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Changing Perceptions

Hamilton, Ohio – You’ve heard it all before. But not like this.

When the Cincinnati Contemporary Jazz Orchestra returns to the Fitton Center for its CCJO Goes to the Movies concert May 6, get ready for fresh takes on familiar music.

“As an arranger, that recognizability gives me a lot of freedom to create something new,” said CCJO artistic director Eric Lechliter. “People already know the music, so they’re willing to go a different direction with it. We’re taking familiar music and stating it in a very different context.”

Which includes different orchestrations, yes - meaning a song that might be strings-forward on the silver screen gets played in a horn-centric way live – but also a complete reimagining of how the song gets played.

The Godfather theme, for example,” Lechliter said. “In the movie it’s a lachrymose jazz waltz. Our arrangement, we’ve turned it into a 4/4, Count Basie-type swing number. We’re taking these songs and siphoning them through the lens of big-band jazz. It’s kind of changing the perception of what contemporary big-band music can be.”

Fitton Center audiences are used to seeing the CCJO during the holidays. They played a live Christmas show in 2021 and streamed a virtual Christmas program during the pandemic in 2020. Lechliter is happy to bring the band back in the spring.

The movie theme holds a special place in his heart as the first show he programmed after becoming artistic director in 2019. Some of his personal highlights include the love theme from Chinatown, a mashup of incidental music from a pair of spaghetti westerns – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly and The Magnificent Seven - and orchestra member Joe Duran’s arrangement of the James Bond theme from You Only Live Twice.

Mostly, though, he looked for a diverse body of music.

“For this one, I put a lot of effort into getting a lot of variety in the show,” Lechliter said. “We have jazz composers writing for film, like Henry Mancini and The Pink Panther. We have classical composers like Richard Strauss whose work was added to film, like “Also Sprach Zarathustra” in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We have pop songs on screen we’re putting into a jazz context.

“We’ve got all kinds of different kinds of movies. Sci-fi, sports films, crime and film noir, westerns, romance, kids movies – we’ve got a piece from Disney’s Aladdin – action movies, spy movies. We touch on everything and make it into jazz.”

CCJO features 17 players – guitar, piano, bass and drums, along with a beefed-up horn section including multiple saxophones, trumpets and trombones – giving them a lot of flexibility within the music.

“One of our artistic missions is to create new audiences for big band music,” Lechliter said. “Sometimes people hear ‘jazz’ and think that’s going to be a little opaque and hard to follow. There’s a lot of nostalgia in this show, but there also something new and relatable.

“If people enjoy this, they think, ‘Well, maybe I do like big band music.’ Then they’re willing to try out some of our more adventurous stuff.”

That approach seems to be working. Lechliter said this has been the best-attended CCJO season ever.

“We’re grateful to all our loyal fans,” he said. “We’re excited to play for them and to make some more new friends and fans in Hamilton next weekend.”

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