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Jazz orchestra celebrates art form

The world of music lovers can thank America for jazz. Sure, the U-S of A has kicked down a load of recognizable genres, but arguably the one genre that spread quickly around the world is jazz. Globally influential and universally appealing, in many cases when music is used for some form of score heard in other mediums it’s jazz. With major players including Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker, Miles Davis to Chick Corea, it’s hard to find any current musician of any genre who wouldn’t name at least one jazz player who was influential. It’s also safe to say that even the most average square-john who wouldn’t give any genre the time of day likely knows a jazz melody or two.

Jazz music will be celebrated in Durango on Sunday by the Civic Winds Jazz Orchestra, when they perform a number of jazz pieces at Christ the King Lutheran Church.

If you go

WHAT: Jazz with Civic Winds Jazz Orchestra.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Christ the King Lutheran Church, 495 Florida Road.

TICKETS: $15 for adults/students are free.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit southwestcivicwinds.org.

It’s a solid tribute to this American art form.

“Jazz is America’s music,” said Jared Wright, trumpet player and artistic director in the Orchestra. “It’s our gift to the world. It wasn’t born anywhere else, it was born right here in the United States, and every time the Civic Winds Jazz Orchestra performs, we are paying tribute to that art form.”

They are part of the local orchestra Southwest Civic Winds, a parent group of the Jazz Orchestra that is made up of some professional musicians, and some who just never put their instrument down while pursuing other fields: The common thread of the musicians is, of course, a love of jazz.

“It’s a performing ensemble in an ‘Ellington-style’ jazz-setting,” Wright said. “So we have five saxophones, four trombones, and a full rhythm section, bass, drums and piano. All the music that we play is arranged for jazz big band, so we play everything from the classics of the mid-1930s to the 1950s, all the way to contemporary jazz arrangements.”

But where do they begin when putting together a set-list? The jazz canon is huge, with thousands of songs to choose from. Sunday’s performance will feature some familiar and some nontraditional, with pieces from Duke Ellington, Henry Mancini and even Maynard Ferguson’s take on a Fab Four classic; the building of the set-list the orchestra performs is a nonstop project for Wright.

“The process for me is kind of random. I’ve always got a playlist going on my phone, ‘’I’ve always got a playlist going at home and it’s split between lots of different genres,” he said. “A lot of times the musicians themselves will send me a suggestion, like ‘hey, can we play this?’ or ‘hey, I was recently listening to such and such, what do you think of this?’ Then I’ll just fall down the rabbit hole and start to pick. Eventually, there’s a list of 25 or 30 tunes and I just start the process of elimination until I get it pared down to about an hour or an hour and 10 minutes’ worth of music, and that’s the setlist.”

Like a lot of performances and bands in Durango, a show like this is all about education. Broadening your musical palette is a good thing, and an unwritten mission of the orchestra is to introduce ears to this American art form.

“What’s nice is it gives us an opportunity to put music out there for the people who are familiar with it, as well as people who are hearing it for the very first time,” Wright said. “And that’ the wonderful thing about jazz – we can pick something like ‘C Jam Blues’ by Duke Ellington; that will be something a lot of the older crowd will have heard, but young kids may have never heard before. So, it gives us an opportunity to expose them to that world.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. Reach him at liggett_b@fortlewis.edu.