Black Studies Program


The Jazz Heritage Orchestra is a professional 17-piece not-for-profit performance/education aggregation which is officially in residence in the Cleveland State University Black Studies Program. The orchestra is composed of outstanding jazz performers who are also highly competent music educators.

The Jazz Heritage Orchestra was formed as a result of an exploratory meeting on June 11, 1998, of a small group of musicians and non-musicians who were invited by the CSU director of Black Studies to meet at Cleveland State University to consider establishing a professional jazz orchestra. This planning committee envisioned the establishment of a world-class orchestra which would present jazz to all strata of society. Others were invited to a subsequent meeting and the group organized itself into a board of trustees; additional trustees have since been added. 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 the primary creators and the major innovators of the art of jazz. The orchestra's mission is also 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 and even disturbed by the fact that many Americans of all ages and of all demographic groups have few if any opportunities to experience excellent jazz music through the popular media of radio and television. The trustees noted that African Americans are often conspicuous by their absence from jazz concerts and jazz festivals. There was serious concern among members of the board of trustees that in the African American communities which gave birth to jazz, interest in this art form has diminished, and that young African Americans in particular have almost no knowledge of this music as they seldom hear it in their daily lives. There was concern that there are few African American youth enrolled in jazz camps, jazz clinics and workshops and that only a very few African American students enroll in college and university jazz studies programs. It was noted that with the diminished interest in jazz, a vast segment of the African American population was 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 to educate young African Americans as well as the general public about this music. This special mission is to make 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 go into the schools and share this music with elementary and secondary students, and to demonstrate how musical excellence is achieved through discipline and through the investment of arduous study. They will 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 to it and to play it. 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 that the experience of hearing great music and of 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 under served and to further develop and expand the jazz audience in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere.

At its very first public appearance on September 18, 1998, the Jazz Heritage Orchestra presented an independent showcase as part of the Midwest Arts Conference which met in Cleveland, Ohio in September 1998. The showcase held at the Club Upstairs at the Diamondback Brewery and Restaurant in downtown Cleveland was the actual "birth" 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 in a concert hall was held on November 1, 1998, before a very appreciative standing room only audience in the Drinko Recital Hall on the campus of Cleveland State University. On January 17, 1999, the orchestra performed as part of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. celebration at Cleveland's 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 knowledge of the Jazz Heritage Orchestra and had been attracted to the program to hear the main speaker of the occasion, the nationally popular television personality of Black Entertainment Television (BET), Tavis Smiley, 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.