The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP), under the direction Orbert Davis, is one of Chicago’s treasures. Founded in 2004 by Davis and Mark Ingram, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic provides rich, accessible, multi-cultural music experiences that bridge gaps in jazz and classical genres. There’s just one issue. They had not played an open-air, free concert in Chicago in close to 10 years.
“CJP has not performed in its 60+ full orchestra form on the Millennium Park stage since July 2008,” Davis stated. “It’s about time we deliver the full range of ticketed concert hall repertoire we’ve premiered over the last decade to the masses.”
That’s where last Wednesday, August 23rd, came in. The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic kicked off a series of free performances with a “Best Of” program at Millennium Park. They also announced that next summer, they will perform three additional full orchestra shows in Millennium Park culminating at the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival. All free of charge. They are rededicating their efforts to be accessible to the city that they love.
The ‘Best Of’ program on August 23rd was a celebration of the philharmonic’s past as they performed songs that Orbert Davis had arranged for the CJP since its inception. It was inspiring seeing the 60+ member Chicago Jazz Philharmonic all on the Pritzker Pavilion stage, but the focal point was the leader: Orbert Davis. He introduced the songs with his charismatic style and a smile you could see in Grant Park. His enthusiasm for this group, the music and the city really showed. He emphatically directed the philharmonic, waving his arms and swaying his hips, but his energy was taken to another level when he blew his trumpet. Davis is a master at his craft and seeing him in control of a 60+ piece philharmonic while he soloed on the trumpet was amazing.
The highlights of the show were:
El Moreno, Davis’ re-imagining of the 1960 Miles Davis-Gil Evans Third-Stream classic Sketches of Spain.
1000 Questions, One Answer, featured a flute solo from Anabel Gill – one of the students that Davis met in Havana, Cuba on a cultural exchange in 2014.
The Face of the Enemy is Always Changing, which included a killer guitar solo from John Moulder.
Hoe Down, Davis introduced this song saying that Chicagoans need to find different ways to resolve conflict without guns, and then the CJP launched into the classic “wild west” song. It seemed odd considering the “wild west” conjures up images of cowboys with six shooters dueling on the street. Just then Bril Barrett and Tre Dumas entered the stage from opposite ends looking like they had major beef with each other. Instead of getting violent, the two men engaged in the fiercest tap dance battle the west has even seen. Their feet fluttered, skipped, smacked and whirled in perfect unison to the music. At the end there was no beef between the two, just smiles.
I Hear Music / Blue Skies, for this number celebrated vocalists Maggie Brown, Bobbi Wilsyn, and Terisa Griffin lent their amazing voices to the musical backing of the CJP. These three elegant voices transported the audience to another time and place.
The ending number, Variations on A-Train, combined everything great from the show. There was a Davis trumpet solo, the tap dancers returned, the three singers came out and, of course, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic was note perfect. It was the perfect culmination to the night.
For those who love classical music, for those that love jazz music, for those who love Third Stream music, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic is for you. Take advantage of the three free shows in 2018 that the group is performing in Chicago. If Wednesday was a preview of what’s to come in 2018, Chicago is in for a major treat.
For more information about the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic click here.
Photos by K. Joseph Fotos. Full gallery here.