a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Story filed October 8, 1996
In recent years, a group of excellent repertory big jazz bands has sprung up around the country -- the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, directed by Wynton Marsalis; the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, led by Jon Faddis; the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller and David Baker; and the new Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra of Chicago. Itís an interesting concept showing that there is growing interest in big band jazz. While some of that interest, for some, may be based on nostalgia, that is certainly not the whole story. There is a growing recognition that the big bands have been -- and still are -- important parts of the world of jazz.
Cleveland has been far ahead of the rest of the country in this development. Cleveland has had its own repertory big band since 1984, pre-dating almost all of the big bands that are now getting national headlines.
The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, according to founder Gary Scott, was actually born in the early 1980s. "There was a rehearsal big band created in town," said Scott, "called The North Coast Jazz Orchestra. It was a band that rehearsed at Lithuanian Hall and played a few concerts." Scott and a guitar player friend, who were playing with that band, decided to form a new group "that would essentially only concertize." Scott recalled, "We presented our first concert on May 20, 1984 and since that time, we have been the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra."
By the fall of 1985, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra began presenting an annual series of subscription concerts at Cuyahoga Community Collegeís Metro Campus Auditorium, performing the music of such jazz legends as Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton with such guest artists as Louie Bellson, Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughan, Terry Gibbs, Tommy Flanagan, Milt Hinton, Clark Terry, Bill Finegan, Tex Beneke and the Four Freshmen. The CJO has also played other concerts including private parties and a series of summer outdoor performances throughout Northeast Ohio.
In 1987, Roland Paolucci of the University of Akron was hired as the director of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. He assembled an excellent corps of some of the best jazz musicians in Northeast Ohio. Many of the key members of the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra have toured with some of the major big bands, players like lead trumpeter Lou Pisani, trombonist Paul Ferguson, saxophonist Kent Englehardt and trumpeter Jack Schantz who toured with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra led by Buddy Morrow for three years and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
Schantz said, "I got off the road in 1988 and joined the CJO right away." Five years after becoming the featured trumpet soloist with the band, Schantz was appointed music director, succeeding Roland Paolucci. Schantz, who last year recorded with Oscar Peterson, has said, "Iíd like us to be on the jazz map. Iíd like us to be where anybody coming into Cleveland, like a singer or a jazz act, would want us to back them up and ask for us by name. Iíd like for us to have a couple of recordings. Iíd like us to be touring. Iíd like us to have a much broader audience than we have now."
There is little question about the Cleveland Jazz Orchestraís national reputation. Drummer Louie Bellson, after performing with the CJO, said, "The band is superb, a vital force in jazz!" Singer Tony Bennet said, "Terrific band, terrific!" The late Sarah Vaughan said, "Iíd like to take them on the road with me." The Cleveland Jazz Orchestra kicked off its 12th season of subscription concerts in Cleveland. The new season began October 4 at the Tri-C Metro Campus Auditorium with what the CJO called "The Continental Connection." The guest conductor, Joze Privsek, is the artistic director of the Radio-TV Orchestra of Slovenia. It was not only the first U.S. appearance of the internationally know composer, arranger and conductor, but the first time any well-known Slovenian big band artist has been featured in the United States. Privsek has been a leading big band force in Europe for over 30 years. He has made more than 50 records and has arranged for such artists as Art Farmer, Slide Hampton and native Clevelander Jiggs Whigham. The concert was presented in cooperation with Clevelandís Slovenian-American Heritage Foundation.
In November, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra will perform the music masterpieces of the late Gerry Mulligan in two concerts, Friday and Saturday nights, November 15 and 16, both at the Tri-C Metro Campus Auditorium.
In March, guest artist Kevin Mahogany, now one of the hottest and most versatile performers in jazz, is scheduled to sing with the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra Friday night, March 7 at Tri-C Metro and Saturday night, the 8th at the Fairmount Temple Auditorium in Beachwood. A former instrumentalist, Mahogany sings everything from blues to rock and is anxious to perform with a big band. CJO trombonist and writer Paul Ferguson is expected to do a number of new charts for the concert.
The CJO wraps up this seasonís subscription series with its annual salute to Stan Kenton, with a former Kenton soloist as the guest artist. That concert, to feature Kentonís seldom-performed "Cuban Fire," is set for May 2 at Tri-C and May 3 at the Fairmount Temple.
Of course, there will be other concerts during the coming season, including at least one performance during the annual Tri-C JazzFest.
In Cleveland, the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra continues to do what other repertory big bands around the country are just beginning to do -- play excellent big band jazz in live performances. The CJO, now nationally recognized, is a leader in the repertory big band jazz orchestra field.
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Copyright 1996 Joe Mosbrook
You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-397-9900).