Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (“CJP”), under director and co-founder Orbert Davis is one of Chicago’s treasures. Founded in 2004 by Davis and Mark Ingram, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic provides rich, accessible, multi-cultural music that bridges the gap between jazz and classical music. On Monday night, July 16th, in beautiful Millennium Park, the CJP, in partnership with the South African Consulate, presented Hope In Action: A Nelson Mandela Centennial. The concert was part of a year-long celebration of Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday on Wednesday, July 18. Orbert Davis originally composed the piece 10 years ago to celebrate Mandela’s 90th birthday and it was just as fresh 10 years later.
Mandella’s life and the ideals he stood for are an influence on many, including Davis. “The inspiration to compose this work for the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic comes from the many parallels I can draw between Mandela’s ideals of perseverance, his mission for diversity, reconciliation and equality,” Davis said, “and how the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s mission mirrors these ideals both externally and internally.”
The night started out with the 60+ member Chicago Jazz Philharmonic doing what they do best: swinging and moving. They nimbly played songs that bounced from classical set pieces to songs written for jazz bands. Their expertise in the genre-bending is truly astounding.
The focal point was their leader: Orbert Davis. He introduced the songs with his charismatic style and a smile you could probably see across Lake Michigan. He emphatically directed the philharmonic, waving his arms and swaying his hips, but his energy was taken to another level when he blew his trumpet. Davis is a dynamo with the trumpet and at points still managed to conduct the orchestra while playing at the same time. Truly a master.
Next on the program was jazz vocalist Dee Alexander. Davis introduced her as an “empress” and she lived up to that lofty title. Her voice was full of passion and bravado as she performed songs with high flying swing and scat-filled romps. The combination of Ms. Alexander’s style and grace with the CJP sweeping music will not be forgotten anytime soon.
After that it was time for the main attraction: the four movement Hope in Action. The composition weaved classical music with jazz and South African melodies. Two special guests joined the stage. The first was saxophonist Rajiv Halim, who played multiple saxophones – including one that was as tall as he was.
The second guest was orator Ron OJ Parsons. Parsons spoke the words of Nelson Mandella which displayed the values of selflessness, forgiveness, justice and equality for all. The overall presentation of the music from the CJP with the words of Mandella was emotionally moving to all in attendance.
The program culminated in a grand chorus of the CJP Jazz academy Youth Choir. It was a perfect way to end the night by symbolically taking the message of Mandella and passing it to the next generation. Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic provided the perfect tribute to Nelson Mandella’s legacy.
For more information about the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic including their upcoming Jazz Fest Concert click here.
Photos by K. Joseph Fotos. Full gallery here.