Although entering its 19th year in existence, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is barely recognized by many people and is a hidden treasure for others. Currently housed in the Greenwood Cultural Center, tucked away just off the corner of the OSU-Tulsa campus at 322 N. Greenwood Ave, the Hall is preparing move into its new home in the historic Tulsa Union Depot building early this summer.
Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame CEO, Charles "Chuck" Cissel, modestly shares that, "We will be going from a fairly small space to a fairly large space."
That is quite an understatement. And, he and the foundation for whom he works is quite lucky. Having dodged the ravages of fire just last week (See Sidebar, "Whew!", opposite page), he and community leaders who have made it happen, have been looking forward to the completion of this Vision 2025 project for some time.
While the current facilities house administrative offices and allow the Jazz Hall to utilize the Renaissance Hall for concerts and special events, the new building will not only house the a dedicated performance hall, but the Hall's actual museum space will roughly double in size.
Once relocated to its new digs at 1st St. and Cincinnati Ave., the Jazz Hall will occupy the upper level of the Depot building with roughly 28,000 square feet of space available for use.
Current plans call for a museum, gallery space, VIP suite, music library, administrative offices, classrooms, band rehearsal room and recording studio as well as the 4,300 square foot Great Performance Hall, gift boutique and jazz café.
The Tulsa Union Depot building has quite a history of its own; originally a travel hub built in the Roaring '20s and centerpiece of our city's downtown area, the art deco building was left abandoned and eventually fell into a state of disrepair after its purpose as a railroad station ended in the mid-'60s.
Thankfully, Williams Companies stopped efforts to tear down the building, bought and renovated it and adapted the space to fit the needs of its growing business.
Now with the Jazz Hall preparing to move in, much of the previous work needs to be undone. According to Cissel, although the planned administrative areas and VIP suite need very little work, nearly every other room is currently undergoing some stage of demolition or rearrangement.
Most prominently, a large upper mezzanine must be disassembled, along with two large staircases (one on each end), in order to make room for the Great Performance Hall. In addition, wheelchair access and many new restroom facilities are being added as part of the construction process.
If all stays on schedule, the building should be finished by early June, though initially the opening was to have occurred this month. That would allow the Jazz Hall to be officially moved in time for the annual Induction Gala, which traditionally falls during the third week of June. The Hall could possibly move earlier, perhaps during the month of May, but Cissel prefers not to set any firm date, promising only to make the transition prior to a soft opening.
When discussing the impact of the Jazz Hall's relocation to the new facilities, Cissel was able to identify a number of results and advantages from the move.
"I think it's going to be important for us to move for a number of reasons: location is one, and being in downtown Tulsa will certainly help," he said. "In addition, we are moving to one of the most beloved buildings in this whole community. There's hardly anyone who has not heard of the Tulsa Union Depot building. There will be some newcomers that don't know about it, but it has a wonderful history all its own."
After being privately held for a number of years, the building is once again being opened to the public and Cissel believes many people that wouldn't frequent the old facilities will come just to experience the building.
"There are stories that they remember," he said, "about sisters and brothers going off to college, off to war, to visit a grandmother or a grandmother coming. There are lots of stories. People stop me all the time and tell me 'You know, I remember when my blah, blah, blah,' so there will be interest on their part."
But those oldtimers are dying off, so the rejuvenation of the old Depot comes at an appropriate time.
The increased space that comes with the relocation will also allow the Jazz Hall to expand its programming. As a result, the organization will be able to offer more fine arts events and activities for adults as well as youth.
In addition, new opportunities to utilize the facilities for special events such as weddings, proms and public and private gatherings will not only attract different crowd, but also create new revenue opportunities.
In Esteemed Company
Perhaps most significant to the move, however, is the fact that the new building gives the Jazz Hall the opportunity to develop its own identity and to promote the arts and cultural enrichment while showcasing jazz.
