Elmhurst College Celebrates 50th Annual Jazz Festival

May 4, 2017

Elmhurst College celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the school’s annual jazz festival this February 23-26.  The milestone celebration festival combined the headlining names in jazz with the young musicians in high school jazz ensembles and college bands.

The festival saw its first-ever opening night concert in the 23, where jazz vocalist and Grammy winner Dee Dee Bridgewater took the stage. Other notable performers included the Grammy-winning Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (which evolved from the former Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra) on the 24th, and the Patrick Williams Big Band on the 25th. On the 26th, National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters honoree Bill Holman performed a piece commissioned by the college as a special nod to the festival’s 50th anniversary.

“I’m so impressed with the dedication of [these young] musicians, and the seriousness with which they take the music,” said Doug Beach, the Elmhurst College director of jazz studies and festival coordinator. “They’re not fooling around; they really care about it.”

Other luminaries presented master classes and served as judges in the band competitions, such as pianist and composer Michael Abene, baritone saxophonist and flautist Denis DiBlasio, saxophonist Pat LaBarbera, drummer and composer Dennis Mackrel, bass legend Rufus Reid, and trumpet icon Bobby Shew.

As the school’s festivals have grown, so have its offerings in jazz programs. Elmhurst College now offers a major in jazz studies and courses in music business. Three years ago, the Elmhurst College jazz band was named a winner in the large jazz ensemble category in Downbeat magazine’s Student Music Awards.

The festival continues to thrive as a result of the donations from contributors, especially the Sylvia and William W. Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Fred W. Gretsch, who established the foundation in honor of his parents, is an alumnus of the Elmhurst College business program and has been supporting many different musical activities at the school with his wife for many years. The foundation also provided Gretsch drum sets for professional and student drummers to use.

“The Festival provides a place for young students to perform, to be heard, and to develop their craft. It also gives them the chance to hear other musicians,” Beach said. “You always learn from listening to someone else. A lot of the pros who have performed here over the years played [at the Festival] when they were in college.”

April 25th Named “Ella Fitzgerald Day” in NYC

Verve Label Group, in partnership with the Mayor’s office, celebrated Ella Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday on April 25th at the historic Rainbow Room in Manhattan. Throughout New York City it was “Ella Fitzgerald Day” to honor the late performer’s legacy.

The celebration at the Rainbow Room included a performance from Tony Bennett and vocal students from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts.  Bennett also presented the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation with a framed print of his portrait of Ella Fitzgerald.

“A year ago, I was asked to take over at the helm of Verve which was founded by Ella’s longtime manager Norman Granz, who created Verve Records in 1955 to provide a nurturing and supportive home for Ella’s recording career but also to foster jazz artists and this great American-born musical genre. I am truly humbled to now be the keeper of the flame and contributing to shine a well-deserved light on artists of the magnitude of Ella Fitzgerald,” said Danny Bennett, CEO and President of Verve Label Group.


Commissioner Julie Menin of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment presented the official proclamation of “Ella Fitzgerald Day” to Richard Rosman and Fran Morris-Rosman.

“New York has a long and proud tradition of attracting talented performing artists from around the world, and a standout among them is Ella Fitzgerald, a legendary jazz vocalist who captivated audiences with her distinctive style and incredible talents. Ella has gone down in history as one of the greatest entertainers of all time, and her story and career have continued to inspire singers and performers across our city and far beyond. Together with the Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, and her legions of fans around the world, I am proud to join in celebrating Ella’s 100th birthday. Now therefore, I, Bill de Blasio, Mayor of the City of New York, do hereby proclaim Tuesday, April 25th, 2017 in the city of New York as:  Ella Fitzgerald Day,” read the mayor in honor of Ella.  

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