Amir ElSaffar
Trumpeter and Composer
New York, NY
2018 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by Peter D. and Julie Fisher Cummings.

Amir ElSaffar has been described as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music,” (The Wire) and “one of the most promising figures in jazz today” (Chicago Tribune). A recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background who is conversant in the language of contemporary jazz, and has also created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the microtones found in Iraqi maqam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody, and has received commissions to compose for large and small jazz ensembles, traditional Middle Eastern ensembles, chamber orchestras, string quartets, and contemporary music ensembles, as well as dance troupes. Described as “an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble,” (All About Jazz), ElSaffar is an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making.

ElSaffar collaborates with musicians and ensembles in Europe, in addition to leading five ensembles based in the US. His 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra released the critically acclaimed double LP, Not Two on New Amsterdam Records, and is touring in the US and internationally.

Portrait photo by Michael Crommet.
  • Artwork by Amir ElSaffar
    Amir ElSaffar with the Rivers of Sound Orchestra.
Artwork by Amir ElSaffar