While few people are aware of the resources we have in Tulsa with the Jazz Hall of Fame, even fewer know that it is one of only four such institutions in the nation.
Of course, the most recognized is Jazz at Lincoln Center, the over $100 million facility that was spearheaded by Wynton Marsalis.
The American Jazz Museum, a sister organization to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, is located in Kansas City and pays homage to Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington and Kansas City's own Charlie Parker.
The Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame is even smaller, but it too pays tribute to the artists from that state as well as nationally recognized performers.
The Umbrella Effect
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame similarly honors the originators and cornerstone artists of jazz such as Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Equally prominent, however, are Oklahoma artists like Chet Baker, Jimmy Rushing, Oscar Pettiford, Barney Kessell and Charlie Christian: individuals who laid the foundation for Big Band, swing and bebop.
Just as many people aren't aware of Oklahoma's rich jazz history, few will likely recognize the significance of the Jazz Depot's proximity to another Tulsa landmark, The Cain's Ballroom.
As Cissel explains, jazz and country -- specifically western swing - are inter-related, sharing similar rhythms and storylines.
"When you listen to country music, it always tells great stories," said Cissel. "When you listen to Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughn (singing My Funny Valentine), any of that stuff, it transports you, it takes you someplace else, it ministers to your spirit, it refreshes your heart. That's what music does - it's this universal language that captures your imagination and all your senses."
"And that's what's so cool at the Jazz Hall of Fame," Cissel continued, "if you can imagine us being an umbrella and under this umbrella all of us are hanging out and enjoying the universal language of music. That includes jazz, western swing, blues, gospel, R&B, and even some classical music. But the thing about it is, it brings us all together and that's our motto - Creating unity through music. And in this region of the country, we think it's essential."
While part of the focus is to build a world-class facility that pays respect to Oklahoma Jazz artists of the past, present and future and honors blues and gospel artists, that is only a portion of the big picture.
"This will be a building that will be important in that respect, in that it chronicles and preserves our music history in those art forms," said Cissel.
He went on to share that, "Part of our mission at the Jazz Hall of Fame is our music arts education program for kids and we will really be able to do a lot more than we've been able to do in this facility. We will have a comprehensive music arts program for kids."
"Currently we have our 'after school education program' and our 'summer arts institute', but we will be able to expand that because we'll have a band room, rehearsal room and classrooms," said Cissel. "We'll be utilizing the talents of many of Tulsa's top jazz musicians, from Donald Ryan to Sonny Gray, to Pat Moore to Jim Bates and Leon Rollerson. Ernestine Dillon will teach vocal lessons as well as Sarah Jordan Powell."
In addition to accommodating more music and instructional programs, the new facilities will also include a number of computer stations, available for after-school homework and a music resource library. The library will feature a vast collection of books and audio and video sources that will not be checked out, but can be utilized on site for school assignments or personal enjoyment. Of course, adults will be able to take advantage of these resources as well.
As should be expected, an emphasis on the history of jazz and jazz performers will be center stage at the Hall of Fame.
"Many people don't know this, but jazz is America's original art form. It is America's classical music," said Cissel. "It is an art form that was birthed in this country and raised in this country."
"At the Jazz Hall of Fame, here in Oklahoma, part of our mission is to educate people about that and preserve our history -- and then to have performances," he continued. "That's why we have concerts featuring jazz artists."
"One of the things that I'd really like to make clear", Cissel shares, "is that some people think it's the Tulsa Jazz Hall of Fame. It's housed in Tulsa, but it is the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame: a statewide organization that honors the greats from all over the state. It's not a local entity -- it represents the entire state of Oklahoma."
The Heart of the Hall
Any organization is only as good as its leadership. Fortunately, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame has a solid foundation. The Hall was originally established through the efforts of Senators Maxine Horner and Penny Williams, who authored and sponsored legislation that ultimately created OJHF as a 501(c)3 organization. Once established, the task force for the Jazz Hall became the first board of directors in 1988.
