Posts Tagged ‘Elmhurst College’

Chris Siebold: Lessons This Guitar Virtuoso Learned

Thursday, September 15th, 2016

The versatile, Chicago-based musician reflects on his Elmhurst College days, and how the Gretsch Foundation helped him grow as a student, teacher, and professional musician.

By Ron Denny

Chris Siebold is one of the most versatile musicians working in the business today. Pick a genre–be it rock, jazz, swing, blues, or even bluegrass–and Chris can play it with authority on his guitar or any number of other stringed instruments: mandolin, mandocello, hammer dulcimer, banjo, or even lap steel. Oh, and he can also sing, produce, and is a highly gifted composer and arranger.

The Howard Levy and Chris Siebold Duo. Levy (left) is a legendary harmonica and piano virtuoso.

This versatility, along with his deep knowledge of music, especially Chicago jazz and blues, has kept this working musician very busy the past 20 years. Chris admits he has a lot of outlets for creativity: solo work, leading the group Psycles that he formed in 2010 with some of Chicago’s finest musicians, performing with legendary harmonica master Howard Levy, and playing with The Unknown New, an instrumental folk group or with Lennon’s Tuba, a new two-man guitar and bass duo he just recently formed.

Without a doubt, Chris’s biggest test of his musical chops and versatility has been as a member of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio show band the past two years. “It’s been a dream job, playing and traveling with a world-class band and creating music each week that is truly Americana in feel and texture,” Chris said. “That’s the music I absolutely adore. My heroes were Chet Atkins and Les Paul, and Charlie Christian on the jazz side of things. They were just fantastic pickers. And, Willie Nelson. I was also a huge Willie Nelson fan growing up.”

Performing with the House Band for A Prairie Home Companion.


When asked to describe his home and childhood, Chris summed it up in two words: very musical.

“I owe all of my musical inspiration, identity, and ambition to my parents,” he said. “My mother was a piano player and my dad was a professional drummer at one point. He also played guitar. He was a folkie, but he was also a jazz drummer. I grew up with Buddy Rich and Chick Corea and Santana and the Beatles. Music was always on. Pretty much all the time.”

Thanks to his dad’s vast record collection, Chris admits to rifling through it on a regular basis; sneaking albums up to his bedroom for a closer listen and to read the liner notes. “Yes, I would steal my dad’s records. Chuck Mangione, Sinatra, Dave Brubeck, Joe Morello, Miles Davis, The Modern Jazz Quarter, and many big bands. I’ve had the big band sound in my head for a very long time,” Chris shared. “I think a lot of people rebel against the music their parents listen to, but I was all over it. I just thought it was wonderful.”


When Chris was a high school senior, his band teacher invited Doug Beach from nearby Elmhurst College in for Career Day. Beach was the Director of the college’s Jazz Studies and its internationally-acclaimed Jazz Band, and was also well known for his work as a composer, arranger, and publisher of educational jazz music.

“I was familiar with Doug’s name. His specialty was writing material for student ensembles and big bands, and I had been playing his charts since the eighth grade,” Chris said. Although Chris had received a scholarship from Berklee College of Music in Boston, he decided to stay in the Chicago area and enrolled at Elmhurst. It was a decision he never regretted.

Chris auditioned for the Jazz Band his first year and made it. The following summer, the band participated in a tour of Europe playing the North Sea Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Umbria Jazz Festival, and more. Chris enthusiastically described his days in the Elmhurst College Jazz Band as a fantastic and amazing learning experience.

Chris in 1995 playing with jazz legend Clark Terry at the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival.

Elmhurst is also famous for their annual Jazz Festival, bringing in the best college bands in the country, along with legendary musicians, for three days of performances and education. “The school brought in these amazing artists to collaborate with the Jazz Band,” Chris said. “I was playing with pretty fantastic players like Clark Terry, Randy Brecker, Conte Candoli, and Pete Christlieb. It was just a remarkable experience. “

One of the many benefits of attending Elmhurst was the close friendship Chris formed with Doug Beach, who became not only his teacher, but a mentor and role model as well. “I learned from the absolute best,” Chris shared. “Doug established such a culture of excellence at Elmhurst and really led by example. He helped me after college, too, with all the connections and relationships he has established over the years. Looking back, I’m so glad Doug spoke at my high school’s Career Day. I’m also glad I wasn’t sick that day.”


Chris playing his Gretsch Duo Jet--his main guitar for the past year.

After graduating in the spring of 1998 with a degree in Music Performance, Chris was asked to join Elmhurst’s Music Department, where he taught jazz guitar and led both the guitar ensemble and the school’s jazz combo.  “I was teaching mainly jazz improvisation. Teaching fret board theory and harmony and obviously chord/scale relationships, and learning tunes as well,” Chris said. “I also led the guitar ensemble; finding or writing charts or having the students write charts. I loved the ensemble. We did two recitals a year. I also ran a jazz combo which was a lot of fun too.”

