ABOUT THE KANSAS CITY JAZZ ORCHESTRA
The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (KCJO) is one of the nation’s preeminent big bands, performing familiar favorites, artful arrangements and contemporary compositions, making them a dynamic force locally and abroad. A proud representative of Kansas City’s jazz tradition, the ensemble currently boasts a Signature Series at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Folly Theater, Riff Generation, and an ever-growing education program, JazzWorks. KCJO is committed to delivering innovative programs rooted in tradition while celebrating the past and embracing the future in all of its artistic endeavors.
Founded in 2003 by Gene Hall and saxophonist and educator Jim Mair, KCJO has delivered outstanding performances of big band jazz at the highest level from its inception. They began with just two concerts per season at Unity Temple on the Plaza, but over time have added more performances to the series and seen significant growth in attendance, as well as artistic merit under the direction of Artistic Director Clint Ashlock. With over twenty years under their belt, KCJO is thrilled to expand their endeavors beyond their exceptional Signature Series performances, recently launching Riff Generation, a secondary ensemble dedicated to creating new music rooted in the Kansas City jazz tradition, and expanding their JazzWorks educational programming.
Integral to KCJO's mission is jazz education, which the organization continues to expand and refine for all ages. From casual listeners to students of the genre, KCJO’s JazzWorks educational initiative offers events and content that enrich understanding and encourage exploration of every element of the genre. Jazz history, theory, musicianship, and so much more are highlighted through the various components of JazzWorks.
KCJO also performs for numerous venues and events around the region in a variety of settings. Partnering with local and regional organizations such as Kansas Public Radio, Kansas City Parks and Recreation, Midwest Trust Center, and many others, the big band and their smaller chamber ensembles entertain audiences with classic big band repertoire, lively dance music and fresh, cutting-edge compositions.
In April 2003, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra was founded by Gene Hall, a retired attorney, Jim Mair, Professor of Jazz Studies at Kansas City, Kansas Community College, and his wife, Mary Mair. Seventeen of the finest professional jazz musicians from the Kansas City area were chosen for the orchestra with Jim conducting it. The orchestra was modeled after the Columbus, Ohio Jazz Orchestra which at the time had been performing over 30 years.
The first concert of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra was held on November 21, 2003 at Unity Temple on the Plaza, which was their venue for eight of the first nine years, with the 2008-09 season performances held at the Folly Theater. In 2010, the Mairs stepped down and Gene Hall became president of the board of directors. The board is now led by a chairman, president, treasurer and secretary. Today, the organization is administered by an excellent professional staff.
Following Jim Mair as Artistic Director/Conductor, the Board of Directors selected the brilliant musician, Kerry Strayer for that position and he served in that capacity until his death on August 1, 2013. The baton was then passed to the dedicated and tireless Clint Ashlock who holds two masters degrees in jazz and music composition.
In 2012, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra moved to the fabulous Helzberg Hall in Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for a four concert season. In addition to KCJO’s longtime home at the Kauffman Center, in 2023 the Orchestra announced their expansion to the Folly Theater to offer more performances. The Orchestra also performs regularly at other venues in Kansas City and the surrounding region, participating in festivals, and educational programs.
The Orchestra is a tax-exempt organization. It supports music education and scholarships for students. Master classes are held for students and are conducted by the orchestra’s outstanding visiting artists.
The organization has a strong fiscal foundation and is grateful to all the foundations, trusts and individuals who have made The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra one of the best jazz orchestras in the nation.
Kansas City is the home of jazz and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is one of the finest representatives of that heritage.