Amir Elsaffar

Amir ElSaffar, an Iraqi-American composer, trumpeter, santur musician, vocalist and singer, has made a name for himself as a master of many musical styles. He also has a unique approach to combining elements of Middle Eastern music and American jazz, expanding the boundaries of each tradition. ElSaffar is a skilled jazz trumpeter from a classical background. He has developed new techniques to play microtones, ornaments and other sounds that are idiomatic to Arabic music, but not usually heard on the trumpet. He is also a well-known performer of the classic Iraqi maqam tradition and performs in the US, Europe, and the Middle East as both a singer and santur player. ElSaffar is a composer who uses the microtones in maqam music as a basis for harmony and melody. He has established himself as an important voice in a time of cross-cultural music creation. ElSaffar has been granted grants to compose music by Chamber Music America and the Jazz Institute of Chicago. He also received grants from the Jerome Foundation, Festival of New Trumpet Music, Festival of New Trumpet Music, Festival of New Trumpet Music, Festival of New Trumpet Music, Festival of New Trumpt Music (FONT) and the Painted Bride Arts Center. ElSaffar was born in Chicago to an Iraqi immigrant mother and a US father in 1977. He first heard the Blues Brothers Soundtrack, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald from his father’s records. His first musical training was in the Lutheran Church Choir, where he was raised. When he was nine years old, his mother taught him how to play the ukulele and the guitar and American folk songs. ElSaffar discovered his passion for the trumpet when he was 10 years old. He began performing professionally in the Chicago area as a trumpet player with blues, jazz and rock bands. He also performed with the Civic Orchestra of Chicago where he worked alongside conductors like Pierre Boulez and Mstislav Rostropovich. He performed with the Chicago Symphony on Barenboim’s Teldec release “Tribute to Ellington” in 1999. After completing his DePaul University classical trumpet degree, he moved to New York in 2000. There he was able to work alongside jazz legend Cecil Taylor and musicians like Rudresh Mahanthappa or Vijay Iyer who integrated their cultural music into jazz. ElSaffar won 2001 the Carmine Caruso International jazz trumpet competition. The following year, he used the funds to study the Iraqi Maqam and other forms of Arabic music. ElSaffar traveled for five years, visiting Iraq, the Middle East, Europe and seeking out masters who could share this oral tradition. Soon he was fluent in maqam and learned to play the santur (an Iraqi hammered drum dulcimer). He also learned to sing and founded Safaafir in 2006. This is the only American ensemble that performs Iraqi Maqam in its original format. ElSaffar was also commissioned by the Painted Bride Arts Center (FONT) to create Two Rivers. This suite evokes Iraqi musical traditions while presenting them in a contemporary Jazz setting. ElSaffar received further commissions from the Jerome Foundation and the Jazz Institute of Chicago. He has also continued to develop a unique approach to integrating Middle Eastern rhythms and tones into American jazz contexts, releasing three albums to critical acclaim, Two Rivers (2006) and Radif Suite (2010). He has composed music for film soundtracks and theater projects, and he was also a part of Jonathan Demme’s Oscar-nominated film Rachel Getting Married. ElSaffar is also a busy performer and curates a weekly concert series for Alwan for the Arts in New York, the premier center for Middle Eastern culture and arts. from

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