St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf jazz professor recognized as outstanding musician

St. Olaf jazz professor and conductor JC Sanford plays trombone in front of a red curtain.
St. Olaf jazz professor and conductor JC Sanford was recognized by DownBeat Magazine.

St. Olaf College’s new jazz professor and conductor, JC Sanford, was recognized as a Rising Star trombonist in DownBeat Magazine’s 68th annual critics poll. The complete results of the poll were announced in the August issue of the magazine. 

Viewed by many as the leading voice in jazz, DownBeat Magazine hosts the annual critics poll to recognize the year’s best jazz musicians. In 2020, 154 jazz critics voted on which albums and artists stood out. Sanford is one of 10 trombonists honored in the Rising Star category.

In addition to performing, Sanford is also a composer and conductor, with his original works spanning the breadth of both jazz and classical music. He leads the JC Sanford Quartet, the chamber jazz trio Triocracy, as well as conducts new music for large ensembles. Since returning to Minnesota in 2016 after living in New York, Sanford has co-founded the Twin Cities Jazz Composer Workshop, frequently performed as a trombonist with other Twin Cities jazz musicians, and has been awarded a 2018 McKnight Composer Fellowship and a 2019 Minnesota State Arts Board Initiative Grant.

Portrait of St. Olaf jazz professor and conductor JC Sanford with his trombone outside near a wooden post, trees, and a river.The recognition from DownBeat coincides with Sanford’s arrival at St. Olaf as the new director of jazz ensembles. In his role, Sanford will lead one of the best undergraduate jazz programs in the country: St. Olaf’s Jazz I has won several music awards over the years, with two coming from DownBeat Magazine. In 2011 DownBeat honored Jazz I as the “Best Large Undergraduate Jazz Ensemble” in their Student Music Awards — the top prize in the category — as well as “Outstanding Performance by Large Undergraduate Ensemble” in 2019. 

“I’ve long admired what Dave Hagedorn has done with this jazz program at St. Olaf over the past 23 years, so I’m honored to be in a position to take the reins from him and try to continue to build on this great tradition he has established,” Sanford says. “Being a native Northfielder, it’s pretty amazing I’ve been able to come back home and join the prestigious faculty of this music program I got so much exposure to back in high school.”