Several years into his teaching career, Chris and one of the college’s Trustees arranged a meeting with Fred Gretsch, President of the Gretsch Company and an Elmhurst College alumni, at Fred’s office in Savannah, Georgia. Chris was eager to meet Fred because he had been a fan of Gretsch guitars since he was nine-years-old. He’d grown up admiring George Harrison, Neil Young, and especially Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats, who were all over MTV when Chris was growing up in the 1980s.

Chris shared that he and Fred really hit if off and the meeting went better than expected. “Fred agreed to fund the existing guitar ensemble,” Chris said. “Not only that, but he donated a guitar to the college and let me hand pick it from his studio guitar collection. I’d much rather Fred had donated it to me, because it’s a beautiful Gretsch Country Gentleman Jr., just a fantastic sounding guitar.”

With the donation, Elmhurst’s guitar ensemble was officially named the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, which Chris led for the next seven years. “Having the Gretsch name attached to the ensemble really helped to establish it and give it an identity,” Chris said. “The funding also helped publicize our concerts, which were two per semester, and get exposure and recognition. There wasn’t YouTube or social media around in those days.”


In addition to learning what he called the “nuts and bolts” of music theory, Chris said his four years at Elmhurst and being around his mentor, Doug Beach, also prepared him for becoming a working musician. “The discipline of playing music to the best of your ability; playing in an ensemble, being a member of the team in a sense, and then feeling what it’s actually like to be a working musician,” Chris explained. “Doing gigs. Getting there on time. Having a good attitude. Making sure you’re prepared with the material you’re about to play. Making sure you’re professional. Making sure you do your fair share of lugging equipment afterwards. I did that for four years. It was a remarkable experience. One that I am so thankful for.”

Chris also realizes how much he and other music students have benefitted from Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s generosity to Elmhurst College. By leading the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, Chris knows it made him a better arranger; tackling complex, advanced works ranging from jazz standards to Mozart.  And, Chris admits he also continued learning as he taught students the importance of listening, blending in, and knowing and finding your place within an ensemble of up to six guitars and a rhythm section. Not an easy skill to learn.

The Gretsch Foundation also funded the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Recording Studio, named in memory of Fred’s parents. This state-of-the-art studio is considered a central element of Elmhurst’s music education program and played a critical role in Chris’s education. “When I was a student, I worked in the studio quite a bit for other people and on some of my own music,” Chris said. “And, when I was a teacher, I would sometimes have rehearsals in there or I would sit in and produce some sessions that students would do. I used it a lot. And, learned a lot about the art of recording.”

Chris is just one of hundreds of Elmhurst College alumni to be positively impacted by Fred and Dinah Gretsch’s goal of supporting music education and enriching lives through participation in music. When asked to reflect back on his years at Elmhurst, Chris said, “My Elmhurst College days, both as a student and a teacher for nine years, were quite an experience. It’s very much responsible for me being where I’m at today. It’s who I am. A lot of the culture that I participated in has really made me the musician that I am. Without a question.”

About The Gretsch Foundation and Elmhurst College

The Gretsch Foundation is the charitable arm of the Gretsch family, whose mission is enriching lives through participation in music. In addition to funding the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble and Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Recording Studio, the Gretsch Foundation also funds scholarships for students of music and music business, provides Gretsch drums for all music department ensembles, and is a major supporter of the annual Elmhurst College High School Invitational Jazz Festival, which is a regular part of the nationally-acclaimed Elmhurst College Jazz Festival. In honor of his longtime commitment and generosity to his alma mater, Fred Gretsch received an honorary Doctor of Music degree at the school’s Spring 2016 Commencement Ceremony.

Video Clips:

Chris performing his beautiful song “Amor Afastado (for Britt)” on A Prairie Home Companion.

Playing with The Renegades, a popular, entertaining Chicago-area jazz-fusion band. Give a listen to Chris’s blistering solo starting at 2:12.

Chris performing “Friday Night at the Cadillac Club” with Chicago’s David Polk Project, a blues, jazz and funk band. Check out Chris’s impressive solo starting at 3:25.



A Special Day: Fred Gretsch Receives Honorary Degree From Elmhurst College

Monday, May 30th, 2016

Saturday, May 28 was a red-letter day for Fred W. Gretsch. The fourth-generation leader of the Gretsch family business was presented with an honorary Doctor of Music degree from suburban Chicago’s Elmhurst College at the school’s Spring Commencement ceremony. Bedecked in classic doctoral robes, Fred—who is himself an alumnus of Elmhurst—joined more than 600 Elmhurst graduates in celebrating their memorable life passage.

