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About MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble

Herb was the real architect of the jazz program at MIT. In the early going of our music program, jazz was one of our flagship activities, even before classical music. Herb was unusual in that he was a wonderful jazz player who liked to and could teach.

John Harbison
Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr., Music Director, MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, MIT Jazz Performance Coordinator, and Emerson/Harris Jazz Advisor, (fharris@mit.edu)

The MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble (MIT FJE) was founded in 1963 by Boston jazz icon Herb Pomeroy and led since 1999 by Dr. Frederick Harris, Jr. This advanced 18 to 20-member big band/jazz ensemble is comprised of outstanding MIT undergraduate and graduate students studying a wide range of disciplines. An advanced combo is formed from the membership of the MIT FJE. MIT FJE performs traditional and contemporary jazz ensemble literature, including student compositions and new works written for the MIT FJE by major jazz composers. Improvisation is a prominent part of the MIT FJE experience. MIT FJE has released five professional recordings including its major jazz label debut on Sunnyside in 2015, Infinite Winds, which received a five-star review from DownBeat and was chosen by the magazine as one of its “Best Albums of 2015 Five-Star Masterpieces.”

The FJE has a long history of performing original music by MIT students and composers from around the world. Since 2001, it has presented over 50 world premieres. Among others, Mark Harvey, Herb Pomeroy, Jamshied Sharifi, Ran Blake, John Harbison, Chick Corea, Joe Lovano, Gunther and George Schuller, Kenny Werner, Don Byron, Steve Turre, Magali Souriau, Guillermo Klein, Chris Cheek, Miguel Zenón, Dominique Eade, and Luciana Souza have collaborated with the MIT FJE. In January of 2019 the FJE participated in a highly successful cultural exchange, touring Puerto Rico with Miguel Zenón, presenting concerts in various venues and also STEM workshops in middle and high schools.

Learn about the MIT FJE’s collaboration with Grammy-winner Jacob Collier in this Emmy-winning documentary. Watch the Emmy-nominated documentary The Great Clarinet Summit, featuring MIT FJE. See an overview of MIT FJE’s recent tour of Puerto Rico. Watch MIT FJE and Sean Jones perform an original composition by MIT student Alan Osmundson and Warren Wolf perform Heal! by MIT pianist-composer Peter Godart. MIT FJE participated in MIT's 2021 virtual Commencement, performing Diary of a Pandemic Year. See an overview of MIT FJE’s history here.

In March of 2023 the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble, along with the MIT Wind Ensemble and MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, toured and performed in the Brazilian Amazon. The project was focused on cultural and environmental sustainability and music's power as a vehicle for change.