Honoring the memory of John Stites and his passion for jazz music

Honoring the memory of John Stites and his passion for jazz music

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John Stites Jazz Awards

Congratulations to the 2021 JSJA Winners!

Posted March 11, 2022

On behalf of the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization, Board Member Tom Knific extended his congratulations to the 2021 JSJA Award winners and shared his memories of recording and working with John Stites for many years.

The JSJA Board believes the 2021 award-winning projects exemplify John’s commitment to maintaining a high standard of excellence, as well as his passion for bringing something unique to the musical community. We hope these projects will inspire other aspiring musicians to submit applications, so that John’s goal of bringing jazz to a new generation will be realized.

Branford Marsalis Residency with the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra

The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra will collaborate with three-time Grammy Award-winning artist Branford Marsalis to bring the story of jazz to children in Kalamazoo through a commissioned book and performance project. The children’s book will tell the story of a jazz musician and will be written by a local BIPOC author. There will be companion curriculum materials for schools developed to further discover and explore themes from the program.

The project will culminate with a public improvisatory jazz performance accompanying the book with narration, open to all area students. More details on the project will be shared in the Fall. The Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra is pleased to support John’s goal of expanding jazz audiences and the appreciation of jazz through this creative, innovative project.

South Haven Jazz Festival

Foundry Hall (a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting music and the arts) will use their 2021 John Stites Jazz Award to sponsor the performance of internationally known trumpeter Wayne Bergeron (a Concord Recording Artist) at the 5th Annual South Haven Jazz Festival, September 16 and 17, 2022. This will be the first time that the Festival has been able to include a top international act.

Wayne Bergeron is well known for his long association with legendary trumpeter and Big Band Director Maynard Ferguson. You can hear his amazing command of the high register on the soundtrack of the Disney/Pixar movie The Incredibles. The South Haven Jazz Festival believes that Wayne’s performance will help them reach a broader geographical audience and take them to a new level of growth and sustainability. Wayne’s performance will conclude a two-day celebration featuring more than seven bands including The Lake Effect Jazz Big Band. More information will be available on the Festival website as the details unfold. Foundry Hall and The South Haven Jazz Festival thank John Stites Jazz Awards for catching our vision! 

Jazz Series at Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition (KNAC)

The John Stites Jazz Series will present 8-10 performances featuring national touring jazz musicians in a club-style setting in downtown Kalamazoo. The series will take place inside the Kalamazoo Nonprofit Advocacy Coalition (KNAC) at the Crawlspace Theater, a street-level venue with easy access to all.

Among the already scheduled artists are vocalist Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer and the highly in-demand saxophonist Steve Wilson. Kalamazoo is known for its vibrant arts community and this intimate venue will offer an extraordinary experience for music fans from around the region. The first performance is planned for March 31.

John loved the jazz club experience and he would be excited that KNAC has made it possible for southwest Michigan to hear nationally known jazz performers in an intimate venue.

The Gibran Project (Benje Daneman)

Thanks to the John Stites Jazz Award, Benje Daneman will be diving headfirst into researching the life of renowned Lebanese poet/author Kahlil Gibran in the coming months. Gibran’s short life was something of an amazing story itself encompassing different parts of the world, unique characters and relationships, and captivating events that shaped the art of this truly gifted artist.

In addition to personal study of his life through his work and biographies, Benje will be conducting interviews with Gibran experts from all across the globe to understand the artist at his core level. Travel to the important areas of his life to truly experience Gibran beyond his words and texts will give way to the artistic birth of Benje’s new work based upon this mystical artist’s life. This experience will truly be a life and career-changing opportunity for Benje on a multitude of levels, and in accord with John’s desire to promote artistic development and new professional opportunities.

The research will culminate in a new set of music to be written for Benje’s Chicago-based band, SearchParty, which is slated to be debuted in Kalamazoo in winter 2022. This project will also lead to unique opportunities of performances just in time for the centennial celebration of Gibran’s pinnacle work The Prophet in 2023.

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John was kind and patient with great attention to details. He loved good music of all sorts...

Joel Mabus

The John Stites Jazz Awards (JSJA) are funded by the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization.

The organization funds advanced studies for emerging and established professional jazz musicians, as well as personal development projects which enhance their career opportunities.