Upon his arrival at Elmhurst College, Fred Gretsch was met by this congratulatory banner on the music department building.

A Bit Of Backstory

As most Gretsch fans know, the Gretsch Company was founded by Fred Gretsch’s great-grandfather in 1883, when he set up shop in Brooklyn and started making drums, tambourines, and banjos. By the early 1920s the company had grown into the largest instrument manufacturer in America. Fred Gretsch began working in the family business in the 1960s, and as a young man he looked forward to eventually taking his place as its leader. But in 1967, amid widespread change in the industry, the Baldwin Piano Company bought the Gretsch operation. Fred continued working for the company, moving his family from Brooklyn to suburban Chicago. While there he began studying business administration part-time at Elmhurst College. After graduating in 1971 he founded his own company: Fred Gretsch Enterprises. But he vowed that he would one day make Gretsch a family business again. He made good on his vow, when he and his wife Dinah bought the business back from Baldwin in 1985. Today the company makes guitars and drums for musicians who appreciate “That Great Gretsch Sound,” top-quality craftsmanship, and classic style.

The Elmhurst Degree

Elmhurst College confers honorary degrees on individuals whose commitments and achievements embody the College’s mission, vision, and core values. Fred Gretsch was recognized for his ongoing contributions to the music industry, as well as to his and his family’s stated mission, which is “to enrich people’s lives through participation in music.”

In keeping with this mission, Fred and Dinah, their family company, and the Gretsch Foundation have been generous supporters of Elmhurst College and its Department of Music. That support has funded scholarships for students of music and music business, as well as for the state-of-the-art Sylvia and William Gretsch Recording Studio (established in 1987 to honor Fred’s parents). In 1993 the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble became a regular element of the music program, and in 2015 arrangements were made for the music department’s ensembles to perform exclusively on Gretsch drum kits. Gretsch has also been a major supporter of the annual Elmhurst College High School Invitational Jazz Festival, which is a regular part of the nationally recognized Elmhurst Jazz Festival.

The Commencement

Fred Gretsch and Barbara Lucks, who is chairperson of the Elmhurst College board of trustees.

The Commencement events started with a breakfast reception held in the President’s Dining Room at Elmhurst. There Fred and Dinah Gretsch met with members of the Elmhurst faculty, including interim president Larry Braskamp, board of trustees chair Barbara Lucks, and music department chair Peter Griffin. Also from Elmhurst came Dr. Larry Carroll, who is a professor of business administration, the executive director of Elmhurst’s Center For Professional Excellence, and a board member of the Sylvia And William Gretsch Memorial Foundation.

A number of friends and business associates came especially to congratulate Fred on his well-deserved honor. These included Bill Breslin and his wife Mary. Bill worked at Sears & Roebuck in Chicago when Fred was working there in the late 1960s. The two became business friends and have remained so ever since. Also present was Jeff Cary and his wife Mary. Jeff heads up the Gretsch Guitars operation for manufacturing partner Fender Musical Instrument Corporation, and was on hand to offer FMIC’s best wishes to Fred.

All the way from Statesboro, Georgia came Curtis Ricker, who is Dean of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Georgia Southern University. Just as the Gretsch Foundation supports the music department at Elmhurst College, so do they support similar programs at GSU. Also on hand, representing the Foundation, was trustee Rick DeMayo.

After the breakfast reception it was time for a little “Pomp And Circumstance,” as the call was given to have the graduating seniors march to their seats on the central lawn of Elmhurst’s beautiful campus. This was accomplished amid the cheers and waves of hundreds of family members on the surrounding grounds. Then the faculty members and the honorary doctoral candidate—namely Fred Gretsch—passed through the rows of students and up to the dais.

Fred shared a moment with the reverend Lance Lackore, who delivered the invocation at the commencement ceremony.

After an invocation from Reverend Lance Lackore and remarks from president Braskamp and trustees chair Barbara Lucks, it was time for Fred Gretsch’s big moment. He was called to the podium by music department chair Peter Griffin, who proceeded to cite Fred’s accomplishments as an industry figure and a philanthropic supporter of Elmhurst’s music programs. Then, with a fanfare from the college orchestra, president Braskamp officially conferred on Fred the honorary degree of Doctor of Music, “with all the rights appertaining thereto.” This was met by unanimous acclaim from the faculty and student body alike, all of whom appreciated Fred’s contributions to their school.

Music Department Chairman Peter Griffin (at podium) nominated Fred Gretsch to receive his honorary degree, citing Fred’s business accomplishments and philanthropic activities.

When it came his turn to address the crowd, Fred started simply but sincerely, saying, “I’m grateful for the honor that you’ve given me. Thank you.” Then he went on to offer two gifts to each of the graduates in attendance.

Fred Gretsch offered thanks to the college, and a few words of advice to the assembled graduates.

