Orbert Davis

Orbert Davis will host "The Monk Meets the First Lady" on Saturday — an event that celebrates the centennial birthdays of two of jazz's most influential artists: Thelonious Monk and Ella Fitzgerald.

Momence native Orbert Davis will bring his 60-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic for the third time to The Center For Performing Arts at Governors State University this weekend.

Davis will host "The Monk Meets the First Lady" at 8 p.m. on Saturday — an event that celebrates the centennial birthdays of two of the jazz genre's most influential artists: jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and "First Lady of Song" Ella Fitzgerald, with all-new arrangements from Davis.

"The Monk Meets the First Lady" concludes the Chicago Southland's "Let Them Eat Jazz" festival. The festival showcases 100 years of music, food and jazz masters. It's presented by the Southland Arts Municipalities and Business Alliance, a regional arts and business collaboration.

The event also will feature Chicago songstress Tammy McCann and Argentinian-born pianist Leandro Lopez Varday. Tickets are $28 to $38 and can be purchased online at govst.edu.

"Leandro is a regular with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, but this will be Tammy's first time performing with us," Davis said. "I'm very excited about what Tammy will bring to this performance."

Davis is the co-founder, along with his friend, former bandmate and business partner Mark Ingram, conductor and artistic director of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, founded in 2004 after being challenged to "think big" while preparing for the 2004 Chicago Jazz Festival.

The Chicago Jazz Philharmonic is recognized in Illinois as a nonprofit corporation. Along with Ingram, Davis created an outreach program, Discover Music: Discover Life. By using a direct instructional approach that connects everyday life to music, the DMDL curriculum helps students improve perceptive listening, critical thinking and creative participation skills.

Together, they serve more than 2,500 students in Chicago area schools.

How did Davis become interested in further learning about jazz music?

"It comes from the early days of living in Momence," he said. "I was in a band with Mark Ingram [a Pembroke Township native] called Vice Versa. Everyone was older than me, so that only inspired me to work that much harder."

From there, Davis left home to attend DePaul University and the jazz flame was fueled.

He graduated from DePaul with a bachelor's degree in trumpet performance in 1982 before he went on to graduate from Northwestern University with a master's degree in jazz pedagogy in 1997.

Davis formerly taught as an associate professor of music at the University of Illinois at Chicago for eight years, and he also taught at Columbia College Chicago for 14 years.

In 2014, Davis and Ingram traveled to Havana, Cuba, to work with students at Havana's University of the Arts, where they put together a 60-piece orchestra that mirrors the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic.

They were in Cuba when then-President Barack Obama made the announcement of the United States working to forge a better relationship with Cuba.

"Our work became the model of that possibility," said Davis.

After Saturday's performance, the music doesn't stop there.

"The day after, I have to finish a score for an indie film called 'Animator,'" Davis said. "I'm also working on a score for a play produced by the Timeline Theatre in Chicago called 'Paradise Blue.' The score is becoming its own character in the play."

With this upcoming performance, Davis hopes the audience will walk away having had a fun and inspirational experience.

"Jazz is very serious music, but we have fun," he said. "Whenever we play, it's like family."


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