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Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

Chicago, IL         

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic combines jazz and classical to create new, evolved, “third stream” musical experiences at home and around the world. CJP’s third stream approach unites diverse perspectives, expanding the possibilities of what music brings to life for students, musicians, audiences, and communities.

Since its groundbreaking debut as the headliner of the 2004 Chicago Jazz Festival, the 60-member symphonic jazz orchestra of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic has delivered stellar performances and a string of world premieres locally at Chicago’s Auditorium Theater, Jazz Festival, Millennium Park, Symphony Center, and more.  While its repertoire has been largely built with new compositions from its founder Orbert Davis, the organization has commissioned third stream composer Daniel Schnyder, and collaborated with several living composers on orchestral arrangements of their works including Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, Reginald Robinson,  and the musicians of Trio Globo.  In the coming year the orchestra will world premiere a debut work from young Cuban composer Jorge Enrique Amado Molina.  In addition, the orchestra has performed works from Gunther Schuller and orchestral arrangements of American songbook classics from Duke Ellington, Bill Strayhorn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Aaron Copland.  

Orchestra members are drawn from notable Chicago-based jazz artists and professional classical musicians. According to the late Gunther Schuller, the composer who coined the genre term “Third Stream” in 1957, there is currently no other ensemble in the U.S. presenting Third Stream as large as the scale the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic has embarked on, and only one other in the world. 

 Jazz Alive, the CJP arts education program, provides music instruction for under-served Chicago Public School students, and currently serves nearly 900 students in weekly music and band instruction across 12 elementary schools. The out-of-school Jazz Academy attracts young musicians from across the metropolitan area to participate in weekly Saturday programs and a two-week intensive summer camp.  

What began over ten years ago as Orbert Davis’ dream for a symphonic orchestra capable of blending the best of jazz and classical music, has become a metaphor and artistic vehicle for the merging of so much more, locally and worldwide.  Needs being addressed by CJP performance and education programs include:

Providing access to quality performance and education programs: CJP programs are intentionally mounted in areas of cultural and socio-economic need.  While some performances may take place downtown at major cultural venues, others are programmed in community venues throughout the Chicagoland area.  Education programs target schools and communities with little to no music programs and ensure there is no financial barrier to access. 

Developing and diversifying audiences: The experience of being a CJP audience member is incomparable to purely jazz or classical experiences.  Chicago Jazz Philharmonic concert-goers blend these disparate audiences, and come from the most diverse communities, ethnicities, multi-generational ages, and socio-economic status – representing the depth and breadth of our cities’ peoples. 

Cultivating well-rounded musicians: CJP is cultivating a new movement and generation of musicians that can perform fluently across various genres, breaking down barriers in higher education institutions, and connecting players that would not ever otherwise had the opportunity to collaborate and perform together.

Connecting global cultures: CJP’s international residency program travels a core of orchestra musicians to partner with orchestras in other music hubs worldwide to mount exchanges and performances.  CJP’s most recent triumph “Scenes from Life: Cuba!” brought an unprecedented 35 Cuban student musicians from Havana to join forces with its Chicago orchestra to produce a historical performance symbolic of what cultural diplomacy can do to bridge international gaps and differences. 

With a 4-person staff and 10-member board, employing over 60 musicians and 15 teaching artists, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic is in a stable position having just completed a 10th Anniversary milestone year at a new budget level of approximately $800,000. Most recently the organization’s achievements were recognized with the prestigious 2016 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.  Thoughtful artistic and program planning continue to serve as the organization’s strategic blueprint from which we plan to continue this growth well into the next decade.

As CJP enters its second decade, our dreams include expanding and deepening international partnerships, strengthening ties with local Chicago communities through performance and education programs that reflect the particular needs of our home city, and establishing a physical facility that will house rehearsal space, music instruction, and practice studios, to attract cross-genre music learners of all ages and levels.

“The Chicago River”

Chicago Jazz Philharmonic premieres Orbert Davis'”The Chicago River” in May 2013 at Symphony Center (Chicago).

This work is a “tone painting” of Chicago River’s transformation into a toxic waste receptacle following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as depicted from a book of photos entitled “The Lost Panoramas”, the inspiration for the five-movement work.

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CJP and the Third Stream

A profile of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and its unique ‘Third Stream’ repertoire, as represented by its founder, Orbert Davis, and musicians of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic.

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Concertino for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra – Mvmt. III “Fast”

Composed by Gunther Schuller, who coined the term “Third Stream” in 1957 to identify music that combines jazz and classical genres, this work is a prime example of this genre at its highest level of artistry. In a program supported by New Music USA and the National Endowment for the Arts, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic interprets this work with its own style of “swing” in a February 2015 program that gave tribute to this now 89 year-old composer.

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