My Favorite Chicago Jazz Cats: Orbert Davis

My Favorite Chicago Jazz Cats: Orbert Davis

I first heard of jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis through some collaborations with the Grammy award winning vocalist Kurt Elling (who used to live here), about 12 years ago and I was instantly intrigued.

But Orbert is not just another jazz trumpet player.

I went back and found his first CD (“Unfinished Memories” 1994), and Orbert "had chops". I played his music for several people whose musical taste I respected and we all heard the same thing in his sound. The influence of the iconic Miles Davis. Orbert wasn't trying to be Miles he simply had some of his sound in his own music. His cover of the jazz standard “Dolphin Dance” is haunting and the cover song “Unfinished Memories” is anything but. It’s a complete ballad that shows his range and is still one of my favorites. Its one of those songs that seems simple but has layers as good jazz does and Orbert peels back each layer like a banana and gives you all that flavor without overwhelming you.

It’s hard to describe when a musician "has it" but Orbert does. Now I'm a little biased because he is a fellow DePaul University graduate (and he went on to a masters at Northwestern), and I'm very familiar with DePaul's School of Music (my first “writing beat” to cover was the School of Music for DePaulia student newspaper), but Orbert can truly play the trumpet.

He has the subtle horn for quiet ballads but also can play "hard bop" with the best of them on an uptempo song. But Orbert is not just another jazz trumpet player, yes he has some great studio albums including his debut “Unfinished Memories” (1994), my favorite "Priority" (2002), the acclaimed "Blue Notes"(2004), “Collective Creativity” 2008 (with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic), “DuSable To Obama” (2011), and the most recent “Home & Away” (2012).

But Orbert is also an educator, he has been on the faculty for Columbia College Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Orbert is also a composer and won an Emmy Award for the composition and production of an original score for the national PBS documentary, “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis".

But his greatest gift to jazz and the community might be off the stage where gives back in his JazzAlive! Initiative with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. JazzAlive! Is for at risk students and he founded and directs this excellent project.

Orbert has been a studio and side musician for countless other jazz & R&B stars including local legend Ramsey Lewis and the iconic Stevie Wonder. Orbert’s music (and he has played on film), in many commercials and movies including “A League Of Their Own” & Road to Perdition”. He also has been one of only two Chicago musicians to be the official "artist in residence" for the Chicago Jazz festival.

Orbert's latest gig is "Scenes from Life: Cuba", starting late last year Orbert traveled to Havana, Cuba, worked with young musicians there and will have a concert here at the Auditorium Theater on November 13th for this wonderful collaboration.

He is also the founder of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, a 55 piece jazz-symphonic orchestra dedicated to multi-genre projects. Their projects have included collaborations with MacArthur genius grant winner (and wonderful ragtime musician), Reginald Robinson.

You can go on and on with the plethora of projects Orbert has been a part of, all excellent and full of good music.

Like I said Orbert is not just another jazz trumpet player.

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    Charles W. Johnson

    I'm a lifelong writer (since I was 8 years old), and have been doing this blog in some form or fashion since 2004. I'm a DePaul University alum, class of 1999 and prior to that Brother Rice class of 1994. . And I appreciate you taking to the time to read what I have to say, feel free to email

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