The exhibit in question is taking place from February 24 through May 24 at the Elmhurst Historical Museum in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, Illinois. Dubbed Elmhurst Jazz: A Celebration of an American Art Form in Elmhurst, the exhibit explores the history of jazz and jazz education through the perspectives of two local institutions: DownBeat magazine and the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival. Highlights include a visual timeline of notable jazz legends, the significance of the Chicago jazz scene in jazz history (including artists like Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, and Louis Armstrong), and displays of rare photos and artifacts.
Fred Gretsch is in a unique position to be a supporter of this exhibit. To begin with, he’s an alumnus of Elmhurst College. The nationally recognized liberal arts school includes a prestigious jazz program within its music department. And the aforementioned Elmhurst College Jazz Festival is the second oldest continuously running event of its kind in the nation.
More importantly, Fred is the owner and fourth-generation namesake of the Gretsch Drum Company. The legendary instruments made by Gretsch have figured highly in the history of jazz. Drums with “That Great Gretsch Sound” helped such stellar artists as Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, and Tony Williams take jazz drumming in new and revolutionary directions. Gretsch drums are still favored by top jazz artists today, including Bill Stewart, Cindy Blackman, Stanton Moore, and Terry Silverlight.
The Elmhurst Historical Museum’s exhibit includes several displays that feature musical instruments. Fred Gretsch wanted his contribution to represent the classic era of jazz. So he contacted Steve Maxwell, owner of Steve Maxwell’s Vintage & Custom Drum Shop in Chicago, and arranged for the loan of a 5-1/2 x 14 snare drum and a 14×18 bass drum from Gretsch’s current “New Classic” series. These drums feature shells crafted to recreate the vintage sound of the 1950s, when jazz was in its heyday. They’re also fitted with the tube lugs that were popular during that period, in order to enhance their authentic vintage appearance.
Gretsch also has a connection to the part of the Elmhurst Historical Museum’s exhibit that celebrates the history of DownBeat magazine (also based in Elmhurst). In its seventy-five years of chronicling the jazz scene, DownBeat has frequently profiled Gretsch artists-to say nothing of carrying ads that have served to depict the evolution of Gretsch drum design.
“Gretsch drums are an important part of jazz history,” comments Fred Gretsch. “So it’s only natural that they should be a part of any effort to bring that history to life. That’s why I’m very happy to have been able to contribute to the Elmhurst Historical Museum’s great exhibit.”
Elmhurst Historical Museum
Since 1957, the Elmhurst Historical Museum has been dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the history of Elmhurst and the surrounding community. Located at 120 E. Park Avenue, its galleries are open to the public Tuesday through Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m. General admission is free with nominal fees for special programs. For more information, call (630) 833-1457 or visit elmhursthistory.org.
Elmhurst College Jazz Festival
Elmhurst College represented the Midwest at the first national college jazz festival in 1968 (as proposed by Elmhurst-based jazz magazine DownBeat). The national festival ended in 1973, and Elmhurst College seized a leadership role by continuing with its own festival, which is now the nation’s second-oldest continuously running jazz festival. The college has since expanded its course offerings and music faculty, and today is considered a national leader in jazz music education. More information is available at public.elmhurst.edu.
Fred Gretsch and Elmhurst College
As an alumnus of Elmhurst College, Fred Gretsch has been a stalwart supporter of both the music and the business programs. A recording studio established on campus was endowed by the Gretsch Foundation for use by students and faculty alike. In addition, the foundation has endowed two ongoing scholarships for music business majors.
Gretsch Drum Company
Founded in 1883, the Gretsch Drum Company has been making the world’s finest drums for 125 years. The Gretsch factory is currently located in Ridgeland, South Carolina. There, skilled artisans hand-craft custom instruments that are played and cherished by many of today’s greatest drummers in all styles of music. The Gretsch artist roster includes pop giant Phil Collins, studio legend Vinnie Colaiuta, jazz great Bill Stewart, and rock drummers including Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones), Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighters), Rob Bourdin (Linkin Park), Stephanie Eulinburg (Kid Rock), and Stephen Ferrone (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers). More information is available at gretschdrums.com.