Black Studies Program


The Jazz Heritage Orchestra, a professional 17-piece performance/education aggregation, is an affiliate of the Cleveland State University Black Studies Program. The orchestra is composed of outstanding jazz performers who are also highly competent music educators.

The orchestra was formed as a result of an exploratory meeting on June 11, 1998. A small group of musicians and non-musicians were invited by the director of Black Studies to meet at Cleveland State University to consider establishing a professional jazz orchestra. This committee envisioned the establishment of a world-class orchestra that would present jazz to all strata of society. Others were invited to subsequent meetings and the group organized itself into a board of trustees. The trustees decreed that a major mission of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra would be to preserve and perpetuate the musical heritage of the great African American jazz masters who were primary creators and major innovators in the art of jazz. Additionally the mission of the orchestra is to create a valuable and unique legacy of its own.

In the process of planning to provide musical enrichment for the current jazz lovers of the world, the organizers of this orchestra were keenly aware of the fact that many Americans, of all ages and demographic groups, had few if any opportunities to experience excellent jazz music through the popular media of radio and television. The trustees noted that African Americans were often conspicuously absence from jazz concerts and jazz festivals. There was serious concern among board members that in the African American communities, which gave birth to jazz, that interest in this art form has diminished. Young African Americans in particular had almost no knowledge of this music because they seldom hear it in their daily lives. There was concern that there were few African American youth enrolled in jazz camps, clinics and workshops, and that very few African American students enroll in college and university jazz studies programs. It was noted that the diminished interest in jazz impacted a vast segment of the African American population, which has been estranged from a very rich and vital part of its cultural and artistic heritage.

Therefore, it was decided that a very special mission of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra would be to target and educate young African Americans, as well as the general public about the music. The special mission is to make this excellent jazz accessible to the African-American community and most especially to young people of the inner city. Members of the orchestra are prepared to share this music with K-12 students and to demonstrate how musical excellence is achieved through discipline and investment of arduous study. They seek to engender a love for this music and to nurture the musical interests of young African Americans and others who may be induced to listen and to play jazz. The planners of this orchestra believe that the rewards to young people will not only be the joy and enrichment, which comes from the musical experience, but also the experience of hearing great music and learning to make music will enrich the lives of young people and enhance their efforts in other academic pursuits. While the orchestra wishes to share its music with the world, there is a special goal of taking this music to the underserved to further develop and expand the jazz audience in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere.

At the very first public appearance on September 18, 1998, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra presented an independent showcase as part of the Midwest Arts Conference that met in Cleveland, Ohio. The showcase held at the Club Upstairs at  Diamondback Brewery and Restaurant in downtown Cleveland was the actual "birthplace" of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra. On this occasion, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra received a standing ovation from the standing room only crowd. The orchestra's first formal concert was held on November 1, 1998, before a very appreciative standing room only audience in the Drinko Recital Hall at Cleveland State University. On January 17, 1999, the orchestra performed as part of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Cuyahoga Community College before a wildly enthusiastic audience that filled the main auditorium plus a theater where the audience watched on closed circuit television. The audience did not want the orchestra to leave the stage. Most members of this audience had no prior knowledge of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra and had been attracted to the program to hear the main speaker of the occasion, Tavis Smiley, a television personality of Black Entertainment Television (BET), who jokingly asked the program chairperson to never again schedule him to speak following the Jazz Heritage Orchestra. If the wonderful music and great excitement generated by these musicians at their performances to date are indicative of future audience responses, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra can be expected to carve out a significant niche in the music world.

Through the auspices of the Cleveland State University Black Studies Program, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra is available for concerts, educational seminars, clinics, and workshops throughout the United States of America and around the world.