The Charleston Jazz Orchestra always has had a higher purpose than just playing jazz. Under the direction of Charlton Singleton, the big band has made it its mission to educate local audiences about the city’s rich jazz heritage since its inception in 2008.
“Jazz has its roots in Charleston. A lot of people forget that or don’t know it or ... think it’s just New Orleans only, which is untrue,” Charlton Singleton, the leader of the orchestra, said last week. “We do have a connection to that era, a very important connection.”
As the orchestra kicks off its eighth season at the Charleston Music Hall on Saturday with “When Swing Was King,” that fact is clearer than ever.
Mayor John Tecklenburg is the great-nephew of Joseph “Fud” Livingston, a jazz clarinetist, saxophonist and composer best known for co-writing the jazz standard “I’m Thru With Love.” It’s been recorded by Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, even Marilyn Monroe.
Livingston also wrote music for the greatest big bands of the swing era led by Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman, according to the Charleston Jazz Initiative.
In case you haven’t heard, Charleston’s new mayor also happens to be a professional jazz pianist, which now makes even more sense given this piece of family history.
So, Singleton thought, what better way to commemorate local jazz history than to kick off CJO’s eighth season with a performance by one of its heirs?
“I asked (Tecklenburg) the day after the election,” Singleton said, chuckling. “I sent him a text and said, ‘Hey, man, congratulations. I know you’re kind of busy, but ...’ Less than 24 hours later, he called me back and he said, ‘You said Uncle Fud, I’m coming. Let’s do it.’ ”
The orchestra will play several of Livingston’s tunes, including “I’m Thru With Love,” which will be arranged by Singleton and performed by Tecklenburg on piano.
The mayor said in a statement that the opportunity to play the song on stage with the orchestra will be “especially personal and moving” for him.
Perhaps even more profound is the fact that his uncle’s legacy is back in the spotlight. While recording artists, producers and band-leaders certainly knew Livingston in his heyday of the ’30s and ’40s, little has been done to commemorate his role in the jazz industry.
Locally, however, organizations such as the Charleston Jazz Initiative and the