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The award winning Knox Jazz Ensemble directed by Justin Haynes '04 is extremely active. In early January the group hosts the Jerome Mirza Jazz Residency, a week-long immersive experience with some of the leading jazz musicians of today, including Miguel Zenon, Maria Schneider, Marquis Hill and Ben Allison. In Galesburg, the group plays frequently, often hosting other area big bands for evenings at the Galesburg Community Arts Center. These include bands such as the Galesburg High School and Bradley University's big band. The group competes successfully every winter in collegiate jazz festivals, usually competing with schools many times the size of Knox. In addition, the Knox Jazz Ensemble goes on international tours every four years, most recently to Beijing and Xian, China.
In the spring, the band hosts the annual five-day Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival (named after Galesburg native Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories), with performances at both the Galesburg Community Arts Center and Galesburg's restored Orpheum Theater. Guest artists featured with the band have included:
The Knox Jazz Ensemble has been singled out by many of these guest artists for its obvious enjoyment of the music and the close-knit group formed on campus. Many participants in the band live in the Jazz House—a permanent theme house on campus.
The band has four compact discs, No Excuses and Assorted Pre-Concert Rituals, Mr. B-Natural, A Dedication, and most recently the 2019 Cherry St. combo has released Patchwork.
The Knox Jazz Ensemble meets three times a week and its membership is audition based. About half of the group's members at any given time are music majors, but it is not a necessary requirement to audition. Auditions are held at the beginning of each school year.
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