Amir ElSaffar

Chicago-born Amir ElSaffar mines Iraqi maqams from deep within the bell of his brass. A skilled trumpeter with a classical background, Amir’s unresolved, ascending melodies teeter on the edge of silence, only to be cushioned by a long, sighing note. Raised on Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Amir combines tropes of Middle Eastern music with American jazz. As a composer, Amir draws from the microtonal systems of traditional Arabic music, channeling their swift melodies through improvisational flurries. An acknowledged performer of the Maqam al-iraqi specialty, Amir is also a notable vocalist and santoor player, who has also established himself as an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making. In 2006, he founded Safaafir, the only ensemble in the US performing Iraqi Maqam in its traditional format. His towering accomplishments include grants from Chamber Music America, the Jazz Institute of Chicago, the Jerome Foundation, Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT), and the Painted Bride Arts Center in Philadelphia