09:26 AM

Celebrating 50 Years of UHD: An Evening of Jazz


By Marie Jacinto

The founding of the UHD Civic Jazz Orchestra, now known as the Houston Civic Jazz Orchestra, in August 1991 by the late UHD Jazz Artist in Residence Robert Wilson is one of the many milestones in UHD’s illustrious history.

Now this famed jazz orchestra, under the direction of longtime conductor Dr. Sam Jackson, comes home to UHD to perform “An Evening of Jazz” at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2024, in the Wilhelmina Cullen Roberston Auditorium with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Vocalist Julie Wilson will perform such favorites as Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife” and Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child”—just two of the many jazz standards, show tunes, and Latin jazz works on the program. 

“An Evening of Jazz” is a part of our 50th anniversary year celebrations. The event is free and open to the public. Register here. Ms. Wilson recently talked about UHD's history and the upcoming concert on KUHF's “Houston Matters” and in the video, below.

“This year we will celebrate all the milestones throughout our five decades, including the founding of the UHD Civic Jazz Orchestra,” said UHD President Loren J. Blanchard. “In fact, we will begin our yearlong celebrations with that concert and close the year with a concert by jazz great Terence Blanchard.”

The history of the UHD Civic Jazz Orchestra itself is a storied one. A professional jazz trumpet player and band leader from the age of 12, Wilson, a UHD Professor of English, dreamed of creating a civic jazz orchestra to give a home to the many excellent players who loved jazz and playing but had put their musical pursuits aside for more-lucrative day jobs.

The orchestra recruited professionals and excellent amateurs, and hosted such jazz greats as trumpeter and vocalist Milt Larkin, whose 81st birthday was the occasion for the launching of the band; trumpeter Clark Terry, who performed with the orchestra five years in a row; trumpeter and vocalist Chet Baker; saxophonists Joe Henderson and Arnett Cobb; and trumpeter Dennis Dotson, among others.

The orchestra played concerts at UHD and the University of Houston-Clear Lake, all 15 years of the Kemah Jazz Festival, and many local arts fairs and events. The orchestra also held the annual Women in Jazz concert as part of UHD’s Women’s History Month observation, honoring national and local women jazz musicians such as pianists Marsha Frazer and Pamela York, trumpeter Carol Morgan, and saxophonist Sharel Cassity.

Wilson also founded the UHD Houston Professional Musicians Association Young Sounds of Houston Jazz Orchestra to ensure that young musicians in the Houston area had an opportunity to learn America’s art form, eventually sparking a national interest in starting youth jazz bands in other cities. Young Sounds paralleled the Civic Jazz Orchestra and played many UHD concerts, the Kemah Jazz Festival, Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Texas Jazz Festival, and the French Quarter Jazz Festival, among many others. Young Sounds nurtured the talents of such national jazz musicians as trumpeter Brandon Lee and pianist Jason Moran. 

For more information on UHD’s 50th anniversary events, visit uhd.edu/50years.

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.