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Featured Artists

The Elmhurst University Jazz Festival celebrates its 54th year—and for the first time, we present our impressive lineup entirely online.


Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project presents Birth of the Cool

Ryan Truesdell 2021 Jazz FestivalThe Gil Evans Project was born out of composer/producer Ryan Truesdell’s desire to restore and perform Gil Evans’ music directly from Gil’s original manuscripts. The magic of Gil’s writing lies in the details, and without his original scores, it is nearly impossible to accurately perform his music as originally intended. After years of painstaking research, countless hours of preparation, and with full support from the Evans family, Ryan Truesdell and the Gil Evans Project have made it possible, for the first time, to perform Gil’s music in its purest form: directly from his manuscripts.

The Festival has featured Ryan Truesdell’s Gil Evans Project twice before; this year, the group presents a unique program of the music of Birth of the Cool.

Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts

Matt Wilson's Arts & Crafts 2021 Jazz FestivalFew musicians embody the spontaneous energy of jazz quite like Matt Wilson, who was recently named 2018 Musician of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. The New York-based drummer combines buoyant zeal, idiosyncratic style, infectious humor, joyous swing and an indomitable spirit of surprise, making him one of the most in-demand players and educators on the modern jazz scene. He leads many distinctive ensembles: the Matt Wilson Quartet, Honey and Salt, Big Happy Family, Topsy Turvy, the Christmas Tree-O, and of course Arts & Crafts, which the Festival welcomes back for a third appearance.

Kurt Elling

Kurt Elling 2021 Jazz FestivalRenowned for his singular combination of robust swing and poetic insight, Grammy winner Kurt Elling has secured his place among the world’s foremost jazz vocalists. Declared “the standout male vocalist of our time” by The New York Times, Elling has garnered unprecedented accolades, including a fourteen-year run atop the DownBeat Critics Poll, a dozen Grammy nominations, and eight Jazz Journalists Association awards for “Male Singer of the Year.” Elling’s most recent release, Secrets Are the Best Stories, delves deep into life’s most challenging philosophical puzzles alongside renowned pianist Danilo Pérez.

Whether transforming timeless standards or crafting his own enthralling originals, Mr. Elling balances elegant lyricism and technical mastery with emotional depth and keen observations into the human condition. He appears on Sunday with the Elmhurst University Jazz Band; we are excited to welcome him for the first time to our Festival.

Dennis Mackrel

Dennis Mackrel is a highly respected jazz drummer, composer, arranger and conductor whose work has been recorded and performed by the Count Basie Orchestra, the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, the WDR Radio Big Band from Germany, the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw from Holland, the Klüvers Big Band from Denmark, and the McCoy Tyner Big Band, whose Grammy-winning albums include his arrangements. He has won numerous awards including Who’s Who in Music and a National Endowment for the Arts grant for composition. Mr. Mackrel is a longtime Festival favorite, and we welcome him back for an eighth appearance as guest adjudicator.

Donny McCaslin

Donny McCaslin 2021 Jazz FestivalFollowing a string of critically-acclaimed albums and his work on David Bowie’s final recording Blackstar, saxophonist Donny McCaslin returns repeatedly to a specific phrase: “new territory.” His newest album, Blow., fully realizes Bowie’s influence and McCaslin’s evolved artistic direction.

Originally from Santa Cruz, California, McCaslin attended the Berklee College of Music and shortly after joined both Gary Burton’s quintet and Steps Ahead. He really began to turn heads with his solo work in larger ensembles – first Ken Schaphorst’s big band, and subsequently the acclaimed Maria Schneider Orchestra.

We are pleased to welcome Mr. McCaslin back for a second appearance as guest adjudicator.

Terell Stafford

Terell Stafford 2021 Jazz FestivalAcclaimed trumpeter Terell Stafford is recognized as an incredibly gifted and versatile player, combining a deep love of melody with his own brand of spirited and adventurous lyricism. He has performed with groups including the Benny Golson Sextet, McCoy Tyner Sextet, Kenny Barron Quintet, Jimmy Heath Quintet and Big Band, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni Band and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with Diana Krall. He is the Director of Jazz Studies and Chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, founder and band leader of the Terell Stafford Quintet, and Managing and Artistic Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia.

A Festival regular with groups including the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Mr. Stafford returns this year with Matt Wilson’s Arts & Crafts on Friday night and for his first stint as guest adjudicator on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

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