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Jazz Moves Columbus

The Columbus Jazz Orchestra has developed a comprehensive plan to "raise the bar" and become a premier arts organization with the Columbus, Ohio community, as well as a premier jazz orchestra on a national basis. As one of the few full-time jazz orchestras in the United States, the Columbus Jazz Orchestra tapped trumpeter Byron Stripling as artistic director to inspire the organization to rise to a higher level, both artistically and financially. For the CJO has been profitable for most of its 33-year existence-an achievement that no other jazz orchestra can claim. In addition to new recording activities and educational ventures, the CJO for each of the past two years has integrated jazz with other groups within the Columbus arts community. Last year, students from The Columbus School of Art and Design painted in front of the stage as the CJO performed; the audiences each night had the opportunity to see the results of the artists’ interpretations of the music.

This year, the CJO has collaborated with Ballet Met Columbus under the direction of artistic director Gerard Charles. And the results were astounding.

Program annotator, local trumpeter and band leader Arnett Howard traces the history of jazz and dance in Columbus, the town from which Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Don Patterson, Rusty Bryant, "Sweets" Edison and Nancy Wilson emerged. And indeed, there is a natural affinity between the invigoration created by jazz and the sometimes irresistible urge to dance to it. Jazz Moves made evident such integration between the arts, as the choreographers Stella Kane, Harrison McEldowney and Margo Sappington borrowed from various other dance styles, such as the jitterbug and the fox trot, to express visually the spirit of jazz.

The concert started quietly as pianist Bobby Floyd pensively introduced as a solo Marian McPartland’s "Ambiance" before he eventually was joined by the full orchestra. With chronological progression, the evening’s music moved from the 1920s mannered "You Can Dance with Any Girl at All" to end with Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays’ "Minuano," a swirling six-eight piece establishing the flow for the dancers’ final statement of the evening.

Rather than forcing jazz dancing into the mannerisms of classical ballet, the dancers instead showed obvious pleasure instead in applying their considerable talent to heighten the moves suggested by the jazz. On Denzil Best’s "Move," for instance, the dancers artistically scurried helter-skelter across the stage in a terpsichorean dramatization suggesting bustling metropolitan city streets. Or, Adrienne Benz’s dancing to the "Bugle Call Rag" was full of suggestive imagery-patriotic parading, joyous strutting, comic salutes.

The Columbus Jazz Orchestra performed most of the evening as a supremely cohesive unit, particularly on "Minuano," relatively few solos occurring. Those infrequent solos, though, were extended, distinctive and of the moment, such as those by saxophonist Chad Eby, intentionally raspy and minimalistic, and flutist Pete Mills, haunting and relaxed.

The high point of the evening, though, occurred just before intermission, rather than at the conclusion, when Ballet Met Columbus and the Columbus Jazz Orchestra performed James Cleveland’s "Get Right Church," a foot-stomping gospel number made all the more rousing by Floyd’s growling, unrestrained organ accompaniment. And by Stripling’s James Brown-like beseeching and physical command of the stage as he whipped the audience into exhilarated applause. And by dancer Jeff Wolfe's transcendence into an unstoppable spiritual fervor taking possession of his "happy feet" until Wolfe had to be pulled off stage.

Jazz Moves clearly is a high point for the Columbus Jazz Orchestra’s plan to integrate jazz with other Columbus arts organizations. In addition, the concert is an aesthetic triumph of original choreography, some local arrangements and new compositions mixed with classics like "Come Sunday." As jazz on a national basis seeks relevance and popularity, the achievements of the Columbus Jazz Orchestra may offer some benchmarks for reaching out to the community and instilling excitement for the music. The reaction of the audience to Jazz Moves proves that the program is an unqualified success. One hopes that a DVD of Jazz Moves was made to capture this singular event and to provide inspiration for similar future collaborations in other communities.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Columbus Jazz Orchestra
  • Concert Date: 4/28/2006
  • Subtitle: Columbus Jazz Orchestra and Ballet Met Create First-Time Full-Length Production
  • Venue: Ohio Theater
  • City State Country: Columbus, Ohio
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