Amir ElSaffar Receives United States Artists Fellowship

01.16.18
Amir ElSaffar's Rivers of Sound Orchestra
United States Artists

United States Artists
Announces 2018 USA Fellows
Forty-five artists and collectives across nine disciplines receive $50,000 unrestricted awards


United States Artists (USA) is pleased to announce its 2018 USA Fellows. This year, 45 artists and collectives across nine creative disciplines will receive unrestricted $50,000 cash awards. The Fellowships honor their creative accomplishments and support their ongoing artistic and professional development, however the recipients choose to spend them.

USA Fellowships are awarded to artists at all stages of their careers, and from every corner of the United States, through a rigorous nomination and panel selection process. Spread across all creative disciplines including Architecture & Design, Craft, Dance, Media, Music, Theater & Performance, Traditional Arts, Visual Art, and Writing, the Fellows represent a broad cross-section of the best of American arts and letters. To date, USA has distributed over $22 million to a diverse group of more than 500 artists and collaboratives.

USA’s 2018 Fellows were selected by a panel of experts in each discipline, then approved by the organization's board. They were drawn from a peer-nominated pool of over 500 outstanding applicants. This year’s Fellows come from Alaska and Puerto Rico, from New Mexico and Maine, and everywhere in between.

Among their number are luminaries in their fields and rising stars, emerging voices and long heralded experts. What unites them is the profound respect of their peers and the excellence of their work.

The unique feature of the Fellowships is its unrestricted nature -- artists may use the funds for whatever they need, be it medical expenses, housing, their artistic practice, or anything else. This flexibility allows Fellows the financial freedom to take risks and push their careers forward in ways that might not otherwise have been possible.

Among past awardees are film director and writer Miranda July, composer David Lang, novelist Annie Proulx, playwright David Henry Hwang, choreographer Bill T. Jones, and visual artist Kara Walker.

Amir ElSaffar
Trumpeter & Composer
This award was generously supported by Peter D. and Julie Fisher Cummings.


Amir ElSaffar has been described as “uniquely poised to reconcile jazz and Arabic music,” (The Wire) and “one of the most promising figures in jazz today” (Chicago Tribune). A recipient of the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, ElSaffar is an expert trumpeter with a classical background who is conversant in the language of contemporary jazz, and has also created techniques to play microtones and ornaments idiomatic to Arabic music that are not typically heard on the trumpet. Additionally, he is a purveyor of the centuries old, now endangered, Iraqi maqam tradition, which he performs actively as a vocalist and santur player. As a composer, ElSaffar has used the microtones found in Iraqi maqam music to create an innovative approach to harmony and melody, and has received commissions to compose for large and small jazz ensembles, traditional Middle Eastern ensembles, chamber orchestras, string quartets, and contemporary music ensembles, as well as dance troupes. Described as “an imaginative bandleader, expanding the vocabulary of the trumpet and at the same time the modern jazz ensemble,” (All About Jazz), ElSaffar is an important voice in an age of cross-cultural music making.

ElSaffar collaborates with musicians and ensembles in Europe, in addition to leading five ensembles based in the US. His 17-piece Rivers of Sound Orchestra released the critically acclaimed double LP, Not Two on New Amsterdam Records, and is touring in the US and internationally.

Learn more.