MacArthur Fellows Program

Ken Vandermark

Jazz Composer and Performer | Class of 1999

Jazz Composer and Performer
Chicago, Illinois
35 at time of award
Published July 1, 1999

About Ken's Work

Ken Vandermark is a composer, improviser, and tenor saxophone and clarinet player whose compositions and performances incorporate a breadth of stylistic influences.

Vandermark’s music draws on a range of traditions, including jazz, European classical and folk musics, reggae, rock, and African forms. A number of his pieces bare a striking resemblance to baroque chamber music, while others are more akin to heavy-metal anthems. He leads and performs with more than a dozen ensembles and has recorded over forty compact disks, including Target or Flag (1998), Simpatico (1999), Acoustic Machine (2002), Furniture Music (2003) and The Color of Memory (2004). As exemplified by his Target or Flag recording, Vandermark’s work is characterized by high-energy playing that also includes timbral range and melodic coherence. Though many of his performances are entirely improvised, others include his signature composition style, featuring tightly wound chromatic and counterpunctalfigures played in unison by horns that then release into long solos.


Vandermark first rose to attention in the NRG Ensemble (1989-96) and subsequently through his own ensembles, including the DKV Trio, Witches and Devils, the Vandermark 5, the Joe Harriot Project, and Steam.

Vandermark attended McGill University (1982-86).

Last updated January 1, 2005

Select News Coverage of Ken Vandermark
February 8, 2018
"A Conversation With Ken Vandermark"
Indiana Public Media
Ken Vandermark , 1999 MacArthur Fellow
August 26, 2017
"Revis and Vandermark Start a Storm at Green Mill"
Chicago Tribune
Ken Vandermark , 1999 MacArthur Fellow
May 11, 2017
"Chicago Free-Jazz 'Genius' to Blow Through McColl Center"
Creative Loafing Charlotte
Ken Vandermark , 1999 MacArthur Fellow
October 15, 2015
"The Ex and Ken Vandermark Trample Genre Borders Together"
Chicago Tribune
Ken Vandermark , 1999 MacArthur Fellow
January 28, 2014
"Ken Vandermark's Back in Town and Playing Hard"
Chicago Tribune
Ken Vandermark , 1999 MacArthur Fellow
November 8, 2013
"Ken Vandermark Reimagines the "Po Music" of Joe McPhee"
Chicago Reader
Ken Vandermark, 1999 MacArthur Fellow
View all news
More Fellows

View All 1999 Fellows

Stay Informed
Sign up for periodic news updates and event invitations.
Connect with us on social media or view all of our social media content in one place.