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NIU sophomore Lenard Simpson named Luminarts Fellow in Jazz

February 23, 2015
Lenard Simpson

Lenard Simpson

Lenard Simpson, a sophomore from Milwaukee, was recognized as a 2015 Luminarts Fellow in Jazz during the Luminarts Cultural Foundation annual competition held Feb. 18 at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.

“The thing I enjoy most about playing is just the feeling of being free and putting everything else that’s going on behind me,” said Simpson, a jazz studies major in the NIU School of Music. “Being recognized as a Luminarts Fellow means that other people appreciate what I’m going for, and the story I’m trying to tell with my music.”

The Luminarts Cultural Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports young Chicago artists.

Simpson was one of five musicians selected during the jazz showcase, and along with a $5,000 grant award, he will receive support from the foundation members as he pursues his craft.

“This is a highly competitive event and even many exceptional students don’t make it to the finals,” said Geof Bradfield, assistant professor of jazz saxophone and jazz studies at NIU. “Lenard was there because he prepared well-and in many ways has prepared for this sort of competition for years- but he was also there because of his perseverance.”

Simpson began playing saxophone in fifth grade, and continued to excel as a musician throughout high school.

He was a member of the Batterman Ensemble at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, won an outstanding soloist award at the Charles Mingus competition and was selected as one of 32 high school students in the country to participate in the 2013 Grammy Camp Jazz Session.

Luminarts Cultural Foundation logo“I’ve known Lenard since he was in high school, and even then his focus and work ethic were exceptional,” Bradfield said. “He decided years ago to pursue a career as a world-class jazz performer and he pursues his goal with commitment, passion and humility.”

At NIU, Simpson plays in a jazz combo, the Wind Ensemble and Jazz Lab Band. Bradfield said he brings “a formidable musical intellect to the table.”

“His knowledge of harmony in particular is very sophisticated, and he quickly assimilates new ideas from recordings and lessons,” the professor said. “Most impressively – for such a young musician – he is generous with his peers, freely offering good advice, praise, and encouragement.”

To watch Simpson’s winning performance at the jazz showcase, visit Gigity.TV

by Jane Donahue