"Americana" Review - The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Presents a Thrilling Concert on Veterans Day

The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (The CJP) put on a moving and musically spectacular Veteran’s Day program on November 11,2016, entitled “Americana” at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress. Presented as part of the Auditorium’s American Music Series, The CJP, with guest artist Reginald Robinson, presented three exciting world premieres. Artistic Director Orbert Davis told the sold-out audience “Tonight we artists believe we have the power to help heal, to help unify the country”. Throughout the concert, an enormous backdrop was reflected on the rear wall- the stars and stripes drawn with a modern touch.

Orbert Davis and The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic ; "Cuba"

The first premiere performed was the “Home and Away Suite”, 2012, by Orbert Davis, commissioned by Boeing in partnership with the USO of Illinois. Conceived as “a salute to Illinois servicemen and women”, it opened with Davis’ modern symphonic arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner”, during which the audience was requested to stand. Featuring Dr. Roosevelt Griffin III as guest conductor, the work consisted of 2 additional movements; “Our Salute”, a strong and thrilling piece, and “The Face of The Enemy is Always Changing”, filled with shifting emotions. The music sounded like the film score for a great epic tale.

The next new composition was “Reencuentro” (Reunion), 2016, by an 18 year- old protégé of Orbert Davis, Jorge Enrique Amado Molina of Havana, Cuba, composed for The CJP and given to Davis as a gift. Before the CJP commenced the piece, we saw a film about the young creator with his family in Cuba, Davis visiting him there, receiving the work and exulting over the creation and the young man’s future. It was an impressive piece with portions which harked back to its great jazz antecedents.

"Elias Eyes"; The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

The third world premiere was Orbert Davis’ four part “The Mississippi River Suite: Black and Blues”, 2016, “inspired by the mighty river’s significance throughout history”. The stirring “tone poem” was in 4 movements; ”Rio del Espiritu Santo”, “Tributary”, “Hymn of Darkness and Light”, and “The Blues That Will Never End”. The piece in its entirety was sweeping, important and impressive.  At the first, one heard the triangles; it sounded like birds. There followed deep and ominous swells, sonic and superior. The bass player filled the Auditorium on a strong lead in this memorable work.

Another superb piece presented this evening was “Concerto for a Genius”, 2007, composed by Davis with, to honor and performed by 2004 MacArthur Fellowship winner and virtuoso pianist Reginald Robinson, aptly described by Davis as a genius as well. The piece was originally composed by Robinson, then adapted and arranged by Davis, in 4 movements, “Mr. Murphy’s Blues”, “Ansaar”, “Janet”, and “The 19th Galaxy”.

A lyrical orchestral overlay superimposed on funky ragtime renders the composition fresh and startlingly new at every turn. “Janet” was especially romantic and sexy; one could almost see the young woman who so fired the imagination. Davis described the pianist as having “A third arm”, and mentioned that instead of using the twelve available notes, “He plays thousands”- and so it seemed.

The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Also presented, and this reviewer’s favorite on the program was “Hoe-Down” from Aaron Copeland’s ballet “Rodeo”, 1942.The music is joyful and amusing. It begins "with dynamism and verve", with segments of square dance tunes; it's a cheerful romp through the wild West.

Davis is an unusual conductor; sometimes he steps aside to watrch, satisfied and thrilled. Often he veritably dances in place. And on the occasions when he picks up his trumpet? He wails; the music tears through the air! Throughout the concert, the drum solos rocked the Auditorium and the electric guitar was a brilliant and unusual touch. All of the musicians played with energy and verve, in step with each other, their conductor and the scores.

 A thrilling event in the midst of the beautifully performed concert was the presentation to the CJP of a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. The speech given describing the decision to give the award to this great orchestra could not have been a more poignant and loving tribute to Davis and the CJP. It was said “Music can change lives and heal people”- an echo of Davis’ opening remarks. Certainly this concert sent this reviewer out into the evening a more hopeful and happier American.


 For more information on The Auditorium Theatre and for tickets, go to the Auditorium Theatre website


 All photos by Darron Jones



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