“The first gift,” said Fred, “is an invitation to come to lunch with me at the Gretsch studio. Send me an email or give me a call. We’ll set a date, and I’ll look forward to getting to know you better then.

“The second gift is the most important thing I’ve learned from over fifty years in the musical instrument business. And that is to tell you that relationships count. Family…friends…Elmhurst College…business associates. You’ve heard about my wife Dinah, who’s here with me today. Dinah is the love of my life, and has stood by my side in the music business for more than thirty-eight years now. You have your own family here, and your friends. And you have your relationship with Elmhurst College. Mine started in 1969 and remains strong today. Then there are business and industry relationships. Build them, value them. They’re a most important part of success for me, and they will be for you as well.”

At the conclusion of the commencement ceremony the dais party marched out first to form a “receiving line” through which all of the graduates passed. Alongside music business department director Tim Hays and music department chair Peter Griffin, Fred Gretsch made a point to shake hands and personally congratulate students from the music curriculum as they passed by. Many of those students expressed their personal gratitude to Fred for the Gretsch instruments, recording studio, and scholarships that had helped them and their fellow music students to succeed at Elmhurst.

The Celebration Continues

The day concluded with a luncheon for the faculty and guests. On his way in, Fred Gretsch met graduating senior Jane Gooby, who had worked closely with Larry Carroll in the administration of Gretsch scholarships at Elmhurst. Though she shyly admitted that she was not a music major, she had decorated her graduation cap with the Gretsch logo, accompanied by a guitar and the words “Rock Your Role.”

Fred Gretsch presented an inscribed copy of The Gretsch Drum Book to Elmhurst president Larry Braskamp. The inscription applauds the college’s faculty and staff.

At the luncheon itself Larry Carroll presented a framed certificate congratulating Fred Gretsch on behalf of the board of the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Shortly after, Fred presented his own gift, this time to Elmhurst College. It was a copy of The Gretsch Drum Book, inscribed to the faculty and staff of the school and honoring them for their teamwork and accomplishments.

Comments From The College

A number of Elmhurst faculty members expressed personal sentiments regarding Fred Gretsch’s contributions to the college, and his reception of an honorary doctorate. The first comes from Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Joseph Emmick, who comments, “We’re pleased to recognize and honor Fred Gretsch. Who better to receive an honorary degree than someone who has distinguished himself in his generosity and service to his alma mater, his industry, and the music community? Fred and Dinah together form one of the music industry’s most formidable teams, and their international success enhances Elmhurst College’s reputation across the globe.”

Music Business Department Director Tim Hays (left), Fred Gretsch, and Professor Griffin.

Music Business Department Director Tim Hays says, “Fred Gretsch’s support has helped us develop one of the top music business programs in the country, from the Gretsch Music Business Student Scholarship fund to his many other gifts. The College, the Music Department, and generations of students have benefited from his vision and generosity. “

Elmhurst Sound Recording instructor John Towner comments, “Over the years, Fred Gretsch has taken a real interest in funding college facilities and equipment. For example, ever since its implementation in 1987, the Sylvia and William Gretsch Recording Studio has been a real treasure for our music students. In addition to allowing those interested in the recording field to hone their craft, the studio has also been the site of countless recordings made by students in a myriad of styles. We are profoundly grateful to Mr. Gretsch for this.”

Director of Jazz Studies (and the Elmhurst College Jazz Band) Doug Beach adds, “Fred Gretsch’s impact on the Music Department at Elmhurst College has been immense. Over the years, he has provided primary funding for the High School Invitational Jazz Festival, an event that has become an integral part of the larger Elmhurst College Jazz Festival. He is certainly one of the most loyal alums that the Music Department has.”

Music Department Chair Peter Griffin concludes, saying, “We’re proud of our longstanding relationship with the Gretsch Family, the Gretsch Foundation, and the Gretsch Company. Their generosity provides our students with opportunities they might not otherwise enjoy. We look forward to a continuing partnership in providing those students with the best possible educational experiences.”

Elmhurst President Larry Braskamp, Fred Gretsch, and Professor Peter Griffin.

Final Words From Fred

Fred Gretsch himself summed up his feelings at the conclusion of the Commencement ceremony, saying, “When it comes to enriching people’s lives through participation in music around the country and around the world, I recognize that Elmhurst is a great place to start. I look forward to working with the college to create more music-makers in the generations ahead.”



Remembering Bill and Sylvia Gretsch

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

A Tribute To A Remarkable Couple

By Fred W. Gretsch

September is an especially significant month in my family’s history. September 10 is the date on which my father, William “Bill” Gretsch passed away in 1948. And September 14th is the anniversary of my mother Sylvia’s birth in 1917. Both of these remarkable individuals played a major role not only in my life, but also in the legacy of the Gretsch Company.

