With a roster that includes students from Miami to Milwaukee, the NIU Jazz Orchestra has long been considered one of the best college jazz bands in the world.
The ensemble performed at the 54th annual Midwest Music Clinic in Chicago with saxophonist Jimmy Heath as the guest artist, and at the 28th annual International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) Conference in New York with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis as the guest artist.
During the summer of 2001 the band performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Netherlands, at the Jazz à Vienne Festival in France and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
The list of guest artists with whom the ensemble has performed includes Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Bellson, Clark Terry, Tito Puente and James Moody, just to name a few.
In the summer of 1996 the NIU Jazz Orchestra performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland as Quincy Jones's big band with guest artists Phil Collins, Patti Austin, David Sanborn, Gerald Albright, Chaka Kahn, Toots Theilman and James Morrison.
The NIU Jazz Ensemble is the Laboratory Jazz Big Band at NIU. This group performs advanced and intermediate material covering a wide variety of jazz styles, including new works composed and/or arranged by NIU faculty and students.
The group has performed with several international artists, including Allen Vizzutti, Fareed Haque, Kelly Sill, Stefan Karlsson, Liam Teague, Art Davis, Tom Garling, Gary Smulyan, Mark Colby and Wayne Bergeron.
The Jazz Ensemble regularly participates in jazz festivals and competitions, and performs at least six concerts per academic year. In 2010 and 2014 the ensemble was featured at the Illinois Music Education Conference. The group won first place in the College Jazz Big Band division at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Jazz Festival in 2010 and 2008. It has received outstanding recognition at the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival many times. The band was honored with Outstanding Performance recognition at the 35th DOWNBEAT Annual Student Music Awards (June 2012).
The All University Jazz Band is open to musicians across the university regardless of major, and features as well a vocalist. The group performs a variety of jazz styles and concentrates on the foundation of the tradition: swing and blues. This group performs about 6 times per school year. Everyone is invited to audition the first week of each semester (including jazz vocalists).
Each spring semester, the All University Jazz Band takes on a second identity as the NIU Latin Jazz Ensemble and provides live music for the annual NIU Latin Jazz Dance Party in mid-April. Organized and co-directed by Gregory Beyer, director of Percussion Studies, this thrilling event is free, open to the public, and brings hundreds of community members from the university and the surrounding region.
Audience members come right up on stage for a night of non-stop salsa dancing to both live music and DJ, and can enjoy extremely good Mexican food provided by area restaurants. For new dancers, the DJ also provides fun and easy salsa instruction in-between sets. The event is co-sponsored by the NIU School of Music and the Center for Latino and Latin American Studies.
The School of Music offers several jazz combos each semester including the top combo, the NIU Jazztet.
The NIU Jazztet has performed by invitation at the world's first venue designed specifically for the acoustics of jazz, Jazz at Lincoln Center (Dizzy's Club Coca Cola) (2005 and 2008). The Jazztet has also performed at the Elmhurst College Jazz Festival, as one of 39 ensembles from six states, and they were chosen as one of the three "Outstanding" ensembles to perform on the final Awards/Showcase Concert for seven consecutive years. Additional invited performances by the NIU Jazztet include the Iowa City Jazz Festival (July 2006), the Festival Jazz en Lima in Peru (April 2004, 2009), JVC Jazz Festival in New York City (June 2003 and 2008); 2008 Clark Terry Jazz Festival in Pine Bluff Arkansas, the International Association of Jazz Educators Conference in Toronto (January 2003), the Bogotá Colombia Jazz Festival in September 2009 and the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2011. The NIU Jazztet released four CD recordings under former NIU Jazz Studies coordinator Ronald Carter, who served as producer of the recording and mentor to the performers.