Jazz Hall: Unity Through Music

CEO, Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame

EARLY TOUR: Jazz musicians and Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame board members visited the Jazz Depot recently for a tour of the facility and photo opportunity. From left are trumpeter and vocalist Jeff Shadley, Jazz Hall Inductee and world-class drummer Washington Rucker, Blues Inductee and Oklahoma blues legend Jimmy Markham, jazz vocalist Annie Ellicott, board member George Shahadi of Williams Co., Jazz Hall CEO and entertainer Chuck Cissel, past board chair and Doubletree Downtown Hotel General Manager Robert Watson, vocalist Donne White, saxophonist and Jazz Hall Legacy Award recipient Eldredge Jackson and board member and CEO of Greenwood Performance Systems Jim Rhea. Washington Rucker had flown in to Tulsa from Los Angeles for the special event. The Jazz Depot is expected to open this summer.


“Jazz music celebrates life– human life. The range of it! The absurdity of it! The ignorance of it! The greatness of it! The intelligence of it! The sexuality of it! The profundity of it! And it deals with it in all its… it deals with it.”

– Wynton Marsalis

In 2000, I was fortunate to move to Tulsa. It was the right “timing” because Vision 2025 was on the horizon. We worked diligently at the Jazz Hall of Fame to make the best presentation possible before the Vision committee. As it turned out, the Jazz Hall was accepted in the Vision 2025 Project. Through Vision 2025 and the leadership of former Mayor Bill LaFortune, Dr. Kathy LaFortune, former County Commissioners Wilbert Collins, Bob Dick and Commissioner Randi Miller and the support of Green Country residents, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is making history.
These leaders were as progressive as one would find anywhere. Their commitment to this city and surrounding areas helped to give Tulsa a new sense of direction and purpose. It certainly paved the way for the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame to develop a plan to move forward. When we look back in the year 2025, many of us will be proud to say we were part of the Vision 2025 Project.

As the CEO, my role at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is to provide leadership, vision and a clear understanding that a thriving arts and cultural life in Tulsa increases tourism, creates greater artistic and education opportunities. It also enhances the quality of life for all Oklahomans. The arts is a major part of what makes a city great. Living in New York City for 30 years made that abundantly clear to me.

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is the new kid on the block, yet we’re celebrating our 19th year in 2007. Oklahoma has a rich jazz history and a wonderful music story beginning in the 1920s. That story should be told. The Jazz Depot will tell that story, and not only be an interactive living arts mecca for young and old alike, but it will be the cultural home of Patti Page, Jimmy Rushing, Chet Baker, Charlie Christian, Ernie Fields, Sr. and Jr. and so many other Oklahoma jazz, blues and gospel greats.

Jazz is America’s classical music and is an American tradition that is not only appreciated in the states, but all over the world. From Japan to Russia, Germany, France, England, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, Romania—jazz is held in high esteem and widely appreciated. This is the music of “Swing,” “Bebop,” and “West Coast Cool Jazz.” This cultural phenomenon was made popular by icons Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and many others. Jazz also featured the music of America’s legendary composers—Cole Porter, Duke Ellington and George and Ira Gershwin. Music superstars like Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Rosemary Clooney took the sound to a new level around the globe.

The history of the music echoes the history of 20th century America. Jazz provided the background for the giddy era that F. Scott Fitzgerald called the Jazz Age. The irresistible pulse of big band swing lifted the spirits and boosted American morale during the Great Depression and World War II. The virtuosic, demanding style called bebop mirrored the stepped-up pace and dislocation that came with peace. During the Cold War era, jazz served as a propaganda weapon and forged links with the burgeoning counter
culture. The story of jazz encompasses the story of American courtship and show business; the epic growth of great cities – New Orleans and Chicago, Kansas City and New York – and the struggle for civil rights and simple justice that continues into the new millennium.

The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501© 3 non-profit charitable organization. Founded in 1988 by Senator Maxine Horner with legislation sponsored by Senator Horner and Senator Penny Williams, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame’s mission is to inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form. The Jazz Hall actively promotes the arts and to make them widely accessible to new and existing audiences; and provides a multicultural environment where young people and adults of diverse backgrounds have opportunities for exploration, achievement, and enhanced self-esteem through educational programs and professional training in the instrumental and vocal arts.

