Dave Rempis was born in Wellesley, Massachusetts on March 24th, 1975. He began his musical studies at the age of 8, inspired by a family friend who played clarinet in local Greek bands, and by Zoot, of the Muppets Band, to pick up saxophone. During high school he performed in his town, district, and all-state bands and wind ensembles, as well as in a jazz combo at a local music school.
In 1993, Rempis moved to Chicago to study classical saxophone at Northwestern University with Frederick Hemke. Finding this environment stifling, Rempis quickly ditched the music degree to pursue studies in anthropology and ethnomusicology. During that time, he spent a year at the International Centre for African Music and Dance at the University of Ghana, Legon, studying African music and ethnomusicology. He also continued to perform with many different types of groups, ranging from highlife and reggae bands while in Ghana, to jazz, free jazz, funk, and contemporary music ensembles at home. He graduated from Northwestern in 1997, and decided to focus his efforts on performing, a decision which quickly paid off when he was asked to replace veteran saxophonist Mars Williams in the well-known Chicago jazz outfit The Vandermark Five in March of 1998. This opportunity catapulted him to notoriety as he began to tour regularly throughout the US and Europe playing clubs, concert halls, and festivals on both continents.
During his tenure with The Vandermark Five, Rempis also began to develop the many Chicago-based groups and international collaborations for which he’s currently known, including The Rempis Percussion Quartet, The Engines, Ballister, Rempis/Abrams/Ra, Wheelhouse, The Rempis/Rosaly Duo, and The Rempis/Daisy Duo. Many of these groups have been documented on the Okkadisk, 482 Music, Not Two, Clean Feed, Solitaire, and Utech record labels. Past collaborations have included performances with Paul Lytton, Axel Dörner, Peter Brötzmann, Hamid Drake, Steve Swell, John Tchicai, Roscoe Mitchell, Fred Anderson, Kevin Drumm, Paal Nilssen-Love, Nels Cline, Marshall Allen, Tony Buck, and Joe McPhee. Rempis has been named regularly since 2006 in the annual Downbeat Critics’s Poll as a “rising star” on both alto and baritone saxophone, a category that he won in 2017. He was also the recipient of the Ragdale Fellowship from the Herb Alpert Foundation in 2017, as well as an Individual Artists Program grant from the City of Chicago for his solo project “Lattice.”
Aside from performing, Rempis is also active as a presenter. Since 2002, he’s curated a weekly Thursday-night concert series for the Elastic Arts Foundation, and now serves as Board President of the organization. The series has featured over 600 concerts by some of the most important improvisers working around the globe, while maintaining a focus on up-and-coming local musicians. In late 2005, Rempis helped form the presenters’ collective Umbrella Music, playing a lead role in organizing the annual Umbrella Music Festival from 2006-2014. Rempis was also one of the main organizers of the indie-rock Pitchfork Music Festival from 2005-2016, and currently serves as Operations Manager for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival.