By Merissa Anderson
Badinage, the prestigious vocal jazz group of Hutchinson Community College, has wrapped up their year with international recognition after being awarded the Downbeat 41st Annual Student Music Award for large group vocal jazz ensemble.
Downbeat Magazine has covered only the best jazz performers since its beginning in 1934. The award, though well-deserved, came as a pleasant surprise to Director Neal Allsup, who decided to submit the group’s work for the first time this year.
“Badinage has not missed a man-hour of rehearsal in 23 years,” Allsup said. “If they’re ill, they still want to come in and sit in the corner and rehearse. That’s how dedicated they are to their craft and to be able to produce a product that is worthy of a Downbeat award. We’ve had seven Carnegie Hall performances and we’ve been to JEN in the past. It’s not like we’ve all of a sudden made it. The awards we’ve got this year really are on the backs of all those wonderful, incredible students I’ve had over the last 20, 30 years.”
Each member of Badinage will receive a certificate to recognize their accomplishments. The group will also be featured in the June edition of the magazine, alongside several of the top jazz schools in the world.
“This award really is about the program,” Allsup said. “We’ve been doing this for over 20 years. It’s just that this year there has been a lot of opportunity and a lot of things that have come our way.”
In the future, Allsup plans to enter the group for more Downbeat categories including small group and ensembles.
However, Allsup emphasizes that it’s not just this year’s group that should be proud of the award. He believes that each group’s talent continues to shine through year-to-year.
“These vocal jazz singers, especially Badinage, they’ve been cranking it out like this for more than 20 years,” Allsup said. “This year we had a vocal jazz reunion inviting back students from the last thirty years to come to campus and we spent a whole weekend just remembering and rehearsing for a concert.”
Allsup said he hopes to host another vocal jazz reunion in another five years.
Badinage was also invited to perform at the most important international conference, The Jazz Educators Network, in Dallas, where only six schools are chosen to perform.
Only a few high schools in Kansas offer vocal jazz classes, so for most students, HutchCC is their first experience with the genre.
Next year, every member of Badinage is expected to return along with any incoming freshmen who make the cut.
“We may have to start a third group,” Allsup said. “My job is to go out and find outstanding musicianship.”
Students interested in joining are encouraged to audition, where, if they make the cut, will then be placed in either Badinage, or Allsup’s other equally-talented group, Sonance.
The group performs two major concerts at the college each semester, in addition to smaller performances at nursing homes and hospitals in the community.
“Next week we will go to a dementia and Alzheimer’s unit, and we’ll sit in a great big circle with them to sing,” Allsup said. “It’s one of the most touching and memorable performances.”
Badinage also travels to one conference each year, although they are often invited to perform at many other places across nation and world.
“We’ve had invitations to sing at festivals in Monteux, Switzerland, Cuba, Brazil, Japan,” Allsup said. “It’s amazing the kind of invitations we receive.”
Many of those invitations must be turned down but, with the new international recognition from Downbeat, the group will likely be flooded with additional attention.
The group’s work doesn’t end there. They also open for professional groups at the local Fox Theatre.
“Badinage came back early from Spring Break to open for ten-time Grammy winning group, Manhattan Transfer,” Allsup said.
Manhattan Transfer, the multi-Grammy winning jazz group that has been performing since 1969, was in awe of HutchCC’s badinage group, Allsup said.
The group also recently released a new song which, although the sheet music will not likely be available for several years, Badinage students worked hard to transcribe the song for their own performance.
“We’re the best kept secret in the town,” Allsup said.
For anyone interested in donating to the group or receiving an album of some of Badinage’s work, they can contact Neal Allsup in Stringer Fine Art’s Center.