Chicago Jazz Philharmonic led by NU alumnus performs multiple world premieres


Source: Darron Jones

Orbert Davis (Bienen ’97) will present the world premiere of a four-movement work performed by the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic on Friday.

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter


Every year for the past 11 years, Orbert Davis (Bienen ’97) has written one or two world premieres for the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic.

The latest of these will be performed Friday at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre, along with the world premiere of a piece written by an 18-year-old Cuban musician.

Davis has always immersed himself in both classical and jazz music, he said. Currently serving as the artistic director of the CJP, he created the 60-piece orchestra in 2007 to bridge elements from the two distinct genres and create an entirely new ensemble.

Musicians of all sorts make up the CJP, Davis said, including performers who are strictly trained in either the classical or jazz genre, as well as “studio musicians” — instrumentalists who play all styles of music.

“Jazz does not close itself up from being the forefront of other styles as much as the tradition of classical music does,” Davis said. “Classical music is based on what the composer wrote … You don’t change it, it doesn’t need changing, it’s already genius. But when you combine that with the jazz aesthetic there is something quite remarkable that comes of that.”

Davis, an accomplished trumpet player and conductor, also composes and arranges nearly all of the music CJP plays. The bookends of the “Americana” concert will feature two major works Davis wrote: “Home and Away Suite” and “The Mississippi River Suite: Black and Blues.”

The CJP also has a significant educational component, bassist Stewart Miller said. Miller teaches at the CJP’s Jazz Academy, a weekly workshop that reaches out to at-risk students in schools in Chicago’s South and West sides.

In 2014, Davis and members of the CJP traveled to Cuba to work with student musicians. The second day of their trip, President Barack Obama announced the opening of the borders between the United States and Cuba, and the CPJ devised a plan to invite 37 Cuban students to come to Chicago and perform at the Auditorium Theatre.

“They’ll tell you it changed their lives, (but) it really changed all of our lives,” Davis said. “Parents would cry and say this is something that his family has dreamt about since the 40s — coming to the United States and being offered that to their child.”

One of these students is 18-year-old Cuban composer Jorge Enrique Amado, whose piece “Reencuentro (Reunion)” was inspired by his trip to Chicago and will make its world premiere at the CPJ’s concert on Friday.

“Jorge just didn’t stand out. He was a quiet kid … who sat last chair in the second violins,” Davis said. “But he’s absolutely phenomenal. He has an amazing future.”

Miller, who has been part of CJP since its inception, said the orchestra has become an identifiable voice in the Chicago area and beyond.

“Orbert’s music is really deep, meaty, thoughtful music,” Miller said. “Just being associated with someone like Orbert is great. He just loves life, loves music and loves people. He’s an inspiration to a lot of us, including me.”

Davis said his orchestra defies the typical classical structure — musicians can sit wherever they want and everyone is encouraged to “just have fun.”

Guest soloist and pianist Reginald Robinson has known Davis for 30 years, he said, and this will be his second time performing with the CJP, following the organization’s inaugural year. He will be featured on Friday’s concert, performing a Ragtime concerto.

“It’s a thrill playing for the audience and sharing my music again,” Robinson said. “It’s great I get a chance to work with these great musicians.”

Davis said he anticipates more than a thousand people will attend the concert Friday night at Auditorium Theatre.

“There’s no greater feeling than standing in front of an orchestra and hearing back something that started as an idea in my head,” Davis said. “When I’m in front of that orchestra and we’re playing in Auditorium Theatre, it’s just the most unbelievable feeling in the world.”

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