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Ohio State University Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Lab Big Band to pay tribute to historical musicians

The OSU Jazz Lab Big Band performs at the Clintonville Women’s Club. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Jazz Lab Big Band

Both the Ohio State University Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Lab Big Band have a busy schedule in the upcoming days as they prepare for tribute shows in honor of Charles Mingus and The Harlem & Chicago Renaissance movements.

The Jazz Ensemble, directed by Kristopher Keith, will take on the works of Charles Mingus in its show “Freedoom” at 8 p.m. on Friday at Weigel Auditorium.

Keith, who has been the director of the Jazz Ensemble since 2014, said Mingus had a unique sound and the band hopes to feature his music in an honorable way.

“The concert would be a great way to reflect on his voice and impact, as he had a strong political but sometimes joyous sound,” Keith said.

Mingus’ work often reflects the life experiences he lived, whether that be racism, discrimination, injustice or love.

Mike Smith, who is a member of the Ohio State jazz studies faculty and will join the ensemble as orator, said even though Mingus died in 1979, “he’s coming into his own” — people are just recently starting to fully appreciate his work.

The Jazz Lab Big Band, under the direction of Smith, will be presenting “Echoes of Harlem… and Chicago” at 7:45 p.m. on Monday.

The Mingus concert is going to feature some of his most notable works, including “Moanin’” and “Better Git Hit in Your Soul,” as well as lesser known works like “Reincarnation of a Lovebird.”

When speaking on Mingus, both Keith and Smith brought up the importance of his impact on politics as well as jazz. Smith said the selections will “get into the political realm,” with tracks like “Freedom” and “Fables of Faubus” particularly having an impact — with the latter being written about the Little Rock Nine.

“There’s going to be a wide variation of pieces at that show,” Smith said.

Keith said the lyrics in Mingus’ work that refer to violence among other things “are sadly still relevant to this day.”

“With all the social events and the political climate of the country, it makes Mingus’ work and this concert very important,” Keith said.

This won’t be the only jazz concert at Weigel Auditorium in the next week.

The Jazz Lab Big Band, under the direction of Smith, will present “Echoes of Harlem…and Chicago” at 7:45 p.m. on Monday.

This show will focus on the Negro Renaissance, which stemmed from literary movements and moved to other art forms, including jazz.

The concert will pay homage to many of the great musicians of the time, with the band performing music from legendary names such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway, Sissle and Blake, James P. Johnson and James Reese Europe.

Smith said both concerts celebrate great jazz composers.

“Jazz is still very actively being created, celebrated, performed, composed. It’s still a part of the musical landscape, but these concerts celebrate a time where interesting things were happening politically and artistically,” Smith said. “These were times when great big jazz giants came to the forefront of music.”

“Echoes of Harlem…and Chicago” will also feature traditional dancing from the era, choreographed by Quianna Simpson under the mentorship of Suzan Bradford, as well as a pre-concert lecture by Ted McDaniel, Ohio State professor emeritus.

“The music is so dear to me and my whole life experience so to have an opportunity to share it with these students is special,” Keith said. “Giving it the time it deserves is a valuable thing and it makes me happy I’m able to present this music to an audience. It’s also a chance for the students involved to grow musically.”

The Jazz Ensemble’s show titled “Freedom” will take place at 8 p.m. Friday in Weigel Auditorium. The Jazz Lab Big band’s show titled, “Echoes of Harlem…and Chicago” takes place at 8 p.m. Monday in Weigel Auditiorium. Both shows will be streamed on YouTube. Admission is free for both concerts.

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