In January of 2000, Cissel, a native Tulsan, returned from New York City to helm the Hall of Fame as its CEO. Chuck has quite the back story of his own with a career that included years spent on Broadway, television commercials and a recording career on Arista Records, working with the esteemed Clive Davis.
Cissel's career in the arts, coupled with his experience at Sotheby's (where he was involved in the sales of Van Gogh's 'Irises', select Andy Warhol works, and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor exquisite jewelry collection), made him uniquely qualified to guide an entity that both engages the arts and showcases its history.
What truly drew Cissel back to Tulsa, however, was a convenient job back in his home town and the opportunities with the youth of the community.
"I grew up here, I know the struggles," he said. "I know what it means to have a dream. I know what it means to have goals and to work toward those goals. I also know what it means to have the support of your school, your teachers -- especially your music educators and English instructors -- and, as well, the importance of your church, your family and your community."
"I thought I might be able to come back in here and really inspire these kids to their higher selves," Cissel revealed.
"To learn what it means to have a dream, if they did not, and get them on the road of discipline: focusing, working toward accomplishing something. And then helping them to unmask their talents."
For Cissel, part of that inspiration includes leaving no room for an "I can't" attitude. Instead, daunting tasks or goals are faced as challenges - challenges that may or may not be able to be met but will be responded to with an honest effort.
By experiencing success in the arts, many negative mindsets have been transformed into positive attitudes, and Cissel has seen a number of his pupils go on to be successful in both their studies and developing their performing skills.
If anyone can speak from experience, it's Cissel. He was only 17 when the Tulsa Little Theater was integrated in 1966 and he was cast in the musical South Pacific.
"While I was in that show they gave me a solo dance," said Cissel. "I had the time of my life. Not only doing that, but just in doing the show, and I really learned to work with people who were different from me, growing up in a very segregated Tulsa."
Out of that experience, a patronly couple saw Chuck perform and offered to fund his college education. Cissel went on to major in Fine Arts at OU and made it his goal to be on Broadway. In turn, by remaining focused and disciplined, he went on to have a successful career in the performing arts.
"This was from a little kid who grew up on Greenwood. So when I came back here, it was really to inspire and connect with these kids and say. 'You can be anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do. It's up to you.'"
Live performances have long been an integral part of the Jazz Hall's programming and with the new concert hall available they will continue to figure prominently in the Jazz Hall's endeavors.
While many national jazz acts have come to Tulsa and will continue to be scheduled on occasion, the Jazz Hall consciously puts an emphasis on local performers. Most events feature established artists like Chuck Gardener, Donald Ryan, and Pam Crosby or rising stars such as Annie Ellicott, Jason Ofori, Jeff Shadley, and Victor Anderson Jr. In addition, the Jazz Hall also provides performance opportunities for its star pupils as well.
"Of course, we honor the greats in the jazz world," said Cissel, "but it's really about the future. It's really about impacting the lives of young people: to give them an opportunity to see their higher selves.
"We as a community, I think, have been very good at encouraging and showcasing the talent we have here - and that's really our effort at the Jazz Hall of Fame.
"Sure, you can bring in artists from around the country and you can highlight them to no end; you can blow them up, but what about your own, right here? Are you putting the same emphasis (on them)? Are you really trying to make something happen with the talent that's here? That's what we should do."
As the conversation turned to supporting young artists and providing opportunities for them to shine, Chuck reflected on different scenarios in the current music climate: from the rise of American Idol pop stars Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia and Checotah's Carrie Underwood to our own Wayman Tisdale.
In each case, the artist had to leave home either to get an opportunity to prove themselves or to experience enough success to gain proper recognition at home. That's not a new story to any genre of music, but it seems to be especially prevalent with jazz in the United States, and especially in the greater Midwest, which often fails to recognize what is sitting right in our own backyard.
