Betty Carter Jazz Ahead Connections

Markus Howell joins growing number of Spartans associated with prestigious jazz mentorship program.

Betty Carter Jazz Ahead student and faculty class of 2017 inside the John F. Kennedy Center
Morning rehearsal at the John F. Kennedy Center with Bettey Carter Jazz Ahead faculty member Darren Barrett (second from left) and Markus Howell (third from left).
Markus Howell takes a moment to pose for a picture in front of the National Library of Congress.


A saxophone student in the MSU College of Music gained new perspective on his artistry after attending one of the premier jazz residency programs in the world earlier this spring.

In late March, Markus Howell, a senior in jazz studies, traveled to Washington, D.C to participate in the 18th annual Betty Carter's Jazz Ahead Program through the John F. Kennedy Center of the Performing Arts. It’s an honor earned by just 24 participants worldwide, and provides musicians from their mid-teens to age 25 the opportunity to be mentored by experienced artists and instructors in performance, composing and arranging skills.

“I was so honored to be part of such a prestigious program,” says Howell. “It made me really think about getting to that next level. They all knew we could play, so they were pushing us to think about the feeling and the spirit of the music. It was all about being a jazz artist.”

Howell is the second student from MSU to be accepted into the Jazz Ahead project that has helped launch the careers of contemporary stars like Cyrus Chestnut, Jason Moran and Jacky Terrasson. In 2016, Jazz studies senior Adam Olszewski attended the program that identifies and nurtures emerging jazz artists. Several Spartan alumni from participated in the Jazz Ahead program after graduating from the College of Music including vocalist Stacey Carter (MM ’10), saxophonists Caleb Curtis (BMUS ’08) and Taylor Herron (BMUS ’13; Honors College) and trumpeter Curtis Taylor (BMUS ’07).

Among MSU faculty, the College of Music claims Jazz Ahead alumni Michael Dease, assistant professor of jazz trombone who attended in 2004 and 2005, as well as Xavier Davis, associate professor of jazz piano who served on the Jazz Ahead faculty in 2017 while Howell attended as a student.

Howell’s lead instructor Diego Rivera says that having a growing number of MSU Spartans connected with Jazz Ahead speaks volumes about the quality of students and faculty the College recruits and retains.

“Markus is an incredible young man whose musicianship is surpassed only by his humanity,” says Rivera, associate professor of jazz saxophone. “He genuinely cares for his audiences, and that drives him to become the best musician possible.”

Howell says that a key takeaway from the two-week residency is the idea of providing an exceptional musical experience for an audience. That concept, he says, was put to the ultimate test when he and other participants stepped onto the stage at the Kennedy Center for performances that were broadcast around the world.

“That was incredibly rewarding,” says Howell. “We had been pushed so hard, so when it was time to perform, it made the whole experience complete.”

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