Elmhurst College Jazz Festival hits a high note Feb. 20-23
This weekend, Elmhurst College’s 53rd annual Jazz Festival brings college and high school students together with professionals to compete, jam, explore musical horizons and entertain the public.
Andrew Eklund is modest about his recent contribution to Super Bowl history as the guy who wrote the music for the Planter’s Baby Peanut commercial.
“Yeah, it was fun. I was lucky to work on it,” the Elmhurst College alum said.
This weekend, from Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 20-23, Eklund plans to return to his college roots as an audience member at the 53rd annual Elmhurst College Jazz Festival, a four-day experience that brings college and high school students together with professionals to compete, jam, explore musical horizons and entertain the public.
Eklund said he was involved in the festival while in school as both a musician — he’s a trumpet player — and as a volunteer gopher for guest artists.
“From the perspective of being a musician, it’s hard to place a value on being with dozens of other college ensembles on one weekend,” he said.
In addition, he said, the access to jazz greats is inspiring for students interested in pursuing music careers.
“It’s the proximity to professionals who are brought in,” he said.
Students learn about how to perform, how to grow as musicians, and how to manage career prospects, he said, as well as “knowing how you should behave on and off the bandstand. It helps people earlier and further on in their journey through jazz education.”
This year’s schedule boasts several top jazz performers.
“The Count Basie Band is here. They’ll play Friday night. The band is still very strong in (Basie’s) tradition. The repertoire they play is their music,” said Doug Beach, festival director and one of the event’s emcees.
“On Saturday night, the featured act will be the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.”
Both of those acts are making their third appearance at the festival.
“They’re great musicians, but they’re also great educators,” said Beach, director of the Elmhurst College Jazz Band and director of jazz studies at the college. “Education is the key to life.”
A high school invitational competition kicks the festival off at 12:30 p.m. Thursday with bands from the following high schools: Leyden, Addison Trail, Badger, Ashwaubenon and Champaign Central, concluding with a 4:30 p.m. performance featuring the Elmhurst College Jazz Band and accomplished jazz musicians Bobby Floyd, Dennis Mackrel, Bobby Shew and Gary Smulyan, who will serve as judges.
College ensembles from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Wisconsin will perform beginning at 11:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and again at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Beach said many college groups are returning performers. Two new ensembles, from Judson University and Wayne State University, will make their Jazz Festival debut this year, he said.
Since he graduated from Elmhurst College with a degree in music business and jazz studies, Eklund has been fully immersed in a music career.
“I’m a composer. I write music for TV and advertising, film. I do play professionally as well. I play in a wedding and corporate events band,” he said.
He also performs at weekend services at Willow Creek Church, he said.
“My decision to study jazz and pursue jazz was my way to understand music on a deeper level,” he said. “Things can be complicated. Just because you understand it doesn’t mean you can execute it on a high level.”
Eklund said the jazz festival gives students and the public a chance to experiment and get acquainted with the musical form.
“I think that jazz is kind of an intimidating word for most of the public. It’s really kind of a safe environment to show up and see what the music is all about,” he said.
“The whole music department really rallies together to make it happen. Every year the festival has the best big band music on that stage.”
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Elmhurst College Jazz Festival
Where: Elmhurst College’s Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, 190 Prospect Ave.
When: Performances begin at 12:30 p.m. Thursday; 11:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11:30 a.m. Sunday