Concert Series


Jazz Heritage Orchestra - Department of Africana Studies  

The Jazz Heritage Orchestra, a professional 17-piece performance, and education ensemble is an affiliate of the Cleveland State University Department of Africana Studies. The orchestra is composed of outstanding jazz performers who are also highly competent music educators.

The orchestra was formed as a result of an exploratory meeting on June 11, 1998. A small group of musicians and non-musicians were invited by Dr. Howard A. Mims, director of the Department of Africana Studies, to meet at Cleveland State University to consider establishing a professional jazz orchestra. This committee envisioned the establishment of a world-class orchestra that would present jazz to all strata of society. Others were invited to subsequent meetings and the group organized itself into a board of trustees. The trustees decreed that a major mission of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra would be to preserve and perpetuate the musical heritage of the great African American jazz masters who were primary creators and major innovators in the art of jazz. Additionally, the mission of the orchestra was to create a valuable and unique legacy of its own.

In the process of planning musical enrichment for the current jazz lovers of the world, the organizers of the orchestra were keenly aware that many Americans had few opportunities to experience excellent jazz music through radio and television. The trustees noted that African Americans were often conspicuously absent from jazz concerts and jazz festivals. There was serious concern among board members that in the African American community, which gave birth to jazz, that interest in this art form had diminished. Young African Americans, in particular, had almost no knowledge of this music because they seldom heard it in their daily lives. There was concern that there were few African American youth enrolled in jazz camps, clinics, and workshops. Additionally, there were very few African American students enroll in college and university jazz studies programs. The diminished interest in jazz has impacted a vast segment of the African American population, which has been estranged from a very rich and vital part of its cultural and artistic heritage.

Therefore, it was decided that a very special mission of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra would be to target and educate young African Americans, as well as the general public about the music. The special mission was to make this excellent jazz accessible to the African American community, especially to young people of the inner city. Members of the orchestra were prepared to share this music with K-12 students and to demonstrate how musical excellence could be achieved through discipline and dedicated study. They sought to engender a love for this music and to nurture the musical interests of young African Americans and others who had a fondness for jazz. Not only did the planners of this orchestra believe that the rewards to young people would be joy and enrichment, but also the experience of hearing and learning to make great music. In short, they understood that jazz would enrich the lives of young people and enhance their efforts in other academic pursuits. While the orchestra wished to share its music with the world, there was a special goal of taking this music to underserved populations to further develop and expand the jazz audience in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere.

At the very first public appearance on September 18, 1998, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra presented an independent showcase as part of the Midwest Arts Conference that met in Cleveland, Ohio. The showcase held at the Club Upstairs at Diamondback Brewery and Restaurant in downtown Cleveland was the actual "birthplace" of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra. On this occasion with a packed audience, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra received a standing ovation. The orchestra's first formal concert was held on November 1, 1998, before another standing room only audience in Drinko Recital Hall at Cleveland State University. On January 17, 1999, the orchestra performed as part of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Cuyahoga Community College before a wildly enthusiastic audience that filled the main auditorium and theater, where the audience watched on closed circuit television. The audience did not want the orchestra to leave the stage. Audience members had no prior knowledge of Jazz Heritage Orchestra and were attracted to the program to hear the main speaker, Tavis Smiley, a television personality of Black Entertainment Television (BET). He jokingly asked the program chairperson to never again schedule him to speak following Jazz Heritage Orchestra.

If the wonderful music and great excitement generated by these musicians at their performances to date are indicative of future audience responses, Jazz Heritage Orchestra can be expected to carve out a significant niche in the music world.

Through the auspices of the Cleveland State University Department of Africana Studies, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra is available for concerts, educational seminars, clinics, and workshops throughout the United States and around the world.