Musician of the Year Award

  • Nominations open in mid-October to mid-November of prior year.
  • WMJS board finalizes three nominees at the November board meeting.
  • Membership voting in December of prior year (voting closes Dec. 31st).
  • The announcement is made in late January of the award year following first WMJS board meeting of the year (usually in January).


  • Must currently reside in West MI (anything west of Lansing from the top to the bottom of the state)
  • Not currently serving on the WMJS board or an immediate family member of a current board member - to avoid a conflict of interest.
  • An individual cannot win an award twice.
  • WMJS board will validate all nominations. The board seeks public input & past award recipients’ feedback. Using a matrix of award criteria, WMJS board selects 3 finalists for a vote.
  • Current WMJS membership votes to approve winner. WMJS current board members cannot vote.

The West Michigan Jazz Society invites its membership and the general public to send in their nominations for the 2023 WMJS Musician of the Year Award. Click here for the online form.

In the year 2000, the West Michigan Jazz Society began honoring our outstanding local musicians beginning in the year 2000, by electing a "Musician of the Year." Our award honorees thus far include:

2020 - Paul Brewer - Trombone

2019 - Fred Knapp - Drums

2018 - Bob Nixon - Sax, Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon

2017 - Robin Connell - Piano

2016 - Terry Lower - Piano

2015 - Mike Lutley - Saxes, Flute, and Clarinet

2014 - Max Colley III - Trumpet & Drums

2013 - Randy Marsh - Drums

2012 - Mark Kahny - Piano and Vocals

2011 - Edye Evans Hyde - Vocal Stylist

2010 - John Shea - Piano

2009 - Dick Reynolds - Piano

2008 - Steve Talaga - Piano

2007 - Tom Hagen - Piano, Guitar, Clarinet

2006 - Mary Rademacher - Vocal Stylist

2005 - Elgin Vines - Bass

2004 - Tim Froncek - Percussion

2003 - Ray Gill - Tenor Sax

2002 - Mel Dalton - Sax

2001 - Paul Keller - String Bass

2000 - Curt Purnell - Sax

Bruce Early Jazz Educators Award

W.M.J.S has a new annual award!Bruce Early

This award will be given in Bruce Early's name to the Jazz Educator of the year by the W.M.J.S. Dr. Bruce Early (1939-1998) was the area's premier educator, band leader, performer, adjudicator, and contractor in the Grand Rapids area as well as the Mid-west. He taught at Aquinas College and organized an annual jazz festival and summer jazz ca
mp besides being a conductor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. He nurtured young talent and gave them an environment to gain experience to perfect their craft. So this award will continue his legacy as well as give acknowledgment and thanks to each recipient.

Each recipient will not only be selected by their teaching talent but by their support and caring of the direction that our young jazz musician's paths may take. West Michigan has many devoted and talented educators and this will be a way thanking and acknowledgment for their expertise.

Max Colley II
June 2016- The first award was presented to Max Colley II. His dedication, drive, enthusiasm, as well as Northview High School's unparalleled competition record at jazz festivals, has been an inspiration to all who are involved in jazz education and have been jazz enthusiasts for years! Max inspired not only his students but everyone around him. He welcomed other teachers
to share their knowledge which in turn gave his students unlimited knowledge and experiences to learn from. Max has retired from teaching but keeps in touch with many of his "kids"throughout the country. He is still sharing his enthusiasm and caring for other people’s lives and accomplishments.
August 2019 -The Bruce Early Award was presented to Eric Wendlandt, an extremely talented musician with extraordinary showmanship. Eric was band director for West Catholic High School for 25 years, 1965-1900 where his teaching skills provided an extra special experience for any band student who wanted to excel. The marching band went from the marching 100 to the marching 200 at the pinnacle of his time in the late 70s and early 80s. Under his direction, West Catholic became a force in both symphonic and marching bands, achieving many awards and number one ratings through the years. “I’ve always had a passion for education in music”, Eric stated. “Music is perhaps one of the few things left in this world that makes everyone happy, no matter the country. It’s truly the universal language”