Downbeat Magazine names Jazz Ambassadors among nation’s top jazz groups

University of the Pacific’s elite student jazz ensemble, the Jazz Ambassadors, has been named one of the best in the country by Downbeat Magazine, one of the leading publications for jazz music.

The group clinched the top honor in the undergraduate "Small Jazz Combo" category in the magazine’s annual student music awards.

Under the guidance of Patrick Langham, professor and program director for Jazz Studies, the Jazz Ambassadors train closely with each other as part of Pacific’s three-year Accelerated Bachelor of Music Honors Degree in Jazz Studies.

"It's always been a very selective group of some of the best young jazz musicians in the country," Langham said, adding that the students have excelled as a group.

“When you're competing against the top music schools in the country, it’s expected that you've got talented students,” he said. “The question is which group sounds the best, so it definitely is a team effort.”

The magazine receives submissions from some of the top music schools around the country, including The Julliard School, The Manhattan School of Music and others.

“I never expected to accomplish something like this, especially as a freshman in college,” said saxophonist Aimee Macdonald ’26. “It always felt pretty unachievable to win any Downbeat award, much less this one.”

Langham tasked the students with choosing songs from Ray Charles’s extensive jazz catalog and creating their own arrangements of the music.

“We’re so happy it turned out the way it did,” said violinist Gianna Pedregon ’24. “We were all happy and proud of ourselves.” 

From left to right: Marwan Ghonima '24 (upright and electronic bassist), Leo Milano 26' (tenor saxophonist), Aimee Macdonald '26 (saxophonist), alumnus Toby Keys '22 (pianist), Gianna Pedregon 24' (violinist) and Samson Hulett '24 (drummer).

From left to right: Marwan Ghonima '24 (upright and electronic bassist), Leo Milano '26 (tenor saxophonist), Aimee Macdonald '26 (saxophonist), alumnus Toby Keys '22 (pianist), Gianna Pedregon '24 (violinist) and Samson Hulett '24 (drummer). 

Conservatory of Music Dean Peter Witte credits Langham’s mentorship with helping students develop their talent. “This award is another testament to his skill as a teacher, a jazz artist, and as the collaborative, engaging, and accomplished leader of Jazz at Pacific,” Witte said.

Pacific has previously received recognition from Downbeat Magazine in other categories, most recently winning for best jazz soloist in 2022.

The Jazz Ambassadors perform extensively at jazz festivals throughout the United States and abroad. They also perform weekly at the Take 5 Jazz Club near the Stockton Campus.