It’s been a heck of a spring, for sure. We at the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra can’t wait to get back onstage and play some great big band jazz for all of you. Today we just wanted to drop a line briefly running through what we’ve got planned for when we hit the bandstand this fall – it’s pretty exciting! We’ll be really diving into what it means to be a Kansas City musical group – celebrating our city and our musical heritage.
Our season officially begins on October 2nd, but before that, on September 13th, we’ll have a reschedule of last season’s finale concert: Hallelujah I Love Her So! KCJO will be playing some uplifting arrangements of classic gospel soul tunes made famous from the likes of Mahalia Jackson, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and others. Jazz, gospel, and soul have always been complimentary music styles to one another, and as always we are thankful for the privilege to be able to bring these legendary black American songs to the big band setting. Joining us will be multi-instrumentalist, bandleader Aaron Mayfield on organ and a few surprise twists!
Getting into the season proper, we kick things off with Bird Lives: Celebrating 100 Years of Charlie Parker, on October 2nd. If there were a Jazz Mt. Rushmore, Charlie Parker would certainly be etched into the mountainside. The native Kansas Citian forever changed the language of jazz via the bebop revolution, giving musicians a new, more colorful and creative way to improvise melodies, traverse harmony, and express rhythm, all with his bluesy syntax absorbed from his hometown. For this concert we’re pulling out all the stops, including performing music from his most famous record: Charlie Parker With Strings. Along with a beautiful string section, we’re also inviting some special guest soloists, including recent transplant David Valdez – a world-renowned soloist and educator, and Jaleel Shaw – Downbeat Critics Poll winner and longtime member of jazz legend Roy Haynes’ quartet.
For your holiday pleasure, we’ll hit Helzberg Hall on December 8th and play some arrangements of longtime favorite tunes with shades of Blue Christmas permeating the music – from classic Delta to BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, from Jay McShann to Duke Ellington, we will take Rudolph, slap some Ray-Bans and a monochromatic suit on him, and get him shouting the blues until dawn. We all know Kansas City is a deep, deep blues town, and we want to show our roots even in a big band setting.
On March 5th, we are cherishing another legend with Bright Star: The Music of Mary Lou Williams. The pianist and composer got her start here with Andy Kirk’s band Clouds of Joy and developed into one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time. One of Mary Lou’s most transcendent pieces was her long-form Zodiac Suite – character pieces based on each of the zodiac signs. This iconic piece was first recorded in 1945, but fell into relative obscurity for 60 years before being revived by a combo formed in Williams’s honor in 2006. Artistic Director Clint Ashlock took her source material, and created a new arrangement of the piece for big band – taking our band members and featuring each of them on whichever movement aligns with their birthday. Please join us for this exciting, fresh work, and celebrate Women in Jazz Month via the legacy of Mary Lou Williams.
Closing out 2020-21, on May 14th we are taking it back a century ago with Boss Tom’s KC, when KC was a wide-open town that personified the Roaring 20’s as much as anywhere else in the nation. Bands played from dusk until dawn, and we’re going to take those classic tunes and adapt them for a full 18-piece jazz orchestra. The big band didn’t come into prominence until the 1930s, but in the jazz spirit, we’re taking that style and making it our own! We’re very excited to invite saxophonist, vocalist, and educator Camille Thurman to join us. Camille is well known for her association as a member of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and a singular voice in today’s jazz scene. Don’t forget to attend her education events while she’s in town, as well as all the other educational events we have scheduled for the year.
On that note, we invite you to drop by our social media pages, and our website www.kcjo.org for more details. We can’t wait to play some great music for you all. We need it now more than ever.
–Kansas City Jazz Orchestra