Gretsch has always been a family business. My great-grandfather, Friedrich Gretsch, founded the company in 1883. Upon his sudden passing in 1885 his son, Fred Gretsch Sr., took over–at the age of fifteen along with his mother, Rosa. Fred Sr. brought his sons Fred Jr. and William into the business when they each turned ten years of age—around 1915 and 1916, respectively. (A third brother, Dick Gretsch, did not join the business and lived until the age of 102 and influenced the business as the best Gretsch cheerleader of all time.) Fred Jr. and Bill started at the bottom, of course, packing phonograph needles in boxes on the weekends, 100 years ago now.

By 1933 my father was a young man looking to make his mark in the music business that his grandfather had started and his father was now running. Thinking that that the company’s office in Chicago offered more room for his younger son’s energies than did the staid headquarters in Brooklyn, Fred Sr. transferred Bill to Chicago. Two years later, he met Maxine Lois Elsner.

My mother was a bright and ambitious person in her own right. In 1935 she filled out a questionnaire upon entering Northwestern University, outlining her plans for the future: “When ten years old, I started taking lessons in dramatics. From then until now I have studied speech with the idea of making it my career. I chose Northwestern University because of its superior speech division and its radio courses. When I finish college I plan to do both writing and speaking for radio.”

Perhaps it was Maxine’s insistence about pursuing her career that attracted Bill. When they first met he was not himself interested in getting married. So the couple dated for two years—largely by telegram correspondence, since Maxine was at Northwestern and Bill was in Chicago. During this period Bill gave Maxine the pet name of “Sylvia”—a name by which she became known to friends and family thereafter.

Bill and Sylvia on July 12, 1940

My mother graduated from Northwestern University on June 10, 1939, with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech. After a brief tenure as a high school speech teacher in Webb City, Missouri, in June of 1941 she became a copy writer at radio station KWFT in Wichita Falls, Texas. By October of that year she had taken a job as editor of Western Hotel and Restaurant Reporter, the west’s oldest hotel magazine.

But by this time my father had had enough of job-related separation from Sylvia. So around the time of his birthday in 1942 he called her on the phone, telling her, “You know what I want for my birthday? I want you.” The two were married in California, Missouri, on December 14, 1942—the day after my father’s birthday.

In that same year my grandfather, Fred Gretsch Sr., retired from the Gretsch Musical Instrument Company. My uncle, Fred Jr., became president in New York, while my father ran the company’s office in Chicago. But America had just entered World War II, and shortly thereafter my uncle left to serve in the navy. So my father moved his family to New York, where he took over as president of Gretsch.

My father brought the Gretsch Company into the war effort with enthusiasm. Under his supervision Gretsch made thousands of “entertainment kits” for the Red Cross to ship to servicemen overseas. Those kits included harmonicas, ukuleles, and ocarinas. The factory also manufactured non-musical war-related products, including wooden parts for gas masks.

According to Duke Kramer, who served as a Gretsch executive for almost seventy years, “Bill was a man with a subtle talent for inspiring people to do their best . . . and [he had] a genius for constructive counsel. His sense of humor was irresistible. When he passed away in 1948, a legion of individuals felt they had lost their best friend.”

Bill Gretsch and his family, the Christmas before his passing. (I'm the smiling youngster in the center.)

Of course, when my father passed away my mother lost more than her best friend. She lost her husband and the father of her four small children (my sisters—Katherine, Charlotte, and Gretchen—and me). In February of 1950 my mother started working for the Gretsch Company on various projects. The first was an editorial for a music publication, which she wrote on behalf of Fred Gretsch Jr. She also worked on a guitar booklet and a manual for retailers.

A Gretsch Family Portrait. From left Dick, Bill, Bill's wife Sylvia, Fred Sr., and Fred Jr.

With the support of the extended Gretsch family—including my grandfather, my uncle, and their respective families—this extraordinary woman provided a loving and nurturing environment that allowed my sisters and me to pursue our dreams through childhood and into our adult years.

One of my personal dreams was to bring the Gretsch Company back into family ownership after it was sold to the Baldwin Company in 1967. In 1984 I was able to realize that dream—largely through the inspiration I received from the examples of my father and my mother. That, in turn, led me to consider how I might best honor their memories.

Fred Gretsch with University of Michigan Tribute Marching Drum

Throughout the decades in which my father worked at Gretsch—the 1920s, 30s, and 40s—jazz and big band music were the popular styles of the day. But there were also marching bands, concert bands, and other musical organizations, many of which were connected to schools and other educational institutions. My father was a strong believer in the value of music education. In 1946 he personally established a scholarship for a talented clarinet player at the University of Michigan. (In the mid-1950s a complete set of marching drums, finished in the school’s colors, was donated to the Michigan band by the Gretsch Company in honor of my father.)

