Sophomore jazz studies major produces and releases CD of original music

January 16, 2019

Benjamin Cortez, a sophomore undergraduate student in the Arizona State University School of Music jazz studies program, recently debuted and produced a CD of original material, titled “In Your Hands.”

Cortez composed all the music and wrote all the lyrics, except one piece that was co-written with Benny Rothschild. He also sings all the vocals and plays 14 different instruments on the CD. Cortez said his experience in the jazz studies program has helped him grow as a musician and create his CD. Benjamin Cortez Benjamin Cortez Download Full Image

“One of the most important skills I have learned here at the ASU School of Music is how to have a better handle on the physical aspects of playing the piano,” said Cortez. “I took classical piano lessons from age 3 to 6, but my perfect pitch combined with my stubborn attitude got in the way of me continuing on the path of standard music education. I went years developing as a pianist on my own and ignored the importance of posture and physical motion at the piano. Now that I am at ASU studying with Professor (Michael) Kocour, I have found myself trying to maximize every movement while I am playing.”

Cortez’s talents were first discovered during The Nash Legacy Ensembles auditions when he was in high school. The ensembles, a signature program of The Nash, are comprised of talented, auditioned high school jazz musicians from across the Phoenix area. Students explore essential jazz styles, composition and arranging techniques and the art of improvisation, gaining invaluable small-group performance experience with expert coaching. The Nash was co-founded by ASU jazz studies faculty member and legendary jazz drummer Lewis Nash.

“We knew right then at The Nash Legacy Ensemble auditions that Cortez was an exceptional talent,” said Kocour, director of jazz studies at the ASU School of Music and director of The Nash Legacy Ensembles. “Since then, he has proven to be creative force as an improvising jazz keyboard player.”

Cortez was accepted in the ASU jazz studies program in fall 2017 and has been taking jazz classes, performing in the Latin Jazz Band and in jazz combos, and learning what it means to be an enterprising musician.

“Regardless of what style of music he is participating in, whether rehearsing or performing, there’s a joy and free flowing quality to Ben’s music-making that is contagious,” said Jeff Libman, clinical assistant professor in jazz studies at the ASU School of Music. “Audiences connect with Ben, but so do his musical peers. Ben is doing special things right now, and I can’t even imagine what his musical future holds.”

Cortez comes from a musical family with a primarily rock and pop background and was passionate about songwriting and producing before enrolling as a music major at ASU. His interest in studying jazz piano began in middle school while trying to learn the sophisticated harmonies from the classic album "Aja" by Steely Dan. Inspired by the way that they fused so many elements of music, he researched their influences and fell in love with jazz.

Cortez said another valuable experience for him was the opportunity to accompany the acclaimed Chicago jazz singer Dee Alexander on the Miles Davis classic, "All Blues," when she presented a masterclass at the School of Music in October.

“My advice to fellow students is to make the most of the time you have in college to focus solely on perfecting your craft, and keep your eyes on the prize (the degree),” Cortez said. “I know that this is what is helping me to maximize my potential while I'm here at ASU.”

Kocour said jazz studies students and faculty are excited about the release of Cortez’s CD. “We hope that ‘Arizona’ will become our state song in the same way that ‘Georgia on My Mind’ and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ became emblematic for other states in our country.”

More about Benjamin Cortez.

Lynne MacDonald

communications specialist, School of Music


Seed grants sprout novel health research

January 16, 2019

People who are severely injured in the upper extremities may experience nerve damage that impairs motor function from shoulder to hand. Unable to flex their elbows, these people cannot fulfill everyday tasks like putting on a shirt or raising a glass of water.

But what if researchers designed a tractable, powered exoskeleton that assists with upper-extremity function? What if it could be controlled by users’ own brains, responding directly to their intentions and gradually reducing assistance as they gain strength? Researcher using a pipette By launching novel research on a small scale, researchers have been able to attract funding needed for larger studies that may make a significant impact in their fields and improve patient care. Download Full Image

Such a design is just what Thomas Sugar, a professor at Arizona State University’s Polytechnic School, and Kenton Kaufman, a professor of biomedical engineering at Mayo Clinic, have proposed. Their project is one of eight innovative pilot studies that will be explored through the 2019 Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University seed grant program.

Since 2005, Mayo Clinic and ASU have provided seed funding to new, interdisciplinary and translational joint research projects. By launching novel research on a small scale, researchers have been able to attract funding needed for larger studies that may make a significant impact in their fields and improve patient care.

Each research team includes one researcher from ASU and one from Mayo Clinic. The projects draw on the strengths of each institution.

“The seed grants are symbolic of the synergy between ASU and Mayo Clinic in clinical research,” said Hugo Vargas, medical director of Mayo Clinic’s Office of Clinical Research in Arizona. “The commitment of both institutions to innovate in health care technology and delivery has been a fixture since the inception of the seed grants in 2005. This collaborative effort allows team development between ASU and all three of the Mayo Clinic campuses. The awards aim to capitalize on the strengths of each institution and the evidence points to growth of medical research to the benefit of patients in the respective communities.”

“We are delighted to support the researchers as they work to develop their ideas in a collaborative manner to improve patient outcomes,” said Cheryl Conrad, assistant vice president of research development for the ASU Knowledge Enterprise. “By capitalizing on each team member’s clinical expertise and a commitment to innovative research, ASU and Mayo Clinic are addressing important issues in health and medicine.”

From 2005 through 2017, the Mayo Clinic and ASU seed grants have translated into 57 externally funded projects worth approximately $30.5 million. Seed grant recipients have also shared their knowledge through more than 25 journal publications and by mentoring student researchers.

2019 seed grant projects and lead investigators

“Novel minimally invasive device to induce weight loss”

Junseok Chae, School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, ASU
Rahmi Oklu, MD, PhD, Radiology, Mayo Clinic

“Integrating genomic and imaging biomarkers for early detection of Alzheimer’s disease”

Yalin Wang, School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, ASU
Junwen Wang, PhD, Research, Mayo Clinic

“Bioinspired electrospun fibrous patch for augmenting rotator cuff repair”

Julianne Holloway, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, ASU
John Tokish, MD, Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic

“Myoelectrically controlled power-assist upper-extremity exoskeleton”

Thomas Sugar, Polytechnic School, ASU
Kenton Kaufman, PhD, Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic

“Interaction between pancreatic triglyceride lipase (PNLIP) and its selective inhibitor”

Matthew D. Green, School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, ASU
Vijay P. Singh, MD, Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Mayo Clinic

“Promoting efficient muscle repair in Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients”

Alan Rawls, School of Life Sciences, ASU
Elizabeth Jacobsen, PhD, Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic

“Impact of the extracellular vesicle glycome on brain metastasis”

Chad Borges, School of Molecular Sciences and the Biodesign Institute, ASU
Joy Wolfram, PhD, Mayo Clinic

“Quantifying mitochondrial metabolites to define the role of mitochondria in stem cell function and fate”

Haiwei Gu, College of Health Solutions, ASU
Clifford Folmes, PhD, Department of Cardiovascular Diseases, Mayo Clinic

Learn more about the seed grant program and about the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University Alliance for Health Care. If you are an ASU researcher, sign up to receive notifications about funding opportunities.