Some Numbers for Steve Zegree

I’m getting ready for the Steve Zegree Memorial Celebration being held today at Miller Auditorium in Kalamazoo. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to write the story of his influence on my life – it’ll come someday – but in the meantime I thought some numbers would be appropriate.

Given his love for the Downbeat Student Music Awards and his penchant for sharing success in the form of statistics, I crunched the numbers of the last three years of Downbeat Award winners, just in the vocal jazz ensemble categories. (they give awards at two levels: Winner and Outstanding Performance.)

Over the last three years, Downbeat awarded 63 ensembles and directors from high school to graduate-level college. This was divided between 36 large jazz ensembles and 27 small groups. They recognized 26 winners and 37 outstanding performances.

During that time, 18 (almost 30%) of the awards went to ensembles directed by Steve or one of his former students. And even though almost 60% of the awards given were “Outstanding Performances,” Steve and his former students won 11 times. That’s over 60% of their 18 awards, and winning nearly half of the categories in the process. The results are most striking at the graduate college level, where five out of six “Winners” were conducted by Steve & former students.

(A shoutout to multiple DB Award Winners from that group – in addition to Steve, there were Jennifer Barnes, Christine Helferich Guter, Michael Molloy, and Kate Reid.)

Steve was a lot of things, and I can’t wait to hear the tributes made to him today by the many people flying across the country to be in Kalamazoo. But more than anything, he was a teacher. I know he took great pride in the continuing success of his students, who are now musical leaders across the country.

It’s a remarkable legacy and one every teacher should aspire to.


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