Since a focus on music education was a large part of my father’s business philosophy, it seemed to me only fitting to memorialize him and my mother in a way that would support that philosophy. With that in mind, several years ago my wife Dinah and I established the Sylvia and William Gretsch Memorial Foundation. Its mission is to provide financial support for projects that promote music education in a variety of ways.

One of those projects was the construction of the Sylvia and William Gretsch memorial recording studio at Elmhurst College (my own alma mater) near Chicago. This studio is a central element of the extensive music-education program offered at Elmhurst.

More recently, the foundation provided a grant for a five-year program at Georgia Southern University, partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Bullock County (Georgia). In this program, GSU students studying to become music teachers actually serve as teachers for children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to receive music lessons.

I think of my father and mother every day. Their lives revolved around music, as does mine. It’s simply a Gretsch family tradition, and it’s one that I’m proud to be a part of.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.



Enjoy A Night of Music!

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Elmhurst College Presents The Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble In Concert

by Fred W. Gretsch

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

I’m pleased to invite anyone in the Chicago area to attend a concert showcasing Elmhurst College’s Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble this coming November 13. The group will be performing as part of the college’s Electric Guitar Ensembles Concert, which will also feature the Electric Guitar Collective, a group open to all electric guitar students. Under the capable direction of faculty member Mike Pinto, both groups will perform a variety of music, including jazz, Latin, pop, and rock.

Since the early 1990s the Gretsch Family has been pleased to fund student scholarships in music and music business at Elmhurst College, and to support the development of a state-of-the-art recording studio there named in recognition of my parents, William and Sylvia Gretsch. And as a proud Elmhurst College alum myself, I was personally honored in 1993 when the college’s unique guitar ensemble program was designated as the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble.

While virtually all other ensemble opportunities for electric guitarists have only one guitar chair, the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble features five electric guitarists, a bass guitarist, and a drummer. This provides a unique opportunity for guitarists to learn to play with each other, emphasizing blend, balance, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation. (It also makes for a unique concert performance.) The Ensemble recently recorded and filmed one of their arrangements in the Gretsch studio, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year. The video can be seen at Elmhurst College Music’s YouTube page.

The Electric Guitar Ensembles Concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. on November 13 in the Mill Theatre, 253 Walter Street in Elmhurst. Admission is free. For more information, call (630) 617-3390.

The Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

Saturday, July 14th, 2012

Elmhurst College’s Unique Musical Endeavor

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble

Ensembles of various descriptions are a staple of music education programs at colleges and universities across the country. Most tend to be based on stylistic or ethnic themes, such as big band ensembles, classical string ensembles, Latin jazz ensembles, etc. But the music program at Elmhurst College in the Chicago suburb of Elmhurst, Illinois boasts an ensemble based on a rather unusual instrumental grouping. This is the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble.

While virtually all other ensemble opportunities for electric guitarists have only one guitar chair, the GEGE features five electric guitarists, a bass guitarist, and a drummer. This provides a unique opportunity for guitarists to learn to play with each other, emphasizing blend, balance, phrasing, dynamics, and articulation.

There are actually two electric guitar ensembles at Elmhurst, and they date back to 1992. Through an audition process at the start of each academic year, the top five guitarists are placed in the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble—so named in 1993 to honor the support and contributions of Gretsch Company president (and Elmhurst College alum) Fred W. Gretsch. Since the early 1990s the Gretsch Family has generously funded student scholarships in music and music business, as well as the development of the Gretsch Recording Studio at the college.

The GEGE has had four directors since its founding. Current director Mike Pinto has led the group since 2007. The Ensemble is part of the jazz department, and while the repertoire certainly includes jazz, it also includes fusion, rock, blues, and pop. Says Pinto, “I feel that electric guitar students studying jazz here at the college need to be versatile and learn to apply jazz skills to other electric guitar-oriented styles. We play only arrangements written specifically for five guitars, bass, and drums. Charts of this type are available for sale, but there aren’t a ton of them. So I write many arrangements for the group, and students are encouraged to write arrangements as well. We’ve performed many student charts over the years that I’ve directed the group.”

Students register for the Ensemble as a class, and it is an educational experience for them. But with an eye to “the real world,” Mike Pinto teaches and directs the group within the context of preparing for professional performances. To support this approach the Ensemble performs three to five times per semester, both on- and off-campus.

After the Ensemble was named in his honor, Fred Gretsch donated a Gretsch Country Gentleman Junior guitar to the group. Mike Pinto is now entrusted with that guitar, and he uses it to teach with. It’s also occasionally played by students in the Ensemble.

