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If you go
What: Fort Wayne Jazz Orchestra’s “Tribute to Big Bands”
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Sweetwater Auditorium, 5501 U.S. 30
Admission: $10; tickets at Sweetwater inside Dave’s Music Den, 482-2365; Bugsy’s Pizza and Ice Cream, 260-244-5055 in Columbia City; or go to
Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Members of the Fort Wayne Jazz Orchestra rehearse at South Side High School. The ensemble plans to host big-band tribute performances.

Band to exemplify jazz in city

Musicians are reflected in the bell of a member’s trumpet.
Bass player Casey Stansifer gets into a solo groove while he rehearses.

The Fort Wayne Jazz Orchestra did not select their name lightly. With another local orchestra performing under the same name, the new ensemble wants to be the musicians that represent the city and heritage of big-band music in their first concert event Saturday.

“As far as big bands go, we are a young group. We have a roster down – our personnel is set to make a change,” says Jason Klingaman, Fort Wayne Jazz Orchestra co-founder. “When you put ‘Fort Wayne’ in front of anything, you better have a good product, and I really believe in our product.”

The Fort Wayne Jazz Orchestra will be performing a tribute concert to big bands for their first concert as a new organization. Formally known as Columbia City’s the Blue River Big Band, founders Klingaman and Todd Ward say the new orchestra should be not be confused with the Fort Wayne Jazz Orchestra conducted by Mark Van Cleave.

Klingaman says the ensemble wants to establish itself as a repertory jazz orchestra for the city and play a more active role in programming special concerts for northeast Indiana similar to what the Fort Wayne Philharmonic does for classical music. For the tribute, there will be a mixture of big-band styles from Frank Sinatra to the more contemporary Michael Bublé.

“When you listen to Michael Bublé, you don’t think you’re listening to big-band jazz, and that’s what keeps this kind of music in people’s ear,” he says. “We’re hoping that Fort Wayne kind of adopts us. Beyond that, we just want people to come out and listen to some live music.”

Klingaman says the jazz orchestra will perform three or four annual concerts outside their private bookings that highlight various big-band genres like swing, jazz and Latin. One possible programming idea is to perform the works of Indiana composers such as Hoagy Carmichael, who found fame as the genre took off in the 1930s.

“Big-band music has an incredible heritage. It’s a true American art form,” he says. “That’s when pop music was truly an artistic expression and had a high level of musicality. We refuse to believe that it’s dying out – it still sounds too fresh and it’s so fun to listen to. We want to continue this kind of music because it’s so much fun to play.”

Klingaman and Ward have been working on reformatting the ensemble for the past few years using the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra as a model. As the Indianapolis’ repertory orchestra, the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra created the Jazz Arts Society of Indiana in order to conduct as a nonprofit performing arts corporation. The orchestra is now able to solicit sponsors to fund their own concert series and provide more community opportunities.

Ward says watching what the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra has been able to accomplish inspired him and Klingaman to make some significant changes to their big-band orchestra.

“The main thing is that it allows us to present special programs that really present big band and jazz,” Ward says. “In doing our own programs, we can explore more music instead of playing venues where we can only do certain artists or certain music within the big-band genre.”

The Jazz Arts Society of Indiana has already given the orchestra some small grants to help with expenses. But Ward says the group wants to step out on its own first.

“We are kind of feeling out how close we need to be tied to them. Not that they are trying to control us, but if we don’t have to be officially ran by the Jazz Arts Society then that’s better for us. Right now they are helping us and suggesting things we should do. This is the beginning so we want to see how it goes.”

With more changes to be expected as the new orchestra grows, the passion for the music remains the same for the musicians.

“Our biggest priority right now is trying to get the word out and try to get an audience,” Ward says.

“It’s not really about getting bodies in the seats. We want people to approve of what we do, but it’s more to let them know that we’re here.”