Lewis Center Past Fellows

Amir ElSaffar

Amir ElSaffar headshot

Photo by Michael Crommett


Amir ElSaffar is a composer, trumpeter, santur player, and vocalist. He has been described as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music” by The Wire, and “one of the most promising figures in jazz today” by the Chicago Tribune. A recognized jazz trumpeter with a classical background, ElSaffar has created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. He is also one of the few musicians in his generation to master the centuries-old Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur (Iraqi hammered dulcimer) player. As a composer, ElSaffar has created a microtonal harmonic language that merges the Arabic maqam modal system with contemporary Western harmony. He has released seven critically-acclaimed albums and tours internationally with several ensembles, including his six-piece Two Rivers Ensemble, combining jazz with maqam, and 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra. ElSaffar is a recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award and United States Artists Fellowship.

During his year as a Hodder Fellow, ElSaffar will work on his opera in Arabic, entitled Ruins of the Encampment.