In 1989, Big Time Jazz Orchestra rehearsals began in the old Washington School or in the UWS band room preparing for the first public concert in April of 1990. After almost 5 years of collaborating, Randy Lee filed for 501(c )(3) non-profit status and BTJO became an organization with board members and accountability to federal tax laws and the community. Brad Bombardier, Randy Lee, Charlie Leibfried and Tim Stratioti were all at that first rehearsal in 1989 and are still part of the heart of BTJO. The vision to promote and educate the Duluth Superior and surrounding area about the indigenous American art form of big band jazz music continues to remain the goal today!
With its non-profit status, BTJO has been awarded grants for such activities as the commissioning of a work from jazz composer/arranger Tom Matta and bringing in arranger and virtuoso trombonist, Paul McKee, to perform with the band. Other grants funded the making of CDs, a 1999 recording at Studio M in St. Paul, and a 2006 recording through Eric Swanson, both consisting of original compositions and arrangements by current and former members of the orchestra. BTJO was also awarded a 2-year operating grant in 2016. These grants were awarded by the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council and the MN State Legislature.
While there have been many great concerts, it has been BTJO’s honor to play some more notable performances, such as the Minnesota Music Educators Conventions in 1993 and 2001. The group was also selected for the 50th-anniversary convention of the American School Band Directors Association (ASBDA) in 2002. More recently, BTJO was delighted to be invited to share the stage with the Duluth/Superior Symphony Orchestra in March of 2017.
Since BTJO’s inception, this 19 piece orchestra has donated concert proceeds to over 30 charities/nonprofits as well as performance fundraisers for high school music programs including contributing yearly to UMD and UWS music scholarships. Please enjoy the archive of pictures of the many wonderful musicians who have graced our community over the years and don’t forget to check out the two CDs with original compositions from orchestra members available on our website.