Columbia’s Fusion Ensemble Wins DownBeat Magazine’s Annual Student Music Award

Students of the Fusion Ensembler playing during Manifest.The Fusion Ensemble performing during Manifest 2019. Photo: Phil Dembinski '08
Led by faculty member Bill Boris, the student musicians won the “Best Small Combo” award in the undergraduate category.

Columbia College Chicago’s Fusion Ensemble won the “Best Small Combo” award in the undergraduate category in DownBeat Magazine’s 42nd Annual Student Music Awards. One of the songs submitted, “Irukanji” was an original composition by guitarist and alum Jackson Shepard ’18. The group blends Jazz language with influences from R&B, Gospel, and World music. Through the Artist-in-Residence program, the Fusion Ensemble has performed with Cory Henry, Donny McCaslin, Stefon Harris, and many other renowned musicians.

According to Bill Boris, director of the Fusion Ensemble, “The DownBeat award affirms that Columbia’s Music Department provides superb instruction and has created an environment where students can thrive, collaborate, create original music, and reach an extremely high level of performance. The recognition from DownBeat is evidence that our students are among the best collegiate musicians in the country.”

The Fusion Ensemble is an advanced ensemble that performs a wide range of music, from the intricate compositions of Herbie Hancock to the eclectic R&B sounds of Snarky Puppy, as well as original compositions. The ensemble includes trumpet, sax, guitar, piano, bass, drums, and vocals.

Through the Artist-in-Residence program in the college's Music Department, the Fusion Ensemble has had the opportunity to perform with renowned artists including Cory Henry, Donny McCaslin, Stefon Harris, Wycliffe Gordon, Bob Mintzer, Dave Douglas, Christian McBride, Mike Stern, Peter Erskine, Fred Wesley, and more.

The Fusion Ensemble has performed at the Notre Dame Jazz and Elmhurst Jazz Festivals for the past five years, receiving many Outstanding Soloist awards. In 2017, the Fusion Ensemble performed with Wycliffe Gordon at the Jazz Educators Network convention in New Orleans. The group was recognized for outstanding performance in the 2017 DownBeat Student Awards.