The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra was founded in 1975
and is one of the Midwest’s premier big bands, celebrating over 25 years of
great performances. The ensemble’s concerts feature a variety of traditional
big band compositions by jazz masters such as Woody Herman, Duke Ellington,
and Count Basie, reflecting the rich legacies of the Mississippi Basin
territory bands. The ensemble also adds to this legacy by performing new
compositions and arrangements regularly.
The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra (NJO) has produced seven volumes of recordings featuring more than 60 original compositions and arrangements written by the ensemble’s members, alumni and friends. The ensemble released its most recent CD, LIVE! Volume VII, in October 2001.
Reviews of the NJO’s recordings and live performances by both local and nationally syndicated media and guest artists have praised the ensemble. A few of their notable quotes include: "proof positive that jazz isn't just a New York or New Orleans or Chicago or Kansas City thing." - Jazz Times; “...their overall sound resembles that of a polished studio band...their joint dedication to the principles of sectional precision...is continually in evidence...” - Down Beat; “I can’t resist observing that the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra opens Christmas Jazz with the best arrangement of The Little Drummer Boy I’ve ever heard…the orchestra plays with greater assurance and precision and is undaunted by the inclusion of strenuous charts…Christmas Jazz can furnish a sumptuous musical backdrop for any (holiday) plans one may have in mind.” - allaboutjazz.com; “The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra is world class!!” – Bobby Watson.
The NJO participates in the touring programs of the Nebraska Arts Council and the Mid-America Arts Alliance, and has toured extensively throughout the Midwest. The NJO has also performed in England, Scotland, Germany and France. In 1997 the NJO performed at the prestigious Montreux International Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland.
In addition to their annual concert series in Lincoln, touring concerts, special events, and recording productions, the NJO presents workshops and master classes for student groups ranging from elementary to college. The group also sponsors the NJO Young Jazz Artist Competition, NJO Young Lions All-Star Big Band and the annual Nebraska Jazz Camp, held every July on the campus of Nebraska Wesleyan University.
The NJO regularly features locally and nationally renowned jazz artists. Clark Terry, Karrin Allyson, Marvin Stamm, Freddie Hubbard, Laurie Frink, Marilyn Maye, Kahil El’Zabar, Victor Lewis, Jay McShann, Dave Brown, Bill Watrous, Don Menza, John LaBarbera, Claude “Fiddler” Williams, Benny Powell, Dave Stryker, and Bobby Watson are amongst the many fine jazz artists the Nebraska Jazz Orchestra has hosted for Nebraska audiences.
Former members of the ensemble who have gone on to make a name for themselves include Ryan Kisor (Columbia Jazz Artist and member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra & Mingus Big Band), Matt Wallace (sax soloist with Maynard Ferguson), Jeff Newell (featured in Downbeat Magazine article and a winner in the Hennessy Best of Chicago Jazz Search) and Rex Cadwallader (jazz composer and arranger).