A conversation that Chuck had with Wynton Marsalis during a visit to Tulsa illustrates this disconnect quite well.
"When Wynton and I were talking," Cissel related, "he said, 'Man, are these people aware of all the cats who have come from here that helped lay down the foundation of jazz and the swing movement?' And I said, 'No.' 'And the bebop movement?' 'No.'"
"That's what our efforts are - to educate and present that, and then have performances to highlight not only those artists, but the new ones of the city right now," he continued. "Our jazz history is amazing."
Last week 18th Annual Jazz Keyboard concert featured a number of Tulsa's pianists. Next up is the Spring Jazz Concert series (See Sidebar).
Also in the works are the annual HOF Induction Gala, Juneteenth Oklahoma Jazz Festival, an outdoor event to be held on the promenade that runs from 1st Street to Archer (just outside of the Jazz Depot), and a major concert in the Grand Performance Hall.
Details and tickets to scheduled events will be available by calling the Jazz Hall offices at 596-1001.
A Vision for the Future
Aside from any planned events, much work remains to be done on the Tulsa Union Depot building before the Jazz Hall is able to move into its new facilities. Although funding from Vision 2025 is helping cover the building purchase and construction costs, Cissel estimates that an another $7-8 million will need to be raised to finance the purchase of additional furniture, equipment, display cases and the like to finish out the new Jazz Depot.
While some gifts have already been received by individuals within the community, and Williams has indicated that it may assist as well, feasibility studies have already been conducted in order to assist in directing any fund raising efforts.
"We want it to really be a world-class museum," said Cissel, "and an interactive Mecca for young and old, alike. Not only for the programming part, but more to really provide educational opportunities for these kids and help them unmask talents and even possibly give them good career paths.
"This isn't just to have a concert in and go home and say 'Oh, I love going there,'" Cissel continued. "This is a real, living, breathing, interactive arts institution. We really want to reach out to these kids."
As CEO of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, Cissel sees the big picture, striving to balance history and progress.
"Going forward, I would like to see this really be a great, great cultural environment," he said. "A place where everyone, all kids, feel loved and cared for and where every human being feels supported and has something to offer."
"The beat goes on. You keep educating and informing and bringing to the forefront and trying to make clear the story of jazz. To me, it really does cross all kinds of borders. Jazz is not black or white -- it's a human experience. It's something we all go through."
Hopefully the Jazz Hall's transition will create and nurture an environment that unifies Tulsans to experience it together.
Potential disaster averted in fire at Union Depot
Roofers' carelessness attributed to blaze at historic railroad station downtown
The city's arts community and those who care about downtown and its value to the city's character held their collective breath when new broke that a fire had been reported at the site of the Tulsa Union Station Depot, which currently houses the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra offices as it is being renovated for the Oklahoma Jazz Hall or Fame.
Local media initially reported that a fire began for unknown reasons in heating and air ducts in the building. But Ron McMahan, Director of Building Operations for Tulsa County, told Urban Tulsa Weekly that the fire was actually ignited when roofers, who were putting up new curbing on the roof, were too concerned about the clock forgot about the worksite.
Roofers must torch the tar, and they usually stick around an hour or so afterward, McMahan said, in order to ensure nothing is ignited before pouring more tar on top and letting it smolder.
In this case, that didn't happen. The roofers left for the day and an ember from the torch ignited the pressure-treated wood the curbing is made from.
McMahan said the situation looked worse than it was, and because firefighters managed to extinguish the blaze quickly, minimal damage was done. The only damage caused was water damage from the firefighters' hoses, but that too was minimal, as firefighters were able to move instruments and important paperwork from the TSO offices out of harms way.
Vyvx, a subsidiary of WilTel Communications, which also offices in the Union Depot, reported no damage either.
"It's just a tiny bump in the road," McMahan said. "A minor inconvenience. We're really glad it wasn't worse than it was. We would hate to lose that building."
