What is the Symposium?

The ISJAC International Jazz Composers’ Symposium is a bi-annual conference that brings hundreds of jazz composers, arrangers, educators, and industry executives together for three days of concerts, lectures, panel discussions, and the presentation and honoring of new jazz compositions and arrangements. The Symposium is known as a robust, yet intimate gathering of the world’s finest jazz writers. As a central tenet of the ISJAC mission, the Symposium seeks to unite, develop, and electrify the our global community of jazz arrangers and composers.


Brief History

The Jazz Composers’ Symposium debuted in 2006 originally under the auspices of the University of South Florida’s Center for Jazz Composition. Featuring a stellar guest artist line-up of Bob Brookmeyer, John Clayton, & Dave Douglas the first gathering was an instant success! The word was out and the 2nd conference, also at USF, followed in 2008 with increased attendance as well as scintillating appearances by: Stefon Harris, Bill Holman, Jim McNeely, and the Turtle Island String Quartet. Funding for USF’s Center, however, evaporated during the recession and the Symposium lay dormant until it was resurrected by ISJAC in 2017, once again hosted by USF. 

While maintaining much the same approach taken in the earlier Symposia, ISJAC has expanded the opportunities for composers to present their music and/or research (now featuring the works of over 70 composers at each conference) introduced an Honors & Awards program, and sought to increase the numbers of curated speakers as well. Beginning with the 2019 conference hosted by the University of Northern Colorado, ISJAC also committed to further enhance access to this inspiring event by producing it in different institutions. The next conference, originally scheduled to take place at the University of Texas at Austin in 2021, has been postponed to 2022 due to the global pandemic.


Dave Stamps (left) and Chuck Owen at the original USF Center for Jazz Composition circa 2004


Featured Guest Composers

Each Symposium is anchored by several renowned jazz composer/arrangers who are typically in residence for the duration of the conference. Evening concerts feature their works performed by their own ensembles or in conjunction with the resident jazz orchestra. During the day, they discuss their compositional process via guest artist talks, provide feedback to other composers in the masterclasses, debate industry practices in lively panel discussions, or just hang out allowing for individual contact with attendees. Recent featured guests have included: Billy Childs, Maria Schneider, Darcy James Argue, John Hollenbeck, Rufus Reid, Vince Mendoza, Chuck Owen, Bill Frisell, Ron Miles, Christine Jensen & Chris Potter.


New Music Masterclasses/Presentations

One of the most exciting facets of the Symposium is the opportunity for composers & arrangers to share & discuss their new works with their colleagues. Anyone can submit their works for consideration with over 35 pieces ultimately selected by ISJAC’s panels of accomplished artists. These works are featured in a series of open masterclasses led by the featured guest artists and/or New Music Presentations, led by the composers themselves.


Christine Jensen illustrates Carla Bley’s music with the help of Dana Landry and UNC Jazz Lab Band 1



ISJAC greatly values and seeks to encourage research and analysis directly related to jazz composition. Scholars are, therefore, encouraged to submit recent papers for presentation at the Symposium. Papers not selected for oral presentation may be considered for presentation at the Poster Session.


Poster Sessions

ISJAC’s Poster Session offers composers, scholars, & educators and opportunity to display their scores, papers, recordings, analyses, etc. and engage in discussions directly with those attending. Unlike other poster sessions you may have attended, this boasts a casual, almost party-like atmosphere and is one of the highlights of the conference.


Eri Chichibu, left, and Migiwa Miyajima, right, talk shop at the Poster Session


SONIC Awards Concert

ISJAC’s adjudicators identify works in each of the following categories: Large Jazz Ensemble Composition, Chamber Jazz Ensemble Composition, and Arrangement, for special distinction and recognition as the recipients of ISJAC’s SONIC Awards. An acronym for Symposium Outstanding New Instrumental Composition,  the works selected are performed during the SONIC Concert by the resident professional jazz orchestra. In addition, the ISJAC/USF Owen Prize in Jazz Composition is given to student composers whose works are also performed at this time.  Inductee’s into ISJAC’s Hall of Fame are recognized and honored at this time as well.