Winning Essay by Josie W., Loyola University Chicago

Music is something that I have always been enchanted with. Mostly, my studies, practices, and performances have been self-taught. This aspect is not something that I have taken issue with, but over time, I recognized that mastery must come with a helping hand. That is where my mentor, Tammy McCann, came into my life and showed me a realm of song that I had never been exposed to, and generously opened her arms to me in the name of promising musicianship.

Tammy McCann is a professional jazz vocalist from Chicago. She was recognized by the Chicago Tribune multiple times as the “best jazz performance.” Her voice is unique and powerful, so it’s no wonder that she is internationally recognized. Tammy’s style has stolen the hearts of many around the world.

I first met Tammy McCann last year while she was on tour. She set up a “jazz mastery” workshop at our school. This kind of arrangement is nearly unheard of in my small town, which is very separate from urban development and nuanced culture. Her expertise in the field was apparent as she gave me valuable advice for a song that I was taking to contest. I admired Tammy immediately — she commanded the group of students with an empowering air and worthwhile guidance.

Several months later, I received a call from someone associated with the local concert series informing me that Tammy wanted to me to perform with her in Omaha. As aforementioned, I live in a rural town that lacks diversity, so I was surprised and honored that she — an accomplished, well-traveled musician — would take time out of her pressing schedule to grant me this opportunity.

Whenever I felt nervous, she reassured me that I was capable with a wide smile and offered me constructive criticism. Jazz is a form of music based upon improvisation, so it was unlike any other performance I’d ever experienced. By her side, though, she taught me as we went along. She explained that I had to be decisive in my capabilities when performing jazz — I had to direct the band so that they would follow my lead. Tammy helped me feel sure of myself.

Since then, we performed together again in Kansas City. She also has been my online vocal coach. She awarded me as the first recipient of a scholarship for Brownville’s Jazz Retreat — a camp that she pioneered to educate aspiring musicians. She has nurtured me to be strong and concise in my artistry. She has dedicated much time toward students of music simply because she feels that it is her duty to cultivate promising musicians.

Tammy shared that while she was starting in the industry, she lacked strong female mentors, and that she wanted to be that for me. Her empowering nature has inspired me to help others in the ways that she does. I am honored to have her as my powerful role model, teacher, and to have the opportunities that she has given me.


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