Jazz Orchestra with humble beginnings celebrates milestone

November 16, 2023

Charleston Jazz Orchestra Announces Season 16 

Founded in 2008, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra has become one of the nation’s leading jazz ensembles. Under the direction of Robert Lewis, the Orchestra has brought a level of musical prestige to the region that has garnered Charleston the status of one of the top jazz destinations in the world. Members have recorded and performed with notable artists such as Frank Sinatra, Adele, Ray Charles, Henry Mancini, Michael Bolton, The Temptations, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, The Platters, Doc Severinsen, and more.

Seeds were planted back in 2007 when a small group of musicians gathered at Charleston’s beloved former pizzeria, Andolini’s. Their mission was to open a discussion on how working musicians in the Holy City could better represent themselves. The forum was moderated by Jack McCray, a prominent journalist and advocate for jazz. McCray would soon become the co-founder of Jazz Artists of Charleston, known today as Charleston Jazz.

Not long after the organization began, Jack McCray called upon local trumpeter Charlton Singleton to create a big band for a special concert. In a town historically known as a hotbed for jazz talent, Singleton was able to bring together a world-class ensemble. The first concert sparked more concerts and, soon, a full season. Charlton led the Charleston Jazz Orchestra until his own career skyrocketed when his Gullah-inspired band, Ranky Tanky, won a Grammy and paved the way for a world tour.

Charlton Singleton handed the baton into the capable hands of saxophonist Robert Lewis. Lewis accepted the post and brought a wealth of performance and educational experience to the role of musical director. In addition to leading the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, he is also the Director of Jazz Studies at the College of Charleston and has been instrumental in the development of many of the region’s top players.

The orchestra has defied all odds and has weathered hurricanes, funding challenges, and even a pandemic. Even when COVID-19 shut the world down, they kept the music playing outdoors and online, bringing comfort to their now-world-wide audience. When people heard the music, they knew everything would be okay.

The highly anticipated Season 16 that is coming to the Charleston Music Hall promises a dynamic lineup that encompasses a broad spectrum of jazz styles, from latin to hard bop, big band crooners, and rhythms native to the Lowcountry. The CJO is proud to present several special guests, including Manny Houston, Yusa, Gino Castillo, and Stefon Harris. 2024 Season Subscriptions have been selling at an accelerated rate because, once again, Charleston loves jazz, and, let’s be honest, the music is addictive!