Joseph Bell ’16 wins Downbeat Magazine award

Aspiring guitarist Joseph Bell ’16 began playing guitar in first grade at his local conservatory in Baltimore, the Peabody Conservatory, after his grandparents gave him his first guitar. Since then, he has received numerous awards and had many opportunities to perform. Recently, Bell was one of nine high school and college students to win the 38th annual Student Music Award by Downbeat Magazine.

Bell sent two recordings of his guitar playing in order to apply to the Downbeat Magazine competition last winter. After four months, Bell was excited to find out in late April that he won the award. The magazine selects a few winners from high schools and colleges throughout the country, and Bell was chosen as one of five winners for the Jazz Soloist section.

Auditioning into the Princeton Studio Band his freshman year allowed Bell to compete in the Berklee High School Jazz Festival annually, as well as in multiple other competitions. This festival and many others have offered numerous opportunities for Bell to perform and share his passion for music with others.

Bell also received various awards during his sophomore year from the YoungArts Foundation, an organization that awards and provides opportunities for young musicians. “[I won] the honorable mention … so I received some money and a recommendation and an opportunity to do … a regional program,” Bell said.

Bell mimics the stylings of other guitarists and jazz musicians to guide him in developing his skills. John Coltrane, Peter Bernstein, Joe Pass, and Julian Lage are musicians who play a significant role in Bell’s creativity and defining his sound. “A lot of my influences also come from my peers and my friends who also play music,” he said. “The way they play has inspired me as much as … the professional, or big-name musicians have.”

Bell believes his biggest accomplishment during his musical career was his participation in the National Jazz Orchestra for high school members, the Monterey Next Generation Jazz Orchestra. As part of the orchestra, Bell traveled to Japan last summer and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September, along with professional drummer Eric Harlen.

Bell has not taken on the task of composing his own songs yet, but he plans to do so in the near future. “This summer, when I have more time, I’ll try to compose my own things and hopefully perform them with a group,” he said.

Taking after his sister, Elana Bell ’13, who is pursuing both academics and vocals at Oberlin, Bell is contemplating pursuing music along with his regular studies. “I don’t necessarily know if I want to go to a music conservatory just yet. I might consider just applying to universities and … consider doing a dual degree,” he said.

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