The Gilmore to partner with newly founded John Stites Jazz Artist Organization to bring leading jazz musicians to Kalamazoo

August 10, 2021

picture collage of John Stites Jazz Awards with John Stites at music producing table and Stites holding a camera taking a picture

The Gilmore, the presenter of the biennial Gilmore International Piano Festival and prestigious Gilmore Artist Award, is partnering with the newly launched John Stites Jazz Artist Organization to bring internationally-renowned jazz musicians to perform at Gilmore-presented events. The concerts will be presented in memory of Kalamazoo recording engineer, John Stites.

Beginning in 2022, the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization will provide annual grants to support The Gilmore’s world-class jazz programming. The grants, ranging from $20,000 to $150,000, will be used by The Gilmore to cover artist fees for jazz musicians performing at The Gilmore International Piano Festival, The Gilmore Rising Stars Series, and a new Jazz Piano Masters concert that will be presented biennially in years that there is no festival, beginning in 2023. 

Jazz has been a part of The Gilmore International Piano Festival since the inaugural event in 1991 that included performances by Chick Corea and Gary Burton. Other jazz artists who have performed at the festival include Branford Marsalis, Hank Jones, Diana Krall, Fred Hersch, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Brad Mehldau, Bill Charlap, Emmet Cohen, James Francies, Christian Sands, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Snarky Puppy, Aaron Diehl, Robert Glasper, and Ethan Iverson. The Gilmore has also commissioned works by Chick Corea and Fred Hersch.

 “Irving S. Gilmore, in whose memory The Gilmore was founded, and John Stites may have been born in different decades, but their love of music and passionate belief in enriching the lives of Michigan residents by fostering and presenting artists of excellence is something they shared,” says The Gilmore’s Executive and Artistic Director, Pierre van der Westhuizen. “We are honored to partner with the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization to enhance and expand our jazz programming and to remember such a passionate and hardworking man.”

“John was amazing and touched so many people. From his work as a photographer to his recordings, his work moved people and that is seen in the love and respect people have for him. When John opened his recording studio in the late 1980’s, The Gilmore was one of his first clients. So it seems fitting that John’s long association with the Gilmore be memorialized with this partnership, which continues the tradition of bringing internationally renowned jazz artists to Kalamazoo.” Sandy Schaefer, Board of Directors

A life-long Kalamazoo resident and jazz aficionado, Mr. Stites worked at The Upjohn Company (now Pfizer) as an Audio Production Specialist following earlier careers as a trumpet player in the Americana Brass Band and as a freelance photographer. In 1986, while still at Upjohn, he opened his own studio, Arcadia Recording. By 2000 the demand for his studio services—including radio and television soundtrack work— saw him retire from Upjohn to run the studio fulltime. During this time, Mr. Stites produced corporate projects for PBS, award-winning programs that aired on Michigan Public Radio and NPR, and a number of Grammy-nominated jazz recordings. He also began teaching recording technology at Kalamazoo College. Over the course of his career, Mr. Stites recorded over 3,000 CDs and innumerable analog tapes. He recorded everything from performance tapes for aspiring students to on-site concerts of local classical, country, blues, folk, and jazz performers. Jazz legends like Jimmy Cobb, Jamey Haddad, Sir Roland Hanna, Billy Hart, Fred Hersch, and Rodney Whitaker recorded at his studio. 

This year the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization will launch the John Stites Jazz Awards, offering grants from $5,000 to $25,000 to jazz artists for artistic development or for specific jazz events. Applications will be accepted August 1 through September 30. For more information about the John Stites Jazz Artist Organization and John Stites Jazz Awards visit

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