Speaking of students, the current roster of the GEGE includes five very talented young guitarists, along with equally talented gentlemen on bass and drums. Most are seniors who are concluding their tenure in the group…and at the college. Individually, they are:

Andrew Ecklund (guitar). A senior music business and jazz studies major at Elmhurst, Andrew has been a member of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, and jazz combo. His talent and dedication earned him the Gretsch music scholarship for the 2011/2012 school year. Andrew is also active in the Chicago music scene, playing with numerous rock bands and big bands. He appreciates the opportunities that music gives him to share and teach, and he does so as a member of the GRAMMY Foundation team.

Peter Jump (guitar). Peter holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree and a Performance Certificate from Elmhurst College. He’s a composer and arranger of a number of works for solo guitar, guitar quartet, and various types of ensembles. He has composed music for several student films and video games, which is his primary career interest. Some significant influences to his guitar playing are David Gilmour, Buckethead, and Greg Howe.

Matt Richter (guitar) Matt is a senior who’ll be graduating with a degree in Music Business. His involvement in music includes playing classical and jazz guitar, as well teaching students of various skill levels at a local music store. Matt plans to go on to graduate school to obtain his masters degree in classical guitar performance.

Owen Szorc (guitar). Owen is a senior in his third year with the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble. He’ll be graduating from Elmhurst College with joint degrees in Music Business and Jazz Studies.

Dan Weiss (guitar). Dan is an exercise science major (with minors in music and business administration) who played his first two years at Elmhurst in another one of Mike Pinto’s electric guitar ensembles, and the most recent two in the Gretsch Ensemble. Dan is also passionate about drums and percussion, as well as tinkering with any kind of instrument he can get his hands on.

Richard Stancato (bass). Richard is a senior Music Business major. He’s been playing bass with the Gretsch Guitar Ensemble for one semester. He cites his main influences on the bass as including Jaco Pastorius, Les Claypool, and Stanley Clarke.

Joel Baer
(drums). A senior and a jazz studies major, Joel began playing and learning drums from his father Jeff. He alater became interested in jazz while studying with Jack Brand. Joel works regularly around Chicago, playing with bluesman Pistol Pete, progressive rock guitarist Clark Colborn, and several jazz groups.

To document the talents of the current edition of the Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble, the group has produced a professional recording of one of their unique arrangements.

Click below to check out the video and enjoy the sounds of this exceptional musical group.

Elmhurst College Gretsch Electric Guitar Ensemble



Gretsch Celebrates Its Heritage at Elmhurst Jazz Festival

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Gretsch drums have enjoyed an inseparable link with jazz music for generations. Jazz drumming greats of the past—including Tony Williams, Max Roach, Art Blakey, and Elvin Jones—made their reputations on Gretsch drums. Likewise, contemporary jazz stars like Bill Stewart, Cindy Blackman-Santana, and Keith Carlock find their musical expression through That Great Gretsch Sound.

In addition to the legacy of the past and present, Gretsch is also keenly concerned with the future of jazz. In an effort to promote that future, Gretsch Drums and the Gretsch Family recently lent instrumental and financial support to the 45th annual Elmhurst College Jazz Festival. Elmhurst is the alma mater of current Gretsch Company president Fred W. Gretsch, and the Gretsch Family has a long history of philanthropic support of college activities.

The Elmhurst College Jazz Festival

Each February, the best college jazz bands in the country converge on Elmhurst’s Chicago-suburb campus for three days of performances and education. The bands take turns performing for some of the greatest names in professional jazz today, who offer critiques and award a variety of honors. The professionals cap off each night of the Festival with a rousing performance of their own. The list of performers and adjudicators at this year’s festival included the Jeff Hamilton Trio, Elmhurst College Jazz Faculty member Mark Colby, Denis DiBlasio, Frank Greene, the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, the North Texas State University One O’clock Jazz Band, and The Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra.

One of the many combos that performed during the four-day Jazz Festival.

As a tangible expression of Gretsch’s support for jazz education, all of the performance stages at the Elmhurst Festival were supplied with professional-quality Gretsch drum sets. So in addition to gaining the wisdom imparted by the Festival’s artist/clinicians, students got to experience for themselves the musical joy that only comes from performing on a Gretsch kit.

Taking Support To The High School Level

Gretsch’s support of the Elmhurst Festival didn’t stop at the college-band level. After a Festival hiatus of more than twenty years, a full day was devoted to the Elmhurst College High School Invitational Jazz Festival. This clinic/performance program for high school jazz bands was underwritten by a generous grant from the Sylvia & William W. Gretsch Memorial Foundation (named for the parents of Fred W. Gretsch).

