Photo of Seth Parker Woods performing with an illustration of a GRAMMY Award.

Multiple USC Thornton Grads and Faculty Nominated for 2023 GRAMMY Awards

By Evan Calbi

This year’s nominees include alumni Mak Grgić, and faculty members Seth Parker Woods of Wild Up and Bing Wang of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (Design: Sean David Christensen)

Alumni and faculty from the Jazz Studies program lead a lengthy list of USC Thornton nominees, most of whom have been honored before.

An impressive list of alumni and faculty from the USC Thornton School of Music received nominations for the 65th GRAMMY Awards, announced Tuesday, Nov. 15. 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

While most USC Thornton nominees have received nominations in past years, several alumni received their first nominations. These nominees included alumni from the Jazz Studies program: Louis Cole (’09), Max Bryk (’11), Amber Navran (’12), Andris Mattson (’13), and Derek Renfroe (’17). 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.”

Renfroe was nominated in the category of Album of the Year as part of the nomination for Beyoncé’s chart-topping release, “Renaissance,” which also received a nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album. Additionally, the track Renfroe worked on as a songwriter and guitarist, “Plastic off the Sofa,” was nominated for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Another alum, Sol Was, was also included in the Album of the Year nomination for “Renaissance.” Was is part of a production team that worked on the album. “Virgo’s Groove,” a song Was helped write, received an additional nomination for Best R&B Performance.

Award-winning film composer Bear McCreary (’02), who most recently scored The Lord of the Rings series, “The Rings of Power,” received a nomination in the category of Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media for “Call Of Duty: Vanguard.”

Round Two

Several alumni received their second nominations, including classical guitarist Mak Grgić (MM ’12, DMA ’16, GCRT ‘20), who earned his second nomination in as many years for Best Classical Instrumental Solo for “A Night In Upper Town – The Music Of Zoran Krajacic.”

Composer Austin Wintory (’07) received his second nomination in the category of Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media for “Aliens: Fireteam.” He joins Bear McCreary in this category.

Show Stoppers

Award-winning composer and producer Ludwig Göransson (GCRT ’08), an alum of the Screen Scoring program, is included in the nomination for Album Of The Year for Adele’s “30.”

A host of USC Thornton faculty and alumni are included in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album for Michael Bublé’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 Bublé’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.

Joining Bublé in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album is a capella group, Pentatonix, 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, nominated for his work with Beyoncé, and frequent collaborator and fellow Studio Guitar alum, Aron Forbes (’07), are part of the music directing team for Billie Eilish, who is 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.

Will Kennedy at Bovard Auditorium
Will Kennedy of the Yellowjackets performing with the USC Thornton Winds in Bovard Auditorium on April 1, 2022. (Photo: Ryan Miller)

Faculty Ensembles

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.

The Peter Erskine Trio will be competing against their colleagues, as 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.

Jazz Studies faculty member Vince Mendoza joins alum Louis Cole in the category of Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals. Celebrated arranger Mendoza received a nomination for “Songbird (Orchestral Version)” with Christine McVie. Cole, mentioned earlier, was nominated for arranging “Let It Happen,” which he also performed.

Alumni Trumpeters Shine

Alum Ambrose Akinmusire (MM ’07) received a nomination in the category of Best Improvised Jazz Solo for “Rounds (Live),” while trumpeter Bijon Watson, who was the drum major for the USC Trojan Marching Band as a USC student, was nominated in the category of Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album as part of the Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra.

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 “Dvořák: 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).

Notable Mentions

Joining Mak Grgić in the category of Best Classical Instrumental Solo is a composition by acclaimed composer Michael Abels (’84), “Isolation Variation,” as part of a nomination for violinist Hilary Hahn.

Music Industry Faculty Represent Nominees

More notable mentions include Music Industry faculty who represent nominated artists. 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.

The 65th GRAMMY Awards will take place at 5:00 pm (PT) Sunday, Feb. 5 at Arena. The ceremony will air live on CBS, and stream live and on-demand on Paramount+.

Portrait of USC Thornton nominees for 2023 Grammys
First-time nominees include Louis Cole, Moonchild, and Bear McCreary. (Design by Mingmei Li)

Alphabetical List of Named USC Thornton GRAMMY Nominees for 2023

Ambrose Akinmusire (MM ’07)
Max Bryk (’11)
Louis Cole (’09)
Peter Erskine, Jazz Studies faculty
Russell Ferrante, recently retired Jazz Studies faculty
Ludwig Göransson (GCRT ’08)
Mak Grgić (MM ’12, DMA ’16, GCRT ’20)
Scott Hoying (non-degreed alumnus)
Will Kennedy, Popular Music faculty
Andris Mattson (’13)
Bear McCreary (’02)
Vince Mendoza, Jazz Studies faculty
Bob Mintzer, Jazz Studies faculty
Amber Navran (’12)
Darek Oles, Jazz Studies faculty
Alan Pasqua, Jazz Studies faculty
Derek Renfroe (’17)
Sol Was (non-degreed alumnus)
Bijon Watson (non-degreed alumnus)
Austin Wintory (’02)

(In addition, many faculty members and alums were part of ensembles, orchestras, and productions that received nominations. Check back as this list will likely grow.)

TAGS: Alumni, Classical Division, Classical Guitar, Classical Performance and Composition, Composition, Contemporary Music, Contemporary Music Division, Jazz Studies, Keyboard Studies, Music Industry, Music Technology, Popular Music, Screen Scoring, Strings, Winds and Percussion,

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