Chicago Immigrant Stories II Review – what it means to be “American”

Back in January during the polar vortex (when it was about 0 degrees, Chicagoans should remember that when complaining about the recent heat) Orbert Davis trekked out to the National Hellenic Museum to have an informal jam session with Greek saxophonist and composer, Athanasios Zervas.  The night was part of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s initiative with the goal of melding musical cultures of some of Chicago’s most diverse immigrant communities (later Davis also held a similar jam session in Pilsen).  The night ended as a seedling of what was to become a full-fledged celebration.

Orbert Davis led the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic
Orbert Davis put on a joyful celebration with a serious message

That celebration took place this week in Millennium Park with a program entitled Chicago Immigrant Stories II.  The full Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Davis, performed a show that was the end result of six months of sharing, collaborating, hard work and musical talent. The CJP, with help from other collaborating musicians, composed a musical performance that melted together everything that makes Chicago a such vibrant musical scene.

The night in Millennium Park was also a lesson to everyone about what it means to be “American.”  It started with a video presentation where members of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and the collaborating artists shared the stories of where they came from, why they decided to come to this country and specifically why they chose Chicago.  The reasons mostly revolved around Chicago’s rich jazz history – but the funniest moment was when violinist Zara Zaharieva said that she chose Chicago because of Michael Jordan and the Bulls.  

The video presentation set the tone for the night, but it the music is what really told the story.  The highlights were:

Zaharieva’s violin really stood

Por Una Cabeza, arranged by Orbert Davis, featured violinist Zara Zaharieva (originally from Bulgaria) and pianist Leandro Lopez-Varady (originally from Argentina).  The tango sounded amazing when performed by the entire orchestra and the featured duo performed together flawlessly.  Zaharieva’s violin really stood out as she was both tender and forceful, but always beautiful. 

Athanasios Zervas
Athanasios Zervas performance was technically superb

Elegy for Antigone, was composed by special guest and collaborator Athanasios Zervas.  Zervas (originally from Greece) drew on ancient Greek tragedies when writing this composition to help tell a sorrowful, but stunning musical story.  His masterful saxophone performance touched on a range of emotions, from distressed to mournful to troubled all accentuated with dramatic outbursts.  It was a technically superb performance.

Sones de Mexico had a lot of fun

Zamba Chucha, featuring special guests Sones de Mexico, was probably the most fun number of the night.  Sones de Mexico is the country’s premier Mexican folk group featuring numerous regional styles from Mexico.  In the middle of this upbeat romp, a drum battle broke out between Sones de Mexico member, Eric Hines,and the CJP’s Ernie Adams.  The two percussionists took turns laying down beats to try to one-up each other, with the only real winner being the audience.


The night was a celebration:  music from all the different nationalities and ethnicities mixed together brilliantly; people of all ages and races danced on the Millennium Park lawn.  After a rousing song where people from all parts of the globe joyfully came together to collaborate, perform and have fun, Orbert Davis said it the best.  “That’s how countries should get along,” and then further driving home the point, “and that’s how we should get along because we’re Americans.”  Amen.

Photos by K. Joseph Fotos

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