Jazz Band singer Caitlin Cotten wins 2012 Sudler Prize
For the eighth time in 10 years, a Purdue Bands’ student has been named Purdue’s top senior in the arts. Caitlen Cotten, the singer with the Purdue Jazz Band for the past four years, has been awarded the 2012 Sudler Prize in the Arts.
Each year, top seniors in the arts are nominated by their respective departments to compete for the award. Cotten sang three songs in her unique sultry jazz style and talked about the impact of the songs in various eras of jazz history to win the award.
Although her major at Purdue is Communications and Human Relations, Cotten’s world has always included music. Her mom, Mindy, is an elementary and middle school music teacher in Tippecanoe County, her dad Steve a band director at Harrison High School, but she came by her love of jazz singing all by herself.
“My dad tells me I always sang a jazzy version of ‘Jingle Bells’ and “Jesus Loves Me,’” she says.
Active in school choirs at Rossville High School, she had a few chances to sing with their jazz band and her dad’s jazz band at Harrison. A visit to a Purdue Jazz Band concert when she was a junior cemented her ambition. “That’s when it all clicked. I wanted to go to Purdue and sing with the jazz band. That’s what I wanted out of my college experience,” she recalls.
As luck would have it, the singer with Purdue’s band at that time, Courtney Rowen, was student teaching at Rossville High School and agreed to coach her in scat singing. Not terribly interested in pop music she related to classic jazzers like Ella Fitzgerald instead.
“Jazz just feels more substantial to me in terms of lyrics and melodies. I feel a connection to it.”
Cotten uses jazz to reach out to others. “If I can sing a song and capture a listener, take away their everyday worries and give them a smile, then I feel I’ve done my job,” she says. “I don’t just sing for myself but to share with others.”
Performing outside at Jazz on the Hill at Slayter Center tops the list of Cotten’s best jazz memories at Purdue, also winning two Outstanding Vocalist Awards at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival in suburban Chicago. Then there’s the Purdue Jazz Band’s annual “Holiday Cheer & All That Jazz” show when sentiment reigns. This past Christmas she got the chance to fulfill a long-term wish bof her mother’s by singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Another reward generated by her interest in jazz was the chance to meet the band’s bassist Caleb Benner whom she’ll marry on June 30. While Benner awaits an assignment with Air Traffic Control, the couple will live in Lafayette and Cotten will work as office manager for the Purdue Campus Christian House.
Eventually the couple wants to live in Orlando, FL. Cotten was an intern in Disney’s college program and hopes to work there one day in guest relations or management.
Memories of jazz at Purdue will always be special. “I am going to miss this so much,” she says. “Mo Trout has been so supportive. He has helped me grow stylistically and has expanded my repertoire.”