Celebrating Akron’s Jazz Resurgence Through Song

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Veteran bass player and composer Dave Morgan has seen something change about the Northeast Ohio jazz scene over the last several years.

“It’s so exciting to see young musicians stay around and lay roots in the community instead of leaving right away once they get good. We’ve seen this renaissance in Blu Jazz + Club they started in Akron, along with our great Bop Stop in Cleveland. It has really become a hothouse for music-making, “ Morgan said.

Morgan wanted to showcase in particular those players who’ve been part of Akron’s jazz renaissance by making an orchestral recording with them, but large-ensemble dates are expensive to produce. In order to help fund the project, in 2016 Morgan applied for a John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Arts Challenge grant. The Knight Foundation supports causes in the cities where the brothers once published newspapers.

The Arts Challenge grants are distributed in Miami, Detroit and Akron. Knight Foundation program officer Adam Ganuza shared why Akron was one the cities to receive these arts grants.

[photo: Joe Badaczewski]

Akron is an incredibly creative place, especially for a place of its size. It really punches above its weight class in terms of the creative energy that it has. The Arts Challenge is intended to cast a really broad net to try to really identify and ultimately support ideas that come from all parts of the community,” he said.

Artists applying for the grant must submit a short proposal about their piece, which explains how the work will be created in and benefit the city. Ganuza felt that Morgan’s project celebrating Akron’s jazz scene was a perfect fit for what the Arts Challenge is meant to support.

“I think what is really special about Dave’s program is that it is really showcasing the organic talent that Akron and Northeast Ohio in general has. Dave does that in a way that is Akron-centric. It positions Akron as a regional hub for jazz,” Ganzua said.

After securing the funding, Morgan began the process of making the recording. He assembled 28 musicians ranging in age from 18 to mid-70s. The artists came from across genres. There were musicians from Apollo’s Fire and the Cleveland Orchestra as well as the funk band, The Admirables, and some of the region’s best jazz players.

Morgan said one of the most important elements the grant helped fund was the chance for the musicians to really hone the pieces by performing them numerous times before they entered the recording studio.

[photo: Joe Badaczewski]

“We did a big concert of this music at E.J. Thomas Hall two years ago for their jazz festival, so we’ve had the music out in the world and work-shopped it, so when it was time to go into the studio, everyone was comfortable with it. It is essential to be able to work this stuff out over a longer period of time. The Knight Foundation has the foresight to allow us to take it to the next level,” Morgan said.

After playing and rehearsing the works, the ensemble entered the studio to record the disc titled ‘Blue Is More Than A Color.’” One of the centerpieces of the work is Morgan’s piece, which he dedicates to a fellow jazz musician who spent his career in Akron.

“‘Coisa Nova,’ is a piece composed in memory of Roland Paolucci, who is a musical father to so many of us on the recording. He was the founder of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Akron. He was a mentor to so many musicians, like Jack Schantz, who is the current director of that program and (Cleveland Jazz Orchestra Music Director) Paul Ferguson. This list goes on and on,” Morgan said.

Paolucci’s dedication to making art without leaving Akron to do it embodies the very essence of what Morgan wanted to celebrate on ‘Blue Is More Than A Color.’

[Dave Morgan, ideastream's Dan Polletta]

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