Dawkins is one of the world's premiere saxophonists and composers, whose life goal is for his music and compositions to reflect the evolving collective cultural memory of the American jazz aesthetic. He is the Executive Director of Live the Spirit Residency and past Chairman of the AACM Dawkins is currently in residence at the Rebuild Foundation (Theaster Gates). 2020 Dawkins receive a commission from New Music America to compose a piece honoring Fredrick Douglass, (Redefining Fredrick Douglass).
In 2018 Dawkins and Old Town School of Folk music received the International Connections grant from the The McArthur Foundation to tour South Africa in February 2019. Creating the Englewood to Soweto project, that features four up and coming musicians from Chicago pairing them with four South African musicians. in September 2019 , the South African toured Chicago and perform at the 20th Annual Englewood Jazz festival also recording a cd of original compositions by member of the ensemble.The Cd We Want Our Land Back is scheduled for full release later in the 2021.
2017 he received the Joyce Award in conjunction with The Old Town School of Folk Music, composing and presenting an original Composition titled Quantum Englewood.
He is the leader and founder of several ensembles, most notably the New Horizons Ensemble, Aesop Quartet, Chicago Trio, Live the Spirit Big Band, and the Chicago 12. Dawkins has recorded numerous CDs and his publishing company, Dawk Music, has seventeen releases to date.
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 21st year and founded Live The Spirit Residency, a not-for-profit arts organization committed
Using his Meet the Composers grant in 2000, he established the annual Englewood Jazz Festival, now in its 19th year. He also founded Live The Spirit Residency, a 501(c)(3) not-for- profit arts organization committed to improving access to creative and improvised music for under-served communities within the city of Chicago. In 2009 Dawkins selected six young musicians from Chicago to travel with him to participate in ten days of workshops that culminated in a performance on September 2, 2009. The final concert was part of the program of the XXIV edition of “Ai confine tra Sardegna e Jazz” and took place at Piazza Del Nuraghe. Following the experience in Sardegna, six young Italian musicians traveled to Chicago. The Italian musicians participated in master classes with Dawkins and performed at the Tenth Annual Englewood Jazz Festival on September 19, 2009, in Hamilton Park. With the support of the MacArthur Foundation International Connections Fund, Live the Spirit Residency Commissioned Ernest Dawkins to compose “A Dream Deferred or a Dream Come True."
In October 2013, Dawkins completed a successful series of performances and workshops in London England and Brest France. Exploring the diverse intersections between black British history and the American Civil Rights Movement, our project mirrored the many connections sustained across the African diaspora and their ongoing significance to struggles for human rights and social justice in the present moment. With our partner organizations Jazz Alive London and Penn Ar Jazz France, we deeply connected with local musicians and audiences.
Dawkins has created commissioned works for MacArthur Foundation, Live the Spirit Residency, the Joyce Foundation, Old Town School of Folk Music, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, Sant'Anna Arresi Jazz Festival, Sons d’Hiver Festival, Banliues Bleues Festival, Meet The Composers, the Jazz Institute of Chicago, and the King Arts Complex of Columbus Ohio. He has worked with a myriad of music greats including: Marquis Hill, Maurice Brown, Kahil El Zabar, Hamid Drake, Harrison Bankhead, Dee Alexander, Nicole Mitchell. Corey Wilkes, Orbert Davis, Ari Brown, Ramsey Lewis, Muhal Richard Abrams, Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Willie Pickens, Malachi Favors, Henry Threadgill, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, Zim Ngqawana, Feya Faku, Nduduzo Makathini, JackMcDuff, Don Moye, Aretha Franklin, Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, and The Dells.
2021 We Want Our Land Back Englewood Soweto Exchange, Live the Spirit Residency Publishing
2121 In All Directions The Young Masters, Live the Spirit Residency Publishing
2019 Great Black Music Ensemble, Live @ The Currency Exchange Cafe, AACM records 2017 Transient Takes , Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble featuring; Vijay Iyer Dawk Publishing
2016 Coming of Age, The Young Masters Live the Spirit Residency Publishing 2014 Black is Back, Ethic Heritage Ensemble Records
2013 Afro Straight, Delmark Records
2011 The Prairie Prophet, Delmark Records,
2011 Velvet Songs, Rouge Art Music
2008 Un-Till Emmett Till, Chicago 12, Dawk Music
2008 A Black Op'Era (dedicated to Chairman Fred Hampton), Chicago 12, Dawk Music 2005 Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Quartet: Live at Sherwood Conservatory, DVD, CCAO Music/Dawk Music
2005 New Horizons Ensemble: Live At The Original Velvet Lounge, DVD, Delmark Records
2005 Launched Chi-creates, the first artist owned and operated video streaming company. Numerous projects available for download online at chi-creates.tv.
2004 Mean Ameen, New Horizons Ensemble, Delmark records
2004 Transmigration Triumph of the Tragedy, Live The Spirit Big Band, Dawk Music 2003 Misconception of a Delusion Shades of a Charade, commissioned by Sons d’hiver Festival, Dawk Music
2002 European Musings, Aesop Quartet Dawk Music
2002 Watch Me, DVD, Banlieues Bleues festival
2002 Eagles and the Castle, Live The Spirit Big Band, Dawk Music
2001 Cape Town Shuffle New Horizons Ensemble, Delmark Records
1999 Beltway to Bronzeville, commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago.
1999 Joberg Jump, New Horizons Ensemble, Delmark records
1998 Freedom Jazz Dance, Delmark records
1998 Mothers Blue Velvet shoes, New Horizons Ensemble, Dawk Music
Ernest Dawkins Bio
1998 Fables for A New Millennium, The Aesop Quartet, 8th Harmonic Breakdown Records
1997 How the Kau see Sirus, Silkheart Records
1997 Chicago Now Volume #2, Silkheart Records
1996 Ethnic Heritage Continuum
1995 Chicago Now volume #1, Silkheart Records
1994 South Side Street Songs, Silkheart Records
1990 Live in Leverkusen Open Minds records New Horizons Ensemble
1988 Birth of A Notion Sessoms records Shadow Vignettes
1983 Film Score, “Malcolm X”, directed by Alan Segal