One of the life goals of Ernest Dawkins, is for his music and compositions to reflect the evolving collective cultural memory of the American jazz aesthetic. Dawkins is one of the world’s premiere saxophonists and composers. He is an entrepreneur with years of experience working with new media technologies to produce and promote his work and that of the jazz community online and in digital venues. He is leader of several ensembles, including the New Horizons Ensemble, Aesop Quartet, Chicago Trio, Live the Spirit Big Band, and the Chicago 12. He is also a member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Dawkins has recorded numerous CDs. His publishing company, Dawk Music, has eight releases to date. In 2011, he released two new recordings: 1. New Horizons Ensemble, The Prairie Prophet [Delmark Records]; 2. Chicago Trio (Ernest Dawkins, Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead) Live at the Velvet Lounge, Dedicated to Fred Anderson [Rogue Art].
Dawkins started his musical journey at the tender age of eight, when he learned how to play the bass and conga drums. At nineteen, he became mesmerized by the sound of the saxophone while listening to his father’s jazz recordings of Lester Young. It was not until he heard the alto sax of Guido Sinclair, however, that he knew this was the instrument he wanted to play. Within a week, he had purchased his first saxophone, clarinet, and flute. Two weeks later, Dawkins got his first lesson from members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). From there, his illustrious career in music began.
Dawkins was named ‘Chicagoan of the Year’ twice by the Chicago Tribune, most recently in 2001. He received a Meet the Composers Round VII New Residencies grant in 2000 and has been awarded the State of Illinois Governors Fellowship award twice. In 2008, he received a Governor’s International Grant. Dawkins established The Englewood Jazz Festival, now in its 11th year and founded Live The Spirit Residency, a not-for-profit arts organization committed to improving access to creative and improvised music for under-served communities within the city of Chicago.
He has created commissioned works for the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, Sons d’Hiver Festival, Banlieues Bleues Festival, the Jazz Institute of Chicago, and the King Arts Complex of Columbus Ohio. Dawkins is an active member in the local arts community and is former Chairman of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Dawkins has worked with a myriad of music greats including: Ramsey Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Willie Pickens, Malachi Favors, Henry Threadgill, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Braxton, Jack McDuff, Don Moye, Jerry Butler, and The Dells.