In 2021, Elmhurst University didn’t let the lockdown stop them from continuing their long-running annual jazz festival — but the University of Notre Dame, which had had a longer-running jazz festival than EU up until that point, did, according to Christopher Parsons, director of the Jazz Festival.
“They [Notre Dame] skipped a year, and we went and did a live stream, so we like to state the claim that we have the longest continually running collegiate jazz festival in the country and this will be our 56th year doing it,” Parsons explained.
This year, the Elmhurst University Jazz Festival will take place Feb. 23-26 in the Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, and it will be live-streamed as it was the previous two years.
The festival will feature four EU bands: Elmhurst University Jazz Band, Late Night Blues, Lab Band, and Elmhurst University Combo, according to Parsons.
There will also be guest artists — Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, John Pizzarelli Trio, Tamir Hendelman, Dennis Mackrel, and Terell Stafford, according to Parsons. Hendleman is a piano player, Mackrel is a drummer, and Stafford is a trumpet player.
Parsons explained that guest artists can serve as inspirations for students.
“We try to run the gamut between students and then big professionals, so you can kind of shoot for the stars and see what’s the potential for you,” Parsons said.
This year’s festival will also bring a new opportunity for high school students; in addition to getting the opportunity to perform and receive feedback from judges, they will receive a clinic from EU jazz faculty.
Thanks to the Office of Student Affairs, the festival will be free of charge for all EU students who show up with their Jaypass, according to Parsons.
To prepare for the festival, the music department established its festival staff in the fall, including two student managers and section heads who are responsible for certain roles, according to Parsons.
Since then, the festival staff has mainly been focusing on recruiting additional volunteers and doing promotional work, including spearheading a new Instagram page (@eujazzfestival), according to Student Managers Timothy Gorman and Christian Sanchez.
According to Parsons, the festival used to be a national competition when it started in the late 1960s. This changed when James Cunningham, former Dean of Students, decided to turn the festival from a competition to an educational opportunity.
Ever since, the festival has been an educational experience for university students to perform and receive feedback from judges.
“You could be the best jazz band in the country, or you could be just starting out and you’re gonna have a valuable experience to learn how to grow and get better in the music,” Parsons said.
While Parsons explained that there have been several directors for the festival throughout the years, the festival has been able to keep running due to student support.
“There’s been a lot of unsteadiness in who’s steering this ship in terms of who the director of the festival is, but all of the directors of the festival have been able to dream big because we have students that are very willing to learn what they need to do,” Parsons said.
Parsons saw this eagerness of students to learn when the live stream was first launched in 2021. He recalled that students “jumped at the opportunity” to learn how to operate a camera, use software, and be producers.
He also noted that this experience opened up doors for students. For instance, some former volunteers are now doing video shoots as part of their job, and former student managers have gone on to work in concert promotions and organizing festivals.
Sanchez appreciates the fact that the festival is student-run.
“I think it’s so cool to see that we have 18 to 22-year-olds running a high-level professional festival,” Sanchez said. “That doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world, and I think that’s something so special.”
He also is looking forward to the learning and performance opportunities that the festival will bring.
“It’s gonna be a weekend that’s amazing — full of love, full of music, full of learning and just opportunities, networking, just so many, so many great things, but if I had to choose a number one, it’s gonna be just being surrounded by great music and great, great minds who have done so so many things within this genre,” Sanchez said.
Gorman feels that attending the festival can help people broaden their taste in music.
“I think having a very diverse taste in music is really beneficial because not only for you to have a variety of things to listen to but culturally as well,” Gorman said. “… jazz started in the early 1900s as an evolution of what was once slave music, so it has a really rich culture, and I think it’s just really interesting to open your view to that kind of stuff.”
In addition, Gorman thinks that being a part of the jazz band teaches the importance of being a team player since everyone has their own specific part to play in jazz music.
“I think it’s really good to be a part of that team where everyone is responsible for their own stuff and you all have to kind of fit together and work together to make the music sound good,” Gorman said.