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Published on May 17th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


The Charleston Jazz Orchestra Reworks the Classic ‘Porgy & Bess’

Members of the Charleston Jazz Orchestra, the Holy City’s top-notch big band, have been busily preparing reworkings and new arrangements of Charleston native DuBose Heyward’s and George and Ira Gershwin’s 1935 American folk opera Porgy & Bess. The orchestra’s lead alto saxophonist Robert Lewis arranged most of program.

As the Director of Jazz Studies at the College of Charleston and as a local composer and arranger, Lewis has worked numerous jazz and pop projects like this with the Jazz Artists of Charleston and other groups in and around the Lowcountry.


Charleston-based musician, arranger, and composer Robert Lewis (provided)

“They’re truly tailor-made for this group,” CJO conductor and trumpeter Charlton Singleton says of Lewis’s new arrangements in a recent promo clip. “Robert knows everybody in the band well. This is our fifth season, so everyone knows how everybody else reacts when they’re playing. Everyone on the band has some sort of featured moment.”

“It has been a challenge, but it’s been a fun challenge,” says Lewis, who started working on the Porgy & Bess arrangements back in November 2012. “I’ve learned a lot about Gershwin and how he approached music. It’s been a lot of fun.”

The roster of musicians for the shows will include Singleton on trumpet alongside a horn section of trumpeters Chuck Dalton, Stephan Berry, Dan Bellack, and Kevin Hackler, and a trombone line of Phil King, Ken Foberg, Teddy Adams, and Stephen Spaulding. Lewis will be situated in the woodwind section with Jon Phillips, Mark Sterbank, Jack Pettit, and John Cobb. The orchestra’s rhythm section will feature guitarist Tyler Ross, pianist Gerald Gregory, upright bassist Jeremy Wolf, and drummer Ron Wiltrout. Leah Suárez, the JAC president, will sing on several renditions.

Presented by the Jazz Artists of Charleston, the Charleston Jazz Orchestra will perform two Porgy & Bess: Reimagined concerts at the Charleston Music Hall on Sat. May 18. Show times are 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tickets are available for between $30-$40. Senior tickets are for $25-$35. Student discounts are available as well.

Visit charlestonjazz.com, jazzartistsofcharleston.org, and charlestonmusichall.com for more.

Poster design (above) by Olive*Argyle. Illustration by Robert Washington.

Video below by the JAC’s Marcus Amaker.




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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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