Spokane Jazz Orchestra
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The Spokane Jazz Orchestra is the Nation's oldest, continually performing, professional community-supported 17 piece jazz big band. The "SJO" was incorporated in 1975 as the flagship ensemble of Spokane Jazz Society. The roots of Spokane Jazz Orchestra originated in 1962 with the formation of its predecessor, the "Spokane Jazz Clinic", a 'rehearsal band' of area professionals and outstanding students. From 1973 to 1975, the organization was known as "Jazz Ensembles of Spokane". The founding and incorporation of SJS and SJO as a non-profit, 501c3 arts organization was led by founder Craig Volosing and SJO's first music director, Bruce Preuninger. Preuninger conducted the SJO its first four seasons.
Since its inception, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra has served the Inland Northwest with both performances and education services. Stylistically, the orchestra has been a repertory ensemble, offering programs in the various styles of large ensemble jazz ranging from Dixieland and Swing-era to contemporary repertoire. Education services are usually rendered in a workshop setting. These sessions are conducted as part of area jazz festivals and, most often, in conjunction with community concerts as part of the SJO's very successful "We Came To Play!" regional school outreach programs. The SJO also sponsors an annual jazz soloist competition for area high school musicians.
Over its more than four decade existence, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra's list of guest artists has come to read like a "Who's Who" in the jazz world. The exhaustive list includes Diana Krall, Mel Torme', Dizzy Gillespie, Karrin Allyson, Della Reese, Joe Williams, The Four Freshmen, Clark Terry, Don Menza, Ethel Ennis, Ernie Watts, Claudio Roditi, Allen Vizzuti, Gail Nelson, Mary Stallings, Lanny Morgan, Mike Vax, Chuck Mangione, Carmen Bradford, Frank Foster, Gunther Schuller, Dee Daniels, David Benoit, Walt Wagner, Sunni Wilkinson, Ben E. King, Martha and the Vandellas, the Drifters, the Platters, and Little Anthony.
Each season, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra presents a series of at least four concerts in Spokane's historic “Bing Crosby Theater.” Occasionally SJO produces concerts in the Spokane Opera House, and at The Fox. SJO is also often engaged to perform for other major community events in the Inland Northwest, ranging from venues like Coeur d' Alene's Art on the Green and the Artfest in Spokane's Brown's Addition, to major community fundraising concerts and dances for a variety of causes.
To the region at large, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra is well known as the "ensemble/show of first choice" to perform for Spokane's annual fireworks concert each July 4 in Riverfront Park. Each Independence Day, over 50,000 listeners enjoy the SJO and its various internationally-acclaimed guest artists in what has become Spokane's very 'hip' tradition of Jazz and Popular music!
Since its formation, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra has had eleven music directors, beginning with co-founder Bruce Preuninger. Following Preuninger, the music directorship has been held by Paul Halversen, John Luppert, David Morgan, Bob Curnow, Bernard Rose, Paul Davis, Dan Keberle, Tom Molter, and Dr. Don Goodwin. Additionally, the Spokane Jazz Orchestra was fortunate to have achieved international status while Gunther Schuller served for many years as its Principal Guest Conductor. Maestro Schuller conducted several of SJO's performances during his tenure. Before his passing in 2015, this world-renown conductor-composer-author-musician-jazz authority had a major impact on the level of musicianship, dedication, and passion within the orchestra.
Goodwin, who took over in 2015, is constantly trying to push the ensemble to new and adventurous areas, while maintaining an appreciation and level of expertise for the classic styles of the jazz medium. All agree the orchestra has never before achieved and sustained such high artistic standards.
The Spokane Jazz Society is managed by a board of trustees and is aided by a volunteer group. Support for the orchestra comes from over 200 jazz society member-contributors plus corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, government grants, occasional fund-raisers, contract services and, of course, ticket revenue from its various concerts.