The Chicago Jazz Orchestra (CJO) celebrates and perpetuates jazz orchestra music – an original American art form – for all audiences through unique performance, collaboration, and education. The CJO strives to develop and promote an appreciation for and understanding of music for the American jazz orchestra as it was originally conceived, performed, and recorded by jazz master composers and soloists. Through collaborative efforts and partnerships, the CJO seeks to provide listening and educational opportunities in a variety of settings and formats.
The CJO is Chicago’s oldest professional jazz orchestra in continuous operation and one of the oldest jazz repertory orchestras in the country. When Jeff Lindberg and the late Steve Jensen first came up with their big band concept in 1978 (founded as the Jazz Members Big Band), they could not have predicted the remarkable metamorphosis that turned a group of first-call musicians into what is now known as the Chicago Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece premiere jazz ensemble that has garnered both national and international recognition.
Conductor and Artistic Director Jeff Lindberg is one of the foremost transcribers in jazz. As a result, the Orchestra’s repertoire draws upon his vast library, which includes the works of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Benny Carter, Oliver Nelson, Ray Charles, and many others. The CJO also performs compositions and arrangements by members of the CJO, including Associate Artistic Director Charles Harrison.
For more than 35 years, the CJO has been at the forefront of presenting performances of classic American jazz orchestra repertoire to diverse audiences through reasonably priced programs held at a variety of venues. Always looking for new challenges – both in repertoire and stylistic choices – Jeff Lindberg has infused the Orchestra with a spirit of versatility that has made the group a favorite performer not only in jazz venues, but also for concert settings, receptions, and dances – just about anywhere that exceptional big band music can be presented. Audiences have the opportunity to hear unique musical arrangements transcribed by the CJO, and because the Orchestra has its own transcriptions of the original recordings, much of the music presented in these concerts cannot be heard anywhere else.
The Orchestra appears at a variety of venues and institutions across the Chicago metropolitan area, including the Spertus Institute (Venue SIX10), University of Chicago, Symphony Center, Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Midway Plaisance, Andy's Jazz Club, Francis W. Parker School, Evanston’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, and Naperville’s Wentz Concert Hall and North Central College. Merit School of Music is the Orchestra’s leading organizational partner for educational programming, including day-long clinics that culminate with students performing alongside members of the CJO, master classes led by renowned guest artists of the Orchestra, and open rehearsals. The CJO also provides complimentary concert tickets to underserved public school students and their families.
The CJO has served as the resident orchestra for the Kennedy Center Honors Supper Dance for more than 25 years. In 2006, the Orchestra performed before a sold-out audience at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina. The CJO has toured Europe twice, including performances in Italy, Spain, Denmark, and Sweden. The Orchestra has performed with such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Nancy Wilson, Louis Bellson, Herbie Hancock, Jon Faddis, Kurt Elling, Jack McDuff, Kenny Burrell, and many more.
The CJO’s recording – Clark Terry and Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra: George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (Americana Music, 2004) – received widespread critical acclaim, including a nomination as “Jazz Album of The Year” by the Jazz Journalist’s Association, and a rare “Five Star” rating by DownBeat magazine, which also named it one of the top recordings of the previous decade. In addition, it also made the annual “top CD’s” lists of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Jazz Times, and Jazz Education Journal. To celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2013, the CJO released Burstin’ Out, which features emerging vocalist Cyrille Aimée and the Orchestra on a diverse album of both classic and original jazz arrangements.
Howard Reich of the Chicago Tribune has described the CJO as “sublimely controlled.” In 2006, he reported a “trouncing” of the Count Basie Orchestra by the CJO in a “Battle of the Bands” as part of the “Made in Chicago” series presented in Millennium Park. In 2015, Mr. Reich cited the CJO as “one of the best big bands in the country.” Kevin Whitehead of the Chicago Sun-Times believes that a CJO performance is “what repertory jazz should be: not a tepid re-creation of work, but a chance to hear how skillfully blended instrumental voices can set a room humming.”