All that jazz: Harlem Renaissance focus of Toledo Jazz Orchestra concert

Duke Ellington at the piano and Louis Armstrong on trumpet rehearse Leonard Feather's 'Long, Long Journey' during a session at the RCA Victor recording studio in New York Jan. 12, 1946.

TOM HENRY The Blade OCT 15, 2019 6:00 AM

The Toledo Jazz Orchestra is giving a special nod this Saturday to the Harlem Renaissance, one of the more loosely defined yet highly influential eras of American music, dance, poetry, prose, artwork, and other creative endeavors.

Songs long associated with some of the most famous musicians of that era, such as ones featuring Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Bessie Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Jelly Roll Morton, Cab Calloway, and Charlie Parker, will be performed.

The TJO will play original arrangements, as well as more contemporary reinterpretations inside the Valentine Theatre, 410 Adams St., Toledo. The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets, which are $28 and $38, can be purchased at the Valentine box office or online from etix.

The era known as the Harlem Renaissance has no specific boundaries in terms of time or geography. Precious FondrenHocus focus: Champions of Magic comes to the Stranahan Theater

According to an article produced by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, it grew out of hope for a better life once hundreds of thousands of slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War in 1865. Their struggles continued, though, in the Reconstruction South with strict racial segregation laws known as “Jim Crow laws” and repression by hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

That prompted a Great Migration to cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York. The Harlem section of Manhattan drew nearly 175,000 African Americans to an area that encompasses only three square miles, making it the most densely populated neighborhood of black people in the world, the article states.

Many of them became noted artists and scholars. And while the era known as the Harlem Renaissance is generally thought of as between the end of World War I and the mid to late-1930s, Ron Kischuk, TJO artistic director, said the influence has never stopped.

“Everything kind of relates to modern music. That really goes back to jazz and the origins of slavery,” he said of the era. “I believe everything today is somehow, someway connected to everything that’s been done before.”

Musically, the Harlem Renaissance helped serve as a bridge – a transition – between the ragtime/Dixieland era and the swing/big band era, Mr. Kischuk said.

For example, most people today are used to seeing large orchestras with five or six trombones, and a trumpet section with just as many performers. But that wasn’t the case in the early 1900s, before the Harlem Renaissance. Often, there might be one or two, Mr. Kischuk, a trombone player himself, noted.

The Harlem Renaissance also wasn’t limited to music or to that part of New York City known as Harlem. According to the Smithsonian article, this “cultural explosion also occurred in Cleveland, Los Angeles and many cities shaped by the Great Migration.” Sue Brickey’Fiddler’ brings a tuneful ‘tradition’ to the Stranahan Theater


When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Valentine Theatre, 418 Adams St., Toledo.

Tickets: $28 and $38, can be purchased at the Valentine box office or online from etix.

Alain Locke, a Harvard-educated writer, critic, and teacher who became known as the “dean” of the Harlem Renaissance, described that era as a “spiritual coming of age” in which African Americans transformed “social disillusionment to race pride,” the article also states.

Poet-author Langston Hughes was another major figure during the Harlem Renaissance. According to, Hughes “made his mark in this artistic movement by breaking boundaries with his poetry” and “drew on international experiences, found kindred spirits amongst his fellow artists, took a stand for the possibilities of black art, and influenced how the Harlem Renaissance would be remembered.”

Hughes was honored by the U.S. Postal Service in 2002, when it issued a commemorative 34-cent stamp bearing his likeness as part of its Black Heritage Series.

“I think the Harlem Renaissance might have been ignored if not for the writings of Langston Hughes,” Mr. Kischuk said. “He was making sure it was part of fabric of America.”

Mr. Kischuk said TJO’s upcoming concert is part educational and part entertainment.

“This kind of show is really what jazz has to become if it wants to succeed,” he said.

The Toledo Jazz Orchestra performs music from the Harlem Renaissance this Saturday inside the Valentine Theatre, 418 Adams St., Toledo. The concert begins at 8 p.m. Tickets, which are $28 and $38, can be purchased at the Valentine box office or online from etix.

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