning song ‘Bad Dream.’