Lawrence Jazz Weekend was initiated in 1981 to:

  • Bring renowned professional jazz artists to the Lawrence campus
  • Establish a 100% non-competitive jazz educational festival
  • Create an autumn educational event as an inspirational jump-start for school jazz groups
  • Promote improvisation as a primary focus in school jazz ensembles

The 1981 festival attracted 125 students from 8 Fox Valley high school ensembles. By 1987, Jazz Weekend attracted over 1000 middle school, high school, collegiate, and teacher participants from 60 schools in 5 Midwestern states.

Attending school jazz educators continue to appreciate the low-pressure clinic environment, the inspirational boost at the start of the school year, the extended ensemble workshop clinics with renowned clinicians, the special focus upon improvisation, the absence of ratings and trophies, and a "Who's Who" list of professional jazz artists.

In 2015 the was renamed the Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend in honor of Fred Sturm, the founder of the festival and the most influential figure in the history of jazz at Lawrence:

Fred Sturm (1951-2014), Lawrence University Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies and Improvisational Music, was the heart and soul of jazz at Lawrence. An award-winning composer, nationally recognized jazz educator and beloved mentor to hundreds, if not thousands, of aspiring musicians, Sturm graduated from Lawrence in 1973. He returned to his alma mater four years later and spent 26 years as a member of the conservatory of music faculty spanning two different teaching stints (1977-91; 2002-14). In between, he taught at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where he was the chair of the Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media department. As a 19-year-old sophomore, Sturm formed the Lawrence conservatory of music’s first-ever jazz ensemble, which in turn became a catalyst for the creation of the jazz studies department. During his 37-year teaching career, the student jazz ensembles Sturm directed were recognized with nine Downbeat awards, widely considered the highest honor in the field of jazz education. Sturm himself was recognized by Downbeat magazine with its 2010 Jazz Education Achievement Award, the highest recognition in the field of jazz education. More than all of his professional accomplishments, his hundreds of brilliant compositions, and dozens of awards and honors, Fred’s true passion was teaching. He loved nothing more than working with students. Fred had the rare gift of seeing potential in every student, then steadfastly working to help that potential become reality. His knowledge of jazz was vast and he shared it willingly with beginner and expert alike. Jazz Celebration Weekend was a manifestation of Fred’s passion for sharing his love of jazz. The festival was started in 1981 as a testament to his belief that a jazz festival is not about competition, but rather about coming together to celebrate and share the beauty and art of jazz. The yearly event is now renamed The Fred Sturm Jazz Celebration Weekend in honor of his devotion to sharing the gift of jazz with everyone. Lawrence has also created the Fred Sturm Student Inspiration Awards in his honor. Fred, we will miss your booming laugh, your bear hugs, the twinkle in your eyes, and your amazing ability to help us reach higher than we ever thought possible. Your spirit lives on in all of us.

Jazz Weekend Guest Artist Roster

1981: Steve Houghton, Leon Breeden, and Buddy Baker
1982: Zoot Sims and the Mitchell-Ruff Duo
1983: Slide Hampton and “Fire and Ice”
1984: Bobby McFerrin and Rayburn Wright
1985: Art Blakey, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim Hall, Jerry Coker, and The Hi-Lo's
1986: Gerry Mulligan, Bobby McFerrin, Gene Bertoncini, and Michael Moore
1987: Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, and Dianne Reeves
1988: Wynton Marsalis, J.J. Johnson, and Cheryl Barnes
1989: Michael Brecker and Diane Schuur
1990: Benny Golson, Marlena Shaw, John Abercrombie, Peter Erskine, Marc Johnson, Tim Hagans, and John Fedchock
1991: Chick Corea Elektric Band and Marlena Shaw
1992: New York Voices and Jack DeJohnette Trio
1993: Bobby Watson and Moore by Four
1994: Joe Henderson Trio and Jon Hendricks & Co.
1995: Cassandra Wilson and John Harmon
1996: Joe Lovano, Gunther Schuller, Janis Siegel, and Fred Hersch
1997: Diana Krall, Jon Faddis, Slide Hampton, and Jimmy Heath
1998: New York Voices and Marcus Roberts
1999: Kevin Mahogany and Arturo Sandoval
2000: Dave Holland Quintet, Nancy King, and Steve Christofferson
2001: Bobby McFerrin and Uri Caine
2002: Wayne Shorter, Danilo Perez, John Patitucci, Brian Blade, and Dianne Reeves
2003: Kurt Elling, Lars Jansson, and the Mingus Big Band
2004: Eliane Elias Trio, Marc Johnson, and Tim Hagans
2005: Jane Monheit, Kenny Wheeler, Matt Harris, Steve Houghton and Clay Jenkins
2006: Jon Hendricks and LHR Redux, Wycliffe Gordon, and Chris Vadala
2007: Patricia Barber and the Branford Marsalis Quintet
2008: New York Voices and Ingrid Jensen
2009: Steve March Tormé, Brian Lynch, Joel Frahm, Geoffrey Keezer, Ike Sturm and Zach Harmon
2010: Luciana Souza and Conrad Herwig
2011: Tierney Sutton Band and John and Gerald Clayton
2012: Kurt Elling and Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra
2013: Kate McGarry and The Yellowjackets
2014: Terri Lyne Carrington's Mosaic Project and Peter Erskine
2015: Cyrille Aimée and Rufus Reid Quartet
2016: Luciana Souza and Children of the Light: Danilo Perez, Brian Blade and John Patitucci
2017: Lizz Wright and Storms/Nocturnes Trio: Geoffrey Keezer, Joe Locke and Tim Garland
2018: Regina Carter Quartet and Vanguard Jazz Orchestra