Here are a few questions we are hearing about our move to the Jazz Depot:
Will there be more arts programming in the Jazz Depot for the youth and adults alike?

Yes. Part of the need for a dedicated jazz facility is to provide a comprehensive music arts program for the youth. In addition to our after-school music program (taught by Tulsa jazz music professionals), and the summer arts institute, including the Jazzy Strings ensemble, we will offer programming for the little ones (our new puppetry, reading and music program). We will institute new classes on becoming a recording engineer, sound engineer and conduct private vocal and instrumental classes for the youth. Another feature is the music resource library. Computer stations, books, CDs, DVDs, videos and hundreds of jazz, pop, classical and blues albums donated by the citizens of Tulsa. The band room / recording studio is an educational component created for the youth for band rehearsals and classes in music. The quality arts programming provided for the adults will also expand. In addition to the Sunday afternoon Autumn and Spring Jazz Concert Series, we will offer new music programming for our audiences on Friday and Saturday evenings. There will also special evenings for the Jazz Depot Coffee House, the Bach to Bebop Series, the American Songbook Series and so much more. We also intend to bring in more regional and national music artists and present “‘LIV’ jazz at Noon,” “JAZZ after 5” and a number of art exhibits and outdoor concerts on the Jazz Promenade. In addition, we will honor the memory of one of Tulsa’s great landmarks – the Tulsa Union Depot – with a filmed narrative and photo exhibit of its storied history.

Are the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and the Greenwood Cultural Center the same organization?

No. These two groups are separate organizations. Because they are housed in the same building, people often think they are the same organization.

What is the Jazz Hall’s mission?

Our efforts are to promote, preserve, illuminate, honor and acknowledge the great artists that come from the state of Oklahoma in the jazz art form. We also pay homage to the blues and gospel artists. In June of each year, we present the annual induction banquet gala. This is a black tie scholarship fundraiser honoring Oklahoma music greats. Also, the cornerstone mission is our music arts education programming for the youth. These include the after school music program, summer arts institute, master classes with jazz superstars such as Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis (over 1,000 students attended), Stanley Jordan, Conrad Herwig, Pat Kelley and others. There are performance opportunities for middle and high school jazz ensembles and we present scholarships to graduating seniors. We also highlight the important work of college and university jazz ensembles by presenting them in concert at the Jazz Hall. We’ve formed the Jazz Hall dancers, Jazz Hall singers, and our young musicians jazz ensemble. We partner with and provide music instruction by Tulsa jazz professionals and college music educators / professors. Oklahoma has always produced first-class talent, and we help to unmask these talented youth, whether they’re vocalists, musicians, composers or future music educators.

When you received funding from Vision 2025, did you get all the funding necessary for all that you need to accomplish in your new home?

No we did not. We were able to purchase the building through the County and there was a balance to fund part of the renovation to the Depot, which includes the museum gallery space, the music library, the great performance hall, the band room, the VIP suite and gift boutique, but we still need more funding. The project needs equipment, furnishings, exhibit and display cases, and costs associated with the expansion. The total price tag is in the range of $7 to $8 million. We have already begun to explore ways to secure the funds necessary to meet these critical needs. In fact, some early gifts have already been made toward the project, but there is much more to be done. At the appropriate time you will be hearing more about our project and how you can be involved.
The Jazz Depot is a beautiful art deco historic landmark, which will highlight the careers of Oklahoma’s great music artists of the past, present and the future. We invite you to get on board the “A –Train” and join us at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Get involved, become a charter member and be a part of our efforts to share the story of your Oklahoma jazz stars, and the great American traditions of jazz, blues, western swing and gospel. Our motto at the Jazz Depot is “Creating Unity Through Music.” We believe everyone should share in and enjoy Oklahoma’s outstanding contributions to music in this country and globally. You can call us at the Jazz Hall of Fame at 918.596.1001. Visit us online at: www.okjazz.org.

“When you see a jazz musician playing, you’re looking at a pioneer, you’re looking at an explorer, you’re looking at an experimenter, you’re looking at a scientist, and you’re looking at all those things because it is the creative process incarnate!”
– Albert Murray

Updated 01-25-2007

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