Black History 365: David Sanford

David Sanford Big Band will be playing at the Bombyx Center for Arts and Equity in Florence, MA on September 11, 2022.

Born in Pittsburgh, PA in 1963, David Sanford received degrees in music theory and composition from the University of Northern Colorado, New England Conservatory, and Princeton University where he received the PhD in music composition and completed his dissertation, “’Prelude (Part 1)’ from Agharta: Modernism and Primitivism in the Fusion Works of Miles Davis”. During these years, he studied composition and theory with Richard Bourassa, Robert Ehle, Arthur Berger, Pozzi Escot, Jim Randall, Claudio Spies and Steve Mackey. He is the founder and director of the David Sanford Big Band (formerly the Pittsburgh Collective), a twenty-piece contemporary big band.

Sanford’s honors include the Rome Prize, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute, an Arts and Letters Award, an Ives Scholarship and a Goddard Lieberson Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, awards from BMI, ASCAP, and Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, and a Composer Portrait concert at Miller Theater. He was composer-in-residence at Concert Artists Guild and at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music (through BMI), guest composer at the Wellesley Composers Conference, and a chosen participant in the African American Composers Forum with the Detroit Symphony. He has received commissions from the Fromm Foundation for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Chamber Music America for the Meridian Arts Ensemble, the Zéphyros Winds, and the Festival of New Trumpet Music, from the Koussevitzky Foundation for the Meridian Arts Ensemble and for cellist Matt Haimovitz and the Pittsburgh Collective, the Barlow Endowment for pianist Lara Downes, the Mary Flagler Cary Trust for Speculum Musicae, and from Castle of our Skins and Winsor Music, Astral Artists, the New England Conservatory Wind Ensemble, the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Princeton University Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble, the Empyrean Ensemble at UC Davis, and the Mana Saxophone Quartet. In addition, his works have received performances by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra under Kent Nagano, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra under Marin Alsop, the Detroit Symphony under Leslie Dunner, the Peabody Modern Orchestra under Cliff Colnot, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Chicago Symphony Chamber Players, and the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, among many others.

Sanford’s works have been recorded by artists including Speculum Musicae, Matt Haimovitz, the Meridian Arts Ensemble, pianist Lara Downes and New York Philharmonic cellist Eric Bartlett. The title track of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s recording of the composer’s works, Black Noise, was named one of “The 25 Best Classical Music Tracks of 2019” by the New York Times (; the Pittsburgh Collective’s CD Live at the Knitting Factory, featuring his compositions and arrangements was named one of the albums of the year in Jazziz magazine; and Haimovitz’s disc Meeting of the Spirits with his cello ensemble UCCELLO, which featured seven jazz arrangements and one composition by Sanford, received a four-star review from downbeat magazine, and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Sanford has taught at the University of Chicago and Amherst College, and is currently Elizabeth T. Kennan Professor of Music at Mount Holyoke College teaching theory, composition, music and film, and jazz history. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts with his wife, architect Mary Yun, and their two children.