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Featured Faculty: Andy Nevala

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Andy Nevala, Director of Jazz Studies at JSU, has a new CD release this Fall and is preparing for the JSU Jazz Ensemble’s performance in New Orleans in January. Aside from playing, teaching, and studying music, Dr. Nevala enjoys doing yardwork, walking his dogs, brewing beer, and “cooking two-inch thick T-bones.”  Sadly, his favorite food—“REAL New York pizza and Mexican”—isn’t found around Jacksonville.

In addition to directing Jazz Studies and overseeing the Jazz Combo Program at JSU, Dr. Nevala directs several ensembles: the Downbeat Award Winning Jazz Ensemble I (2015), Jazz Ensemble III, Jazz Ensemble IV, and the Latin Ensemble. He also teaches Jazz and Classical piano lessons. Dr. Nevala especially enjoys teaching the Jazz Ensembles: “Jazz is something you have to do to learn, and it’s fun watching the eyes of the students light up when they ‘get’ a concept,” he explains.

The students that he teaches are one of Dr. Nevala’s favorite things about JSU. “The talent here is ridiculous,” he says. “They are hungry to learn and be better musicians.” To JSU musicians, he gives this advice: “Study hard, but practice harder. In the real world, you don’t have 3 months to learn 12 minutes of music and a few scales. Practice what you need to practice, so you can do what you need to do.”

Although it wasn’t until his second year of college that Dr. Nevala decided to pursue becoming a professional musician, he has always been surrounded with music. There was always a piano in his family home, and his grandfather was a classical pianist. Dr. Nevala admits that he was drawn to music throughout his childhood; as he grew older, he began to notice the fruits of his musical talent—winning talent shows and scholarships.  

His specialization in Jazz resulted from a deep passion for the genre. “There is a lot of freedom in performing Jazz; you never play it the same way twice. Classical music requires a lot of repetition to learn; playing Jazz allows you to be creative and develop your own voice within the structure of the music.” More than that, Dr. Nevala simply thinks that Jazz is fun to play, noting that “it’s more fun if you know the ‘math’ behind the theory, history, and improvisation techniques and can deal with the physical limitations of your instrument.  It’s like trying to do a crossword puzzle where you never complete it but there are always questions to answer.”

As for Dr. Nevala’s accomplishments and works, there are too many things to list. One of his proudest accomplishments to date is earning his Doctorate degree in Jazz Piano Pedagogy—“that thing took years off my life to finish,” he says. Additionally, the opportunity to record CDs released on Record Labels was always something he wanted to do, and has been “fortunate enough to keep doing”. He has recorded over twenty CDs, and his newest comes out this fall, featuring Dr. Nevala on Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes, and piano. “It will be out on New West Records, a label out of Nashville,” he says, adding that the CD will include “Big Band Jazz Arrangements of the Allman Brothers.”  

The Jazz program that Dr. Nevala directs also has its share of prestige. Dr. Nevala lists the highlights: “A Downbeat Magazine award in 2015, two CDs, performances all over the region, and most recently we’ve been selected to perform at the 2020 JEN (Jazz Educators Network) Annual Conference in New Orleans. All the Jazz Directors from around the country will gather in one place, and our top Jazz Ensemble will be performing for them.” JSU Jazz is already rehearsing the music for the New Orleans performance—A History of Latin Big Band Tradition.

This year there will be several JSU Jazz performances throughout the semester around campus. The Jazz Combos will be playing at Loco Mex on Monday nights beginning at the end of September, and Jazz Ensembles will be travelling to Rome, GA, on October 21st to perform with Berry College. In the spring, the 9th Annual Jazz Festival will be held on April 10th in the newly renovated Mason Hall.

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