Magic City Jazz Orchestra - History


The SuperJazz Big Band (formerly UAB SuperJazz) was founded in the 1970s by several Birmingham, Alabama musicians who were interested in big band jazz, including Charles Ard, Mallory Pierce, Sonny Harris, Bernie Bell, and Dr. Everett Lawler. Initially, the band met and rehearsed at Boutwell Recording Studio in Birmingham. Later, the founding members of SuperJazz decided to affiliate with the newly formed Music Department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and subsequently became the first performing musical ensemble connected with UAB. After a 20-plus year association with the UAB Music Department, ties were severed and the band adopted John Carroll Catholic High School as its rehearsal and concert home for several years. As of September 2007, the group now presents concerts four times a year at the new Brock Recital Hall at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. SuperJazz has remained a very popular jazz orchestra in the Birmingham metro area for more than 30 years.

SuperJazz has performed and/or recorded with many notable jazz artists, including Ernie Watts, Lou Marini, Lew Soloff, Chuck Redd, Andy Martin. Johnny O'Neal and Ellis Marsalis. In 2001, a recording titled "UAB SuperJazz, Featuring Ellis Marsalis" was released by UAB Entertainment Records. The CD, produced by UAB Music Department faculty members Ray Reach and Henry Panion and recorded at UAB's Alys Stephens Center for the Performing Arts, features arrangements by Founding Director Everett Lawler, trombonist Charlie Ard, saxophonist Neil McLean, arranger Steve Sample, Sr and pianist Ray Reach. SuperJazz has spawned a number of spin-off groups, such as the Night Flight Big Band and the Magic City Jazz Orchestra.

In 1998, Ray Reach, then Director of the UAB Jazz Ensemble and Founding Director of the Magic City Jazz Orchestra, contacted New York saxophonist Lou Marini in order to hire him to be guest artist and clinician for the annual Weekend of Jazz festival at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Mr. Marini subsequently came to Birmingham, where he conducted jazz workshops and appeared in concert with the SuperJazz Big Band.

Mr. Reach suggested to Marini that a recording of his numerous big band compositions and arrangements was long overdue. Further, Reach suggested, Marini could make an exceptionally high quality recording using the musicians from SuperJazz and the recording facilities available in the Birmingham area. Mr. Marini agreed to do just that. This recording was, in fact, Marini's debut as a leader.

So, in 1999, Marini and Reach began work on co-producing a recording titled "Lou's Blues" at Bates Brothers Recording in Hueytown, a suburb of Birmingham. Both Marini and Reach agreed that for this new recording they would assemble a new band composed of some of the regular members of SuperJazz, supplemented by other players from the area. This new band needed a new name, Thus, the Magic City Jazz Orchestra was born.

Following the successful recording of "Lou's Blues," Reach decided to make the MCJO an ongoing official organization, dedicated to the continuance of the great tradition of the American jazz orchestra. He planned a series of jazz orchestra recordings, featuring well-known but under-recorded artists, such as Lou Marini, Lew Soloff, Tom Malone and others.

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