Doc Severinsen Joins Array of Jazz Greats to Receive Honorary Degree

June 8, 2017 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Elmhurst College has long been known as a leader in music education, particularly in the area of jazz studies.

In addition to its outstanding academic program, which includes the renowned Elmhurst College Jazz Band, the College hosts the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary in February. The Festival draws not only the best college jazz bands from across the country, but also some of jazz music’s leading lights to serve as adjudicators, instructors and mentors to the student participants.

Elmhurst has honored several of these luminaries with honorary degrees, in recognition of their musical accomplishments and contributions to the jazz world. The latest was Doc Severinsen, who received an honorary Doctor of Music degree at the College’s Commencement ceremonies on May 27.

At the ceremony, Elmhurst College Director of Jazz Studies Doug Beach cited the former Tonight Show bandleader as “renowned around the world as a jazz trumpeter, bandleader and recording artist, whose contributions to the art of jazz and jazz education have found their place in the annals of music history.”

A master of jazz trumpet for more than 60 years, Severinsen has performed in bands led by Charlie BarnettTommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman; and has recorded with the likes of Henry ManciniTito PuenteDizzy GillespieLena Horne and Gerry Mulligan. He led The Tonight Show’s NBC Orchestra for three decades, until host Johnny Carson’s retirement in 1992.

In recent years, Severinsen has made frequent appearances with the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, including a tour of Ohio in October of 2016.

Severinsen joins a stellar roster of jazz artists who’ve received honorary degrees from Elmhurst, starting in 1995 with Clark Terry. Recognized around the world as one of the most original voices on the jazz trumpet over his 60-plus year career, Terry was also an important composer and recording artist. His contributions to the art of jazz and to jazz education are considered some of the most important in history.

From the 1940s through the first decade of the 21st century, Clark Terry performed and recorded with virtually every important big band, as well as with the leading instrumentalists and vocalists of jazz. As a leader of his own group he released more than 75 recordings, and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award as well as a Jazz Master Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Terry made several appearances at the Elmhurst Jazz Festival (starting in 1978) and performed with the College’s Jazz Band on numerous occasions, inspiring Elmhurst College students for more than three decades before his death in 2015.

In 2009 Elmhurst honored composer, arranger and bandleader Bill Holman. A master of jazz orchestration for more than 50 years, Holman has contributed to the libraries and recordings of bands led by Count BasieStan KentonBuddy Rich, and Doc Severinsen. He has written for the likes of Natalie ColeTony BennettMel TormeWoody Herman and Sara Vaughan.

Holman has made four appearances at the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival, including the 2017 event this past February. He also has written four commissions for the College’s Jazz Band.

The 2015 honoree was yet another trumpeter: jazz great Bobby Shew. A master of his instrument for more than 50 years, Shew has performed in bands led by Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Benny Goodman, Bill Holman, and Toshiko Akiyoshi. He also has performed with pop stars including Elvis PresleyBarbra StreisandSteve Allen and Tom Jones.

Having first performed at Elmhurst College in 1985, Shew has made many subsequent appearances, including at the 2017 Jazz Festival. He’s also performed with the Elmhurst College Jazz Band on numerous other occasions.

Last year Elmhurst awarded an honorary music degree to Fred W. Gretsch, a leader in the music industry for more than half a century and the fourth-generation president of his family’s 134-year-old business. Gretsch and his wife, Dinah, have consistently supported music education initiatives. At Elmhurst College, the Gretsch Company and its Foundation support several Music Business scholarships, as well as the Gretsch Recording Studio. They also provide Gretsch drum equipment and financial support for the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.

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