Centennial salute to highlight Springfield jazz orchestra finale

Charles Mingus may not ring many bells as a composer or performer unless you’re a jazz fan. The Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra (SSJO) hopes to change that Saturday night.

The local audience can discover him together with the SSJO’s season finale, the Charles Mingus Centennial Celebration at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the John Legend Theater.

Completing its third season, SSJO director Todd Stoll said the group is focused on sharing the music of not just the well-known jazz legends such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, but those such as Mingus, who was a legend in his own right.

“We’re real excited. Mingus’s music is so different from the big band repertoire. I hope Springfield is ready for it since we won’t be around for his bicentennial,” said Stoll. laughing.

Stoll, who discovered Mingus in his 20s and met his widow, describes him as having a wildness to his music, calling him a genius-level composer while being a volatile person still capable of being sweet and kind when he wanted.

“This music has everything,” Stoll said. “He came from the Pentecostal church where there was a lot of shouting. It can be easy to listen to and close to blues, gospel, even rock and roll with a human spirit and feeling.”

Stoll calls Mingus one of the most creative melodists and veers toward the avant garde, and at the same time reflects a wild west mentality, having been born in Arizona.

Besides his musical gifts, Mingus was also a civil rights activist, and that inspired several songs, including one on the 1957 Arkansas desegregation case. Stoll said Mingus was always part of his vision for a SSJO show, but after the meat and potatoes of the genre was done.

“This will be one of the most interesting concerts anyone will ever go to with a couple of rare pieces,” Stoll said. “I think people will enjoy it. Art exists in a timeless place, and this is a way of exposing another generation to his music.”

Joining the SSJO will be guest tenor saxophonist Walter Blanding. He has performed for several years with jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, who recently played a show for local youth in Springfield.

The concert will also feature local talent, including Springfield native Josh Weston, who was recently in the local cast of the Disney “Finding Harmony” special on ABC that was filmed here in June 2022 and broadcast in December. The Kenton Ridge High School Jazz band will open the concert, and Stoll will do a workshop with them prior to the show.

While this closes out the SSJO’s season, they will perform again at the second Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival in August, then return for their fourth season with fall, holiday and spring concerts.

“There’s a lot more to come. The response from the community couldn’t be stronger,” said Stoll.


What: Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra – Charles Mingus Centennial Celebration

Where: John Legend Theater at The Dome, 700 S. Limestone St., Springfield

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18

Admission: $30

More info: springfieldsym.org/springfield-symphony-jazz-orchestra/

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