USC Thornton faculty, alumni celebrated at 65th annual Grammy Awards

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USC Thornton faculty & alumni celebrated at 65th annual Grammy Awards
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USC Thornton faculty and alumni were featured at the 65th annual Grammy Awards when the celebration returned to Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 5 at Arena. Thornton musicians won awards, some for the first time, and were featured in the televised performances. On music’s biggest night, a nomination can often be as important as a win, particularly for young musicians, and both are highlighted here.

Below is an overview of the winners, nominees, and performers on this historic evening.

Jazz Studies faculty member Vince Mendoza won an award in the category of Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for “Songbird (Orchestral Version)” with Christine McVie. It is Mendoza’s eighth Grammy Award. The celebrated composer and arranger has been nominated over 35 times.

Renowned trumpeter Bijon Watson won his first Grammy Award in the category of Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album as part of the Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra. Watson attended USC from Aug. 1986 through Dec. 1987. He was studying electrical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and minoring in music.

A host of USC Thornton faculty and alumni were included in the award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Michael Buble’s “Higher.” Jason Goldman (MM ’02), chair of the Jazz Studies program, produced, arranged, and orchestrated “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” as well as the album’s bonus track, “Pennies From Heaven,” while Buble’s longtime musical director, alum Alan Chang (’02), produced the song, “Smile.” The album features performances from a long list of USC Thornton Jazz Studies alums.

Rounding out an impressive showing for Thornton’s Jazz Studies department, faculty member Bob Mintzer was featured in a pre-telecast performance, kicking off the ceremony with a rendition of “I Just Want to Celebrate” with a number of fellow nominees including The Blind Boys of Alabama, La Marisoul, Shoshana Bean, Buddy Guy, and Maranda Curtis.


An impressive list of alumni and faculty received nominations for the 65th Grammy Awards. In addition to at least 20 named nominees, many faculty and alumni from across the school were included in nominations as part of ensembles and orchestras, as members of an album’s production, and as music industry professionals representing nominated artists.

First-time nominations for Jazz Studies alumni:

Several alumni received their first nominations this year, including Jazz Studies alumni Louis Cole (’09), Max Bryk (’11), Amber Navran (’12), and Andris Mattson (’13). Artist and multi-instrumentalist Cole received his nomination in the category of Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals for “Let It Happen.” Bryk, Navran and Mattson, who make up the alternative R&B group Moonchild, were nominated for Best Progressive R&B Album for “Starfruit.”

Two alumni nominated as part of Beyonce’s historic night:

Two alumni were nominated as part of Beyonce’s chart-topping release, “Renaissance.” Studio Guitar alum Derek Renfroe (’17) and Sol Was, who studied in the Jazz Studies department, were part of the nomination for Album of the Year. Additionally, the track Renfroe worked on as a songwriter and guitarist, “Plastic off the Sofa,” won an award for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Was helped write “Virgo’s Groove,” which received an additional nomination for Best R&B Performance.

Classical Guitar and Jazz Studies alums receive second nominations:

Classical guitarist Mak Grgic (MM ’12, DMA ’16, GCRT ’20) earned his second nomination in as many years for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for “A Night In Upper Town – The Music Of Zoran Krajacic.” Joining Grgic in the category is a composition by acclaimed composer Michael Abels (’84), “Isolation Variation,” as part of a nomination for violinist Hilary Hahn.

Jazz Studies alum Ambrose Akinmusire (MM ’07), a noted trumpeter, also received his second nomination in the category of Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “Rounds (Live).”

Two composers nominated in first-ever category:

Award-winning film composers Bear McCreary (’02) and Austin Wintory (’07) were nominated in the category of Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media, a new category this year. McCreary was nominated for “Call Of Duty: Vanguard,” and Wintory for “Aliens: Fireteam.” Jeanine Cowen, chair of the Screen Scoring program, and longtime faculty member Garry Schyman were interviewed about this category on CBS Sunday Morning in a segment that aired on Feb. 5.

Nominations for Jazz Studies and Popular Music faculty:

Two different ensembles of Jazz Studies and Popular Music faculty were nominated in the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album. The Peter Erskine Trio received a nomination for “Live in Italy.” The group features USC Thornton faculty members Erskine, Darek Oles and Alan Pasqua.

Celebrated jazz-fusion supergroup Yellowjackets was nominated in the same category for “Parallel Motion.” The group features USC Thornton faculty members Bob Mintzer and Will Kennedy, recently retired faculty member Russell Ferrante, and bassist Dane Alderson.

Show stoppers:

Award-winning composer and producer Ludwig Goransson (GCRT ’08), an alum of the Screen Scoring program, is included in the nomination for Album Of The Year for Adele’s “30.”
Celebrated a capella group, Pentatonix, was nominated in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album nominated for “Evergreen.” The group is led by Scott Hoying, who formed the celebrated group as a USC Thornton student with Music Industry alum Ben Bram (’10).

Both Renfroe and frequent collaborator and fellow Studio Guitar alum, Aron Forbes (’07), were part of the music directing team for Billie Eilish, nominated for Best Music Film for her concert video, “Live at the O2.” Forbes was musical director and mixer, and Renfroe assistant musical director and mix assistant.

Orchestral performances:

Rounding out the list are two ensembles nominated in the category Best Orchestral Performance. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, which features a significant number of Thornton faculty and alums, was nominated with conductor Gustavo Dudamel for “Dvorak: Symphonies Nos. 7-9,” while noted new music ensemble Wild Up received a nomination for “Eastman: Stay On It.” The ensemble features, among others, Strings faculty member Seth Parker Woods and alum Sidney Hopson (’08, GCRT ’10, MM ’12).

Music Industry faculty represent nominees:

Music Industry faculty member Jonathan Azu, founder of management firm Culture Collective, represents client Cory Henry, who earned his second consecutive nomination for Best Progressive R&B Album.

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