Thursday, March 13, 2014

Q&A with Orbert Davis of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic

On March 22, Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Ensemble celebrate the rich musical culture of New Orleans in an evening of ragtime melodies, brass band marches, funeral processions, and more at the MAC. The concert includes the premiere of Survival of the Saints, a new work by Orbert Davis honoring the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Featured guest artists include Reginald Robinson, recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant for his innovative ragtime compositions, and Grammy Award winning musician Howard Levy. To help build excitement for this new piece and the concert at the MAC, we asked Artistic Director Orbert Davis a few questions:

Why are you excited for the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s debut performance at the MAC, which has a strong history of great jazz programming?
The MAC is indeed a terrific venue for presenting jazz. I have performed there with my smaller groups (quartet and quintet), in addition to being a guest artist with the COD Jazz Ensemble. So performing there with the Chamber Ensemble feels like a continuation and extension of a great relationship. The College of DuPage has been so supportive of jazz in the Chicago area. The College’s jazz station 90.9 WDCB is the home of my Friday night radio broadcast, the Real Deal!

Can you tell me about the inspiration for your new work “Survival of the Saints?
New Orleans is one of my favorite cities, and of course I know a lot of musicians from there.  So I had a very strong personal reaction as Hurricane Katrina hit and I witnessed the storm and its aftermath.  Katrina affected everyone in the city. It’s a universal experience that everyone shared. And perhaps because of that, there is a spirit of community and a will to survive among the residents that has astonished me. Everyone says, “We will get through this”, not “I will get through this”.  You can hear that tenacity and strength even in the music of the street artists, reflecting what they’ve gone through and how they’ve survived.

Will MAC audiences notice a festive quality to this piece that will be performed just weeks after the ultimate Mardi Gras celebration in the Big Easy this March?
We’re calling this “Carnival” for a reason! The music is going to move you from the beginning to the end. We’ll be celebrating with music of legendary artists like Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Doctor John, and so many more. There will be ragtime melodies, brass band marches, Indian Mardi Gras music … If someone doesn’t feel anything, we will have to check their pulse!
Will audiences hear your signature trumpet solos in the upcoming concert at the MAC?
Oh yes, there will be trumpet solos in my new piece and throughout the concert.

Can you tell us more about any special guest performers who will be joining you on stage at the MAC?
Howard Levy and Reginald Robinson are not only masters of virtuosity; they are emblematic expressions of wide-ranging musical and cultural traditions. Reginald of course is a recognized innovator of ragtime music, bringing a contemporary energy to this early jazz style. Howard, although he is not from New Orleans, truly reflects the multi-cultural and multi-national traditions, the different forms and styles of music, that mingled in New Orleans and gave birth to the music we now call jazz.  I have known both these artists for a while and am so excited to have them join us at the MAC.
Reginald was a guest artist with the CJP in 2012, when we performed one of his original compositions.
Howard was a guest on my radio show the Real Deal in November and talked about his musical influences and current projects.

Tickets for Chicago Jazz Philharmonic at the MAC March 22 at 8 p.m. are available by calling the MAC Box Office at (630) 942-4000 or

JOIN US for a Pre-Performance Taste of Mardi Gras!
MAC Belushi Performance Hall Lobby; 6:30 p.m.

Includes Andouille Sausage and Smoked Chicken Gumbo, Vegetable Jambalya, Classic Mini Muffaletta, Mini Mardi Gras Cupcakes

$12 Tickets must be purchased by Wednesday, March 19. Limited availability. Tickets: (630) 942-4000 or

Howard Levy - See full bio at www.levyland.comReginald Robinson - See full bio at