The DIVA Jazz Orchestra Makes its Cincinnati Debut

As part of the inaugural We Create Jazz festival, the acclaimed DIVA Jazz Orchestra will have a concert at Walnut Hills High School

click to enlarge DIVA Jazz Orchestra - Photo: Bob Weidner
Photo: Bob Weidner
DIVA Jazz Orchestra

DIVA Jazz Orchestra’s passion for Big Band music erupts in every one of its YouTube videos and audio tracks. Twenty-six years since their first concert, the band will finally unleash its high-powered sounds in Cincinnati this week via a show on April 13 at Walnut Hills High School.  

The 15-piece ensemble features top-tier Jazz musicians, who all happen to be women, fronted by drummer Sherrie Maricle, the group’s founding leader.

The DJO is among the most acclaimed Jazz ensembles, appearing regularly at Dizzy’s Club at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall and performing throughout the world. They were featured in the 2011 documentary The Girls in the Band and their 25th Anniversary Project, released last November, topped Billboard’s Jazz chart for three weeks.

Maricle has been dauntless in pursuing a career as a Jazz drummer, a bandleader and an educator. But she was 9 years old when she first encountered sexism in the music world. 

“I wanted to play trumpet but was told ‘girls don’t play that,’ ” she says. “And they handed me a metal clarinet, which I didn’t like.” 

Two years later, she heard Buddy Rich and the Killer Force band. “I came home and told my mom I had to play drums and I was going to play Big Band music,” she says.

Her chops and fierce commitment to Jazz took her to New York, where she earned a master’s and a doctorate degree in Jazz performance from New York University while playing gigs as a freelance musician. 

Her career took off in 1990 when she met Skitch Henderson, legendary conductor of The Tonight Show Band, who heard her perform and asked her to be the drummer for the New York Pops, which he led.

Maricle also met Stanley Kay, tour manager for her idol Buddy Rich and the music director for Broadway star Maurice Hines (Maricle now holds that position). When Kay called her with an offer to lead an all-female Jazz band, Maricle wasn’t enthusiastic. 

“Prior to that call, I avoided all-woman situations because I couldn’t find players at the level I wanted, but I took him seriously,” Maricle says. 

Forty women showed up for auditions, 15 were chosen and rehearsals began shortly afterward. Nine months later, their debut concert unfolded on March 30, 1993. 

DJO musicians are acknowledged as among the best in the world, including tenor sax player Janelle Reichman, alum of the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. 

The DJO’s Cincy appearance will kick-off an all-female Jazz festival,  which has seven other events slated through the remainder of April. Dubbed We Create Jazz, the inaugural fest is dedicated to celebrating women in Jazz through performance, mentorship, workshops, classes and scholarships. 

Alongside the fest’s organizing council — made up of local musicians, educators and supporters —  concert sponsors Pat Christie and Marcia Gallas (who also produced DJO’s 25th anniversary Project) helped bring the orchestra to Cincinnati. 

The April 13 show’s opening act will feature student musicians from CCM’s Prep Department Jazz Band performing with DJO members.  Jennifer Grantham, one of the fest’s council members and a CCM alum, calls this opportunity “a huge honor.”

Then, on April 14, DJO members, including Maricle, and local musicians will participate in a free all-day workshop for student musicians at Walnut Hills High School. 

DJO’s commitment to education is an extension of Maricle’s recognition as an outstanding educator and clinician. 

“I’m always excited to work with students,” she says. “Although, I’m concerned that many of them play well technically but don’t know what Jazz really sounds like.

“It’s like learning a language. You have to hear it to understand it.”

Maricle hopes DJO’s appearance is more of an inspiration than a learning experience.

“Hearing live Jazz is a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” she says. “You’ll never hear a piece played the same way because of improvisation that’s part of a Jazz performance.”

She wants people to be snapping their fingers to the groove of the band Be it Funk or Samba, she says it’s all rooted in Big Band swing. 

 “I love to swing,” she says. “I was born to swing.”

The DIVA Jazz Orchestra performs 8 p.m. April 13 at Walnut Hills High School (3250 Victory Parkway, Evanston). More info/tickets:

About The Author

Anne Arenstein

Anne Arenstein is a frequent contributor to CityBeat, focusing on the performing arts. She has written for the Enquirer, the Cincinnati Symphony, Santa Fe Opera and Cincinnati Opera, and conducted interviews for WVXU's Around Cincinnati. In 2009, Anne was named an NEA Fellow in Classical Music and Opera Journalism...
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