Tonight, the 17-piece big band, Jewel City Jazz Orchestra, Swings at Black Sheep Stage
HUNTINGTON - Back in the summer, a car load of locally-based professional musicians were rolling back from a gig at the State Fair of West Virginia and began talking about how cool it would be to someday breathe life into a new professional jazz big band.That band is the Jewel City Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece professional big band - organized by Bobby Jenks and Jeff Wolfe - and featuring a who’s who of who’s hot professional players from the region.Since February, the Jewel City Jazz Orchestra has been playing from 7 to 9 p.m. every second Monday of the month at Black Sheep Stage, 279 9th St., Pullman Square, Huntington.Tonight, May 13 will be their last Black Sheep Stage for the summer. Other 2019 planned dates are: Sept. 9, Oct. 14 and Nov. 11 with the orchestra off in the summer. There is no cover but donations will be accepted.The JCJO will also be playing the Huntington Summer Music Festival on June 21-22 at Pullman Square, carrying on a new jazz music tradition that began in the summer of 2018 with the Ellis Marsalis International Jazz Piano Competition.
The JCJO will also be headlining the Pullman Square Summer Concert Series on Thursday, July 11.
The director of MU Jazz Ensembles, Wolfe said the idea for the Orchestra truly was birthed in batting around the idea on that ride from Greenbrier County to Huntington last summer.“We were all like you know we ought to do this because we love playing this kind of music,” Wolfe said. “At Marshall, I am conducting big band rehearsals three times a week but that is not the same as playing in one, so we got started and started assigning some roles.“Wolfe said Bobby Jenks, a well-known trombonist who is director of marching band and concert band at WVSU, started rounding up fellow musicians as well as working on marketing and other aspects.“We thought we’d get some like-minded individuals that would be hip to doing this,” Wolfe said. “We started rehearsing once a month on a Sunday evening with a goal in mind of getting a regular gig in town to share this music with the community and to build an audience.“After working with NuJazzAgency to help organize the week of public jazz concerts last June at Pullman Square that was part of the Huntington International Jazz Festival and the first Ellis Marsalis International Piano Competition, Wolfe said the feedback from area residents made them think the area could be hip to a regular big band jazz event.“We saw the reaction to the Ellis Marsalis competition and the fest itself. Those events were packed and I heard a lot of conversations of people who said they would love this kind of thing in Huntington,” Wolfe said. “We are doing this almost every other Wednesday night on campus but there is Marshall and there is Huntington and we are going to bring it to them in the community on the second Monday of the month and see what happens.“Wolfe said there’s a historical reason as to why they picked Monday nights.“We’re trying to tap into the jazz tradition of the “Monday night big band,” which goes back the the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis band at the Village Vanguard in NYC (now simply called the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra). That band has played every Monday night at the Vanguard for over 50 years,′ Wolfe said, “Most communities with an active jazz scene have similar Monday night big bands hosted at local establishments. This is our attempt to bring this tradition to Huntington.“The music will be what Wolfe called “the real thing.”“It’s a 17 piece jazz orchestra playing sophisticated but accessible music from such composers as Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones and Mel Lewis. Not really from that golden era of Big Band Jazz from the 1930s, but actually playing jazz from the 1950s and 1960s mixed in with some contemporary and original stuff,” Wolfe said.In fact, during their sets they will be playing some originals written by various band members including their drummer, Jesse Nolan, a visiting professor of music and jazz artist. Nolan has toured internationally with a slew of artists including a four-year stint as music director for Blue Man Group.Wolfe said one of the neat things about the Orchestra is that - in addition showcasing many of the area professionals - they will be selecting some of the top jazz studies students to sit in to hone their chops.“This really came together fast,“Wolfe said. “Our piano player is Landau Eugene Murphy’s musical director (Duane Flesher) and we have some great faculty and some really fine players from Charleston and some top jazz students as well. I like to tap into that aspect as well giving people who are studying here a chance to be a part of the scene here and to work. That jazz tradition of mentorship is how music was disseminated in the past with that apprenticeship model. You get better by playing with people who are better than you.“Go online at jewelcityjazz.com and follow them on Instagram @jewelcityjazz