The participating bands came from across Illinois.  They included York High School, Wheeling High School, Hersey High School, St. Charles North High School, and Champaign Central High School. Each was given forty minutes total stage time:  twenty minutes of performance and twenty minutes to work with the judges in a clinic-style setting.  All bands were in the audience listening when not warming up. As a result, each band had the benefit of hearing not only their comments from the judges, but also critiques from three other sessions. Most importantly, the students had the great fortune to perform for and work with some of the greatest American musicians of our time:  Jeff Hamilton (drums), Tamir Hendelman (piano), and Christoph Luty (bass).  The experience will surely have a lasting impact on their musical lives.

Jeff Hamilton and Mark Colby address the St. Charles North Jazz Ensemble while the Jeff Hamilton Trio members look on before addressing the group.

Outstanding musician awards were given by the judges, and each band director was given comment sheets to review with their band members.  At the end of the afternoon, the students were treated to a concert by the three judges and the Elmhurst College Jazz Band.  They also received wristbands that allowed them entry to the rest of the college performances as well as the Friday-evening performance of the Jeff Hamilton Trio with the Elmhurst College Jazz Band.  This was a perfect opportunity for budding high school musicians to experience music from up to thirty-seven different college groups from all around the United States.

Response from the high school band directors was universally positive, leading the organizers of the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival to plan on adding the High School Festival day to the overall program for the future. Said Elmhurst College music department chairman Pete Griffin, “We look forward to many years of touching teenagers through music and inspiring them to continue on their educational journey with jazz.”

The Gretsch Foundation—and the Gretsch Family—is proud to help those teenagers on that musical journey by supporting the Elmhurst College High School Invitational Jazz Festival. That support is a tangible illustration of the Gretsch Family’s mission statement, which is to “enrich lives through participation in music.”

Photo above:  Participating directors and Doug Beach in front of one of the Gretsch sets used at the Festival.  From left to right: Scott Casagrande (Hersey High School; Arlington Heights), Bill Riddle (York High School; Elmhurst), Doug Beach (Elmhurst College), Jim Stombres and John Wojciechowski (St. Charles North High School; St. Charles), John Currey (Champaign Central High School; Champaign), (seated) Brian Logan (Wheeling High School; Wheeling).

For more information on Elmhurst College and the Jazz Festival, visit their website.

For more information on The Gretsch Foundation, click here.

Gretsch Participates in Elmhurst College Homecoming

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

The Elmhurst College campus was bustling with activity as Homecoming 2011 took place from October 14 through 16. Included in the well-organized, nostalgia-evoking weekend were receptions and dinners, theater and musical performances, tours, a football game, and much more.

John Towner (adjunct faculty, sound recording engineer), Fred Gretsch, Peter Griffin Ed.D. (Chair, Music Department), Mike Pinto (adjunct faculty, Director Gretsch Guitar Ensemble & Jazz Lab Band)

Elmhurst alumnus Fred Gretsch was on hand for the festivities and had the opportunity to meet with Peter Griffin, the college’s new music department chair. The two met and discussed some of Griffin’s program ideas and his vision for the music department. Griffin, with 28 years of marching band experience, is now responsible for Elmhurst’s prestigious music program in addition to the school’s annual Jazz Festival which is the second oldest continuously running event of its kind in the nation. In 2012, the Festival will be celebrating its 45th year.

The meeting between Gretsch and Griffin took place in the Sylvia & William Gretsch Memorial Studio which was established 25 years ago by endowment from the Gretsch Foundation for use by students and faculty alike. Fred Gretsch and the Gretsch Foundation have been long-time supporters of both the school’s

John Towner, Mike Pinto, Peter Griffin, Larry Carroll (Executive Director, Center for Professional Excellence), Fred Gretsch, Joel Baer (student), Sean Carolan (student), Matt Richter (student), Owen Szorc (student), Andrew Ecklund (student)

music and business programs. The Foundation has also endowed two ongoing scholarships for music business majors. During the course of the weekend, Fred was also able to visit the school’s aptly-named Gretsch Guitar Ensemble and jazz band.

Aside from being an Elmhurst College alumnus, Fred Gretsch is the owner and fourth-generation namesake of The Gretsch Company. The legendary instruments made by Gretsch have figured highly in the history of jazz with “That Great Gretsch Sound” helping such stellar artists as George Van Epps, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Sal Salvador, Harry Volpe, and Tony Williams. Gretsch guitars and drums are still favored by top jazz artists today, including Bill Stewart, Cindy Blackman, Stanton Moore, and Terry Silverlight.

Established in 1871, Elmhurst College, a nationally-recognized private liberal arts school affiliated with the United Church of Christ, has been preparing students for purposeful lives. The curriculum combines liberal learning and professional preparation to equip students for lifelong learning, service, and achievement. The College offers more than 50 majors and 9 graduate programs. Elmhurst College is considered a national leader in jazz music education.

For more information on Elmhurst College, visit their website.

For more information on the Gretsch Foundation and the Gretsch Company, visit and the Gretsch website.