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Oklahoma Community Orchestra debuts first performance of challenging season

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Dizzy Gillespie and his impossibly large, chipmunk cheeks helped found Afro-Cuban jazz, aided in ushering in the age of bebop jazz, and influenced a generation of performers.

On Sunday, the Oklahoma Community Orchestra will celebrate the legend's catalogue of work with "The Music of Dizzy Gillespie" at Oklahoma Christian University.

"Even though the program features a full orchestra, it is a fusion of orchestral and jazz music, but also features a jazz rhythm section where the wind parts are more like how they'd be written for jazz," said Bill Knisely, the orchestra's president.

The performance serves as a fund-raiser for The Lighthouse Medical Ministries. The orchestra will perform under the baton of guest conductor and renowned jazz bassist Paul West, who performed with Gillespie in the past. His stature and experience in the world of jazz make him uniquely qualified to tackle Gillespie's music.

"That is the connection with this music. West performed with Dizzy Gillespie and many of the jazz greats. He is the one who has ownership of these orchestral arrangements," said John Fletcher, who regularly conducts the orchestra.

HOLDING ITS OWN
Although performing the catalog presents a challenge, Knisely is confident the orchestra is more than capable of holding its own.

"Even though we are a classical, orchestral group, a large portion of the musicians have a background in blues and jazz, so it's not something that will trip us up," he said. "It is just exciting that we get to do it."

 Further demonstrating a commitment to versatility, the orchestra will collaborate with the Central Oklahoma Ballet Company for "The Nutcracker Ballet" scheduled for a December staging in Yukon. Accompanying a ballet means it is just as important to keep track of the performers onstage, as well as the performers in the orchestra pit.

The other members of the orchestra range from educators to professional musicians, and include those with careers far outside the music realm. Fletcher said the orchestra is a vital outlet for the musicians who might not otherwise have opportunities to continue sharpening their skills after leaving their school days behind.

"I hear all the time from older people, even college students, that they wished they hadn't stopped playing their instrument in junior high, or they stopped taking piano lessons a few years ago, but wished they'd kept it going," he said. "These are the people that have kept it going. They found an outlet like this to continue having musical experiences many years after they've been through the educational process." "Charles Martin

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