Sturm studied at Lawrence University, the University of North Texas College of Music, and the Eastman School of Music. He played trombone and performed with the jazz nonet Matrix from 1974 to 1977. He served as Director of Jazz Studies at Lawrence University from 1977 to 1991, then joined the Eastman School of Music faculty as professor of jazz composition/arranging, conductor of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble and Studio Orchestra, and chair of the Eastman Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media Department. In 2002, he returned home to Wisconsin to direct the Lawrence University Jazz and Improvisational Music Department and hold the Kimberly-Clark Endowed Professorship in Music.
Sturm resides in DePere, Wisconsin with Susan, his wife for over 30 years. His son Ike Sturm is a New York City bassist, composer, educator, and Assistant to the Director of Music for the Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan. Daughter Madeline Sturm is a New York based artist and musician.
Sturm has conducted the HR [Hessischer Rundfunk) Big Band in Frankfurt; the NDR (Norddeutscher Rundfunk) Big Band in Hamburg; the Bohuslän Big Band in Gothenburg, Sweden; the Klüvers Big Band in Aarhus, Denmark; the Arendal Big Band in Arendal, Norway; and numerous collegiate and state honors high school jazz ensembles in the USA. He has served as a visiting professor at Det Jyske Musikkonservatorium (Royal Conservatory) in Denmark and the Associazone Italian Gordon per l'Apprendimento Musicale in Rome. Down Beat magazine has cited his university jazz ensembles with 9 Student Music Awards. He is a co-owner of Tritone Jazz Fantasy Camps.
Sturm's Migrations, a musical plea for world unity made up of indigenous music from 22 countries, was premiered by vocalist Bobby McFerrin and the NDR Big Band in 2007 and toured Europe the following summer. He arranged and recorded two extensive CD projects, Libertango: Hommage an Astor Piazzolla and Do It Again: Three Decades of Steely Dan with the HR Big Band.
His original work Abstract Image won the 2003 ASCAP/IAJE Commission in Honor of Quincy Jones. He is the Artistic Director, composer, and arranger for The Baseball Music Project, a concert program collaboration with the Baseball Hall of Fame that has been performed by the Boston Pops and symphony orchestras in Chicago, Seattle, Houston, Miami, Detroit, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and San Diego.
While studying at the University of North Texas College of Music in the 1970s, Sturm was a member of the One O'Clock Lab Band, which has produced dozens of professionally engineered albums, 46 of which are part of UNT Jazz Department's annual Lab Band recording project launched in 1967. On Lab 2010 (released September 2010), the One O'Clock Lab Band recorded Sturm's recent arrangement, Pretzel Logic, a composition by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Pretzel Logic was the title cut on a 1974 album by Steely Dan.
Sturm is the author of Changes Over Time: The Evolution of Jazz Arranging (Advance Music), Maria Schneider: Evanescence (Universal Edition), and Kenny Wheeler: Collected Works on ECM (Universal Edition). His compositions and arrangements are published by Universal Edition, Kendor Music, Sierra Music Publications, The Lorenz Corporation, Neil A. Kjos Music Company, Advance Music, and the Donald Hunsberger Wind Library (Alfred Music). He has received commission and research grants from ASCAP, International Association for Jazz Education, NARAS, NEA, NEH, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, and the American Composers Forum.
- "After Lawrence". Lawrence University. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "Kimberly-Clark Professor of Music". Lawrence University. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "Bobby McFerrin to Perform "Migrations" at Lawrence University". All About Jazz. 2010-02-15. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "¡Libertango! – Hommage an Astor Piazzolla". HR Bigband. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "Do It Again – hr Big Band Plays Three Decades Of Steely Dan". HR Bigband. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- "Lawrence Univsersity jazz studies director Fred Sturm wins international composition commission". The Lawrentian. 2003-05-23. Retrieved 2010-09-08.
- Fred Sturm's website
- Mizar 5 Interview with Fred Sturm
- Sturm "Migrations" project with Bobby McFerrin and NDR Big Band
- Fred Sturm Facebook Page