Chicago Jazz Ensemble presents ‘The Birth of Jazz’

Chicago Jazz Ensemble presents ‘The Birth of Jazz’


In the wake of founder/composer/conductor William Russo’s death, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble has decided to continue performing, and will present “The Birth of Jazz” in February and March as scheduled. The third and final program of their critically and popularly acclaimed “American Heritage Jazz Series” will explore the milestones in the evolution of jazz in six concerts throughout the Chicago area. The series is supported by a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation and Columbia College Chicago, where the orchestra is in residence. The concerts will be performed in the Russo style, in memory of and as a tribute to Russo’s enormous talents.

“The Birth of Jazz” concerts focus on the music of three groups at the advent of jazz history: Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Fives and Sevens, and Bix Biederbecke’s Wolverines. All three were drawn to Chicago in the early ’20s, where the dawn of radio and the recording industry made them and Chicago famous for introducing the world to a new and uniquely American art form. “The Birth of Jazz” will feature special guest artists Franz Jackson on tenor saxophone, Johnny Frigo on jazz violin, and jazz tap dancer Bril Barrett. The CJE will also reprise several of William Russo’s works, including Russo’s 1959 arrangement of Biederbecke’s “Davenport Blues.”

Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have invented jazz, and this may well be true. The New Orleans native, born in 1890, grew up to become a virtuoso pianist and the first important jazz composer. Louis Armstrong is generally thought to be the most influential musician ever to play jazz. Born at the turn of the century in New Orleans, Armstrong was introduced to the cornet at age 14. A few years later, he was breaking new ground in jazz. When Armstrong died in 1971, Dizzy Gillespie said, “If it weren’t for him, there wouldn’t be any of us.” While Leon Bix Biederbecke’s career only spanned eight years, he was the first great white jazz musician, recognized for his command of the trumpet and unparalleled originality.

The Chicago Jazz Ensemble will perform at 8 p.m., March 7, at Rockford College’s Maddox Theater, 5050 E. State St., Rockford. Tickets are $25 ($20 seniors/$15 students). Info./Tickets: (312) 344-6245.

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