Jazz Hall President and CEO Chuck Cissel said construction resumed on the building Thursday morning and is still on schedule to be completed by mid June. He commended the firefighters' quick response to the fire alarm, as well as an unknown passerby who saw flames leaping from the roof and alerted authorities.
"We were very blessed," Cissel said. "We had a lot of angels camped around us."
He said all of the firefighters who responded from five different stations are heroes and the Jazz Hall, along with TSO, plans to perform in a special concert to honor the Tulsa Fire Department and all the firefighters.
"We want to do something really special for them, not only for what they did for the Jazz Hall, but also because they are always ready to put their lives on the line to save lives, save buildings, save cities, save communities," Cissel said.
The concert date is yet to be announced, but Cissel said it will be sometime after the Jazz Hall's June opening.
Coming Up Roses
Oklahoma jazz "springs" to life very soon
By Gary Hizer
Even as construction continues on the Jazz Depot, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame continues forward with the 2007 Spring Jazz Concert Series in its current residence at the Greenwood Cultural Center, 322 N. Greenwood Ave. This year's series, entitled "Jazz Is Coming Up Roses", extends into early May with concerts featuring the best and most promising of Tulsa's established and emerging Jazz artists.
Sunday, Feb. 25, the Jazz Hall presents the "Four Gentlemen of Swing". Jeff Shadley, Jason Ofori, Phil Armstrong and Devre Jackson will each take the spotlight throughout the evening, providing listeners a broad spectrum of styles and deliveries throughout the evening.
Moving into March, SCORE, the Jazz Hall favorite featuring Chuck Gardner on piano, Sandy Gardner on bass and vocals, and Tony Yohe on drums, will perform on Sunday, March 4. SCORE will have its new CD, "Double Exposure", available for purchase and will showcase the dynamics of a powerful jazz trio.
The following week, on March 11, Amy Cottingham and Friends will make their debut performance at the Jazz Hall of Fame. Amy has won the prestigious Crescendo Music Award, sponsored by the Tulsa Rotary Club in partnership with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra, and is close to completing her masters' degree in orchestral conducting at OSU.
Cottingham's performance will feature a number of jazz classics as well as contemporary works, personifying the Jazz Hall's goals to represent both the history and future of the genre.
On March 18, the Annie Ellicott Trio, featuring Annie's father, Rod Ellicott, on bass and Frank Brown on guitar, will undoubtedly be a highlight of the season. Annie is a rising star in Tulsa jazz circles, possessing both a fabulous voice and a commanding stage presence.
On Sunday, April 1, revered vocalist Pam Van Dyke Crosby will present "Jazzier than Ever", featuring a selection of jazz standards and new compositions, as well as taking requests from the audience. Musical support comes courtesy Tulsa jazz stars Ted Moses (piano), Bill Crosby (bass), Tony Yohe (drums), Ron McRory (percussion) and Mike Bennett (trumpet).
Saturday, April 21 is "TU Jazz Day", held on the University of Tulsa Campus. The day's events will include clinics, band concerts and a featured performance by 20-year-old, one-name Russian pianist, Eldar, who records for Sony Music and has drawn national critical acclaim.
Eldar is also expected to make an appearance the next evening as local avant-jazz group Harmonious Monk takes to the Jazz Hall stage on April 22. The follow weekend, on April 29, young pianists Carson Wagner and Barron Ryan, son of Jazz Hall inductee Donald Ryan, will finish the month with a mix of jazz, classical, gospel and ragtime.
Finally, the spring season comes to a close on Sunday, May 6, with Rebecca Ungerman and the Frank Brown Trio. Over the course of the evening Rebecca will perform works from her latest CD's, including jazz standards and original tunes penned by Ungerman with guitarist Frank Brown.
All concerts, with the exception of "TU Jazz Day" events, will be held on Sunday evenings, beginning at 5pm in the Renaissance Hall at the Greenwood Cultural Center.
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