Jazz Comes to Symphony in a New Concert Series

Conducting Electricity

Tony Nickle, Vice President & Artistic Administrator, Photo by Chad Dennis

The Symphony is thrilled to launch its inaugural Jazz Series this season. Jazz is one of, if not the most, significant artistic contributions to have ever come from the United States. It was born from the collision of several different musical styles shared by a diverse population in late 19th to early 20th-century New Orleans. It was the most diverse city in the South at the time, and the confluence of cultures of African, Caribbean and Western European descent ignited a chemical reaction of musical styles, at times gradually and at others in rapid fits. Aspects of blues, gospel, ragtime and the European classical style stirred together to create an entirely new genre—a melting pot that was distinctly American. 

 Jacksonville held an important place in the early years of jazz. In the latter part of the 19th century, Jacksonville grew into an African American cultural exchange partner with New Orleans, and the neighborhood of LaVilla was at its epicenter. Early jazz pioneers like Jelly Roll Morton spent significant time here, bringing the neophyte genre of jazz to the Bold City of the South. The great Duke Ellington was also a regular visitor, so much so that he wrote an orchestral work for the Jacksonville Symphony in the early 1970s shortly before his death. 

 One distinct aspect of Jazz that sets it apart from many other genres is its deep connection with improvisation. Musicians have basic harmonic or structural pillars, but within those pillars, they are given freedom to create spontaneous variations on melodies, phrases or even small motivic ideas. It is not necessarily more difficult or even easier than playing music that is fully realized on a page, but rather, it is an entirely different musical language. 

 In launching the new Jazz Series, the Symphony will present three electric and unique programs in Jacoby Symphony Hall, each featuring jazz musicians at the top of their game. Let’s take a look: 

 At the nucleus of the series is the Jacksonville Jazz Collective (JJC), a group of local jazzers led by Director James Jenkins, who also plays as principal tuba in the Symphony. At its largest, the Collective makes up a big band, an 18+ piece ensemble like those once led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Benny Goodman with trumpets, saxes, trombones and a rhythm section at its core. This is the ensemble we’ll see for the first concert on November 19 in a program that reveals the East and West Coasts’ different stylistic approaches to Big Band music. 

 On January 21, we’ll get to hear the JJC in a much more intimate setting with music centered on the trios that rose to prominence in the mid-20th century. Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans and even Nat Cole (before he became “King”) are a few of the stars of this style whose music you’ll hear. We’ll also feature four stellar jazz pianists throughout the program. 

 Concluding the season’s series on May 5 will be superstar jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard, joined by his quintet, E-Collective, and by the Turtle Island (String) Quartet, who live in both the classical and jazz worlds! This incredibly unique touring project features the music of the great Wayne Shorter as well as Blanchard’s original music. Blanchard is at the height of the music world right now with multiple GRAMMYs® for performance and composition. He’s also written two operas that have been performed or premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in the past two years: Champion and Fire Shut Up in My Bones. 

 One of the greatest core values of the Jacksonville Symphony is to be a vehicle for music for all of Jacksonville, and the addition of jazz to our season brings one of the greatest musical genres into our wide variety of offerings. Each of these three programs is absolutely unique and not to be missed.