Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra to open with music of jazz royalty

Director wants to build on success of jazz fest and other events.

The music of jazz royalty will coronate the Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra’s (SSJO) 2023-24 season when “The Duke Meets the Queen.”

A selection of rare pieces from Duke Ellington will be matched by the tunes of Mahalia Jackson, with guest vocalist Tammy McCann lending her powerful voice, along with the backing of the SSJO at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the John Legend Theater. Tickets are still available.

Between the success of the second Springfield Jazz and Blues Festival in August and the previous three SSJO seasons, group director Todd Stoll is ready to again serve jazz and music fans. Hopes are people who enjoyed that free event will attend Saturday and future jazz concerts.

“After such a good festival, there’s a lot to be said about a community that gets behind it and encouraging in showing that fine art matters, and jazz is a lot of fun,” Stoll said. “This will be a very, very good show.”

The show will open with a number of rare pieces from Ellington suites including the “Deep South Suite,” a 1946 piece reflecting the race relations of the time, as well as “Black, Brown and Beige,” which Stoll called one of the prettiest things you’ll ever hear.

As Ellington would work with Jackson, it sets the tone for the show’s second half with a selection of reimagined standards arranged by Elijah Rock. McCann, who does a Jackson tribute show and performed at the 2023 Jazz and Blues Festival, is enthused to return for this show with positive memories of Springfield.

“One thing that stood out was the warmth of the crowd, they were really swinging,” said McCann, who also has experience in opera and gospel. “Todd’s passion is what brings us back here. I’m super excited to be back.”

With her tribute show “Yes, Mahalia!,” McCann said she doesn’t try to embody Jackson or sing in her voice, but takes her signatures and life experience to an audience. McCann even worked with voice coach Lena McLin, whose uncle was Thomas Dorsey, who worked with Jackson.

“That gave me a really intimate connection to her music and life. Now I get to take Mahalia’s music all over the world,” said McCann.

McCann calls Jackson a “healer of hearts” who tried to unite when the country was divided and brought a connection with the Black community and can still resonate today.

“If we can take the time to get to know each other, our humanity can shine through,” she said. “When I look into an audience, I don’t see Republicans and Democrats, I see music lovers. Mahalia’s connection with Duke is still special and people will see and hear that.”

Stoll is excited for the show’s encore, an Ellington-written song called “Come Sunday” that Jackson later recorded.

“I hope it’s an escape from everything and celebrates, giving us a sense of hope and joy to leave on,” Stoll said.

The SSJO will return with two holiday shows in December and its season finale show “Basie Swings, Sinatra Sings” on March 23.


What: Springfield Symphony Jazz Orchestra – “The Duke Meets the Queen”

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

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4

Admission: $30

More info: springfieldsym.org/ssjo2324/

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