About the Festival
The Elmhurst University Jazz Festival returns for its 57th edition in 2024, both in our traditional in-person format and live-streamed online.
2021’s 54th Festival was the first and only in our history presented entirely online. The overwhelmingly positive response from our global audience lead us to incorporate the best both worlds for our 2022 Festival – in-person and live-streamed. We are excited to continue with this format for the third year in a row, streaming our in-person Festival from Hammerschimdt Chapel & hearing from our guest artist/adjudicators live on-mic and on-camera.
The High School Invitational, made possible by the generous support of the Sylvia and William W. Gretsch Memorial Foundation, returns to its leadoff Festival slot on Thursday.
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.
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 2023 the Festival celebrated its 56th Anniversary, and we are able to look back on a history that clearly marks its status as an institution. It is a special happening: a rare blend of educational enrichment and exciting entertainment. Welcome to our celebration of America’s sublime art form.