Ellenberger, an associate professor of music in the Frederik Meijer Honors College at Grand Valley State University, is a composer and jazz pianist who has performed in the U.S., Canada, Australia and Europe. His work as a composer was also recently recognized by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, which presented him with an ASCAP Composition Award in 2009. This award honors composers of concert music in the classical and jazz genres.
“I started playing the accordion at the age of 6, at the urging of my father,” said Ellenberger. “Then, I switched to the trumpet and played throughout my college years.”
From 1979-80, he was the lead trumpet in the Joey Bishop Band, which toured the northeastern United States. Then Ellenberger discovered the music of pianist Bill Evans and the sound he’d been searching for, a colorful cross-pollination that combines classical and jazz in a mastery of technique that seems to flow without effort. “I quickly learned that it takes tremendous effort to seem effortless,” he said.
Ellenberger made the commitment to become a professional pianist and has flourished in that capacity ever since. He has performed with Danny Gottlieb, Kenny Wheeler and Della Reese among others. As a pianist and composer, he has been featured on CBC Radio, NPR, and several CDs, including the GVSU New Music Ensemble’s recording of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” and Terry Riley’s seminal work “In C.”
His newest CD, “The Name of the Wind,” evolved from an invitation to perform in Sydney, Australia for the 2008 World Shakuhachi Festival with his new ensemble üTaké. The collaborative improvisatory ensemble explores a wide variety of musical styles and disciplines, from contemporary and traditional classical composition and performance to jazz and pop styles.
Composition and collaboration has been a constant in Ellenberger’s musical career and also is reflected in his other position at Grand Valley. As associate director of grants at the Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, he provides leadership on teaching and learning issues across the university.
For more information about Ellenberger, visit his homepage www.kurtellenberger.com.