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.