Renowned Jazz Composer, Teacher Fred Sturm Dies

Sturm received master’s and taught at Eastman School of Music

August 26, 2014

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Internationally noted jazz composer, arranger, and teacher Fred Sturm, an Eastman School of Music alumnus and faculty member from 1991 to 2002, died Sunday, August 24, in De Pere, Wis., following a long battle with cancer. He was 63 and was the Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music and director of jazz and improvisational music at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis.


At Eastman, Sturm chaired the Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media Department, directed the Jazz Ensemble and Studio Orchestra, and coordinated the jazz composition/arranging and film scoring program. Under his direction, the Eastman Jazz Ensemble received four DownBeat awards.


“Fred Sturm was a beloved colleague whose music and educational philosophy reflected his kindness and artistry,” said pianist and Professor of Jazz Studies Harold Danko. “During a long career and despite hardships and suffering, his masterful knowledge and leadership empowered his peers and students in following their own musical paths. He will be missed by all but we were indeed blessed to know him.”


Sturm’s compositions and arrangements were performed by a who’s who of musicians: vocalists Kurt Elling and Bobby McFerrin; trumpeters Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, and Clay Jenkins; trombonists Bob Brookmeyer and Wycliffe Gordon; saxophonists Branford Marsalis and Chris Vadala, guitarists Mike Stern and Gene Bertoncini; bassists Arild Andersen and Ike Sturm; and many others.


Among his works, Forever Spring is the centerpiece of the touring Baseball Music Project and since 2005 has been performed by American orchestras around the country under the auspices of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Migrations: One World, Many Musics, his concert suite inspired by indigenous music from 21 countries, was premiered by vocalist McFerrin and the NDR Big Band in Germany in 2007 and toured Europe the following summer. 


Sturm served as a guest conductor/composer/arranger for professional jazz ensembles and radio orchestras in Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Scotland, and Norway; as a clinician at national educational conferences and festivals; and as a composer-in-residence for school and university music programs. He received the DownBeat Jazz Education Achievement Award in 2010.


In 2003, Sturm was awarded the ASCAP/IAJE (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers/ International Association for Jazz Education) Commission in Honor of Quincy Jones, a prize granted annually to an established jazz composer of international prominence. He received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Howard Hanson Institute for American Music, and the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund, and received a 1997 Grammy Award nomination.


 Sturm’s texts Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging, Kenny Wheeler: Collected Works on ECM, and Maria Schneider: Evanescence were published by Advance Music (Germany) and Universal Edition (Vienna). His teaching technique titled ”All Ears: Improvisation, Aural Training, and the Creative Process” is widely used by school music educators.


 As a commercial composer, arranger, and producer, Sturm contributed numerous scores for television, radio, theater, and industrial film productions.  In 1994, he served as musical consultant and arranger for the George Lucas feature film Radioland Murders.


 Sturm was born on March 21, 1951, into a musical family – his father was a Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist, his mother was an operatic contralto, and his sisters, a clarinetist and a French hornist, have individually performed with orchestras in San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Frankfurt. Sturm grew up in Wisconsin and studied at Lawrence University, where he conducted the school’s first jazz ensemble and received his Bachelor of Music degree in 1973. 


 In 1974, Sturm and fellow Lawrence graduate John Harmon founded the jazz nonet Matrix, which toured throughout the country and recorded on the Warner Brothers and RCA labels.


 Sturm was jazz studies director at Lawrence University for 14 years beginning in 1977. He led the Lawrence Jazz Ensemble, which received several DownBeat awards under his direction. Sturm received his Master of Music degree in jazz studies at Eastman in 1984 and joined the Eastman faculty in 1991. In 2002, he returned to teach at Lawrence University, where he won the University Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2005.


 He is survived by his wife, Susan, De Pere, and two children, Ike, Croton-on–Hudson, N.Y., and Madeline, New York, N.Y.


A private memorial service will be held this week at Bjorklunden. A memorial celebrating Sturm’s life will be held at Lawrence on a date to be determined.


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