COVID-19 Updates

Read the latest announcements and testing info.

Elmhurst University Jazz Festival

The 54th annual Elmhurst University Jazz Festival continues with the High School Invitational, May 1, 2021, made possible by the generous support of the Sylvia and William W. Gretsch Foundation.


Featured Artists

Learn more about the guest artists featured at the High School Invitational.

About the Festival

The 54th annual Elmhurst University Jazz Festival presents a second installment this year with its High School Invitational, made possible by the generous support of the Sylvia and William W. Gretsch Memorial Foundation.

The 54th edition of the Festival will be remembered not only for another great year of music, but also as a year of some changes. First, you may notice that the event is now known as the Elmhurst University Jazz Festival as a result of our institution’s name change. Another significant difference is the presentation format: the 2021 Festival is a virtual event, held entirely online. The main Festival, held in February, was a huge success, drawing viewers from around the world: across the USA, Europe, and as far as Japan and Australia.

We hope you will enjoy this second installment of the Festival, with special programming just for the High School Invitational.

A row of trombone players is featured as students in the Elmhurst University Jazz Band perform during the University's annual Jazz Festival.

The current Elmhurst University Jazz Festival rose from the ashes of the now-defunct American College Jazz Festival. The original Festival, established in 1968, was comprised of eight regional sites throughout the United States. Elmhurst University (then Elmhurst College) hosted the Midwest event. Each regional festival produced a winning band, combo, and vocalist, who then performed at a national festival on Memorial Day weekend. American Airlines, Budweiser, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts sponsored the annual extravaganza.

The national festival expired in 1973, but Elmhurst University continued its festival with a new approach. Instead of a winner-take-all format, the emphasis was shifted from competition to education. Guest artists offer constructive critiques of each performing group, conduct clinics, and demonstrate their skill in concert. The artists also grant awards to outstanding ensembles, individual musicians, and student composers and arrangers.

The Festival has hosted some of the most iconic names in jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Lee Konitz, Clark Terry, Bob Brookmeyer, the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, the Dave Holland Quintet, Nicholas Payton, Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Bill Holman Band, the Phil Woods Quintet, the Count Basie Orchestra, Maynard Ferguson, Patti Austin, Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, the Joe Lovano Quartet, the Maria Schneider Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Jeff Hamilton Trio, Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project and the Dave Douglas Quintet all have graced our stage.

A female student sings into a microphone during the Elmhurst University Jazz Festival.

Since 1968, there have been countless memorable moments. Many of them have been the performances by the legendary artists who make the journey to our stage each year. But the student musicians who perform on the afternoon and evening sessions have created a great number of those moments of magic. They deliver heartfelt performances and give the audiences all they have and more. Many have gone on to careers in music and have made their mark in the art form. Professionals who performed here as students include Delfeayo Marsalis, Rich Perry, Cecil Bridgewater, John Harmon, John Fedchock, Peter Erskine, Tim Hagans and Dee Dee Bridgewater.

The Festival is above all else a forum for jazz education. It is a gathering where some of the world’s most acclaimed artists come together with the next generation of musicians to not only perform the music, but also to study it. The Festival is a place where students have access to some of the best musicians in the business and can ask them directly about their artistry.

In 2017 the Festival celebrated its 50th Anniversary, and we are able to look back on a history that clearly marks its status as an institution. While the 54th edition is presented in a virtual format, it keeps that tradition alive. It is a special happening: a rare blend of educational enrichment and exciting entertainment. Welcome to our celebration of America’s sublime art form.

The 55th annual Elmhurst University Jazz Festival will be held February 24-27, 2022.


Elmhurst University Jazz Festival, Department of Music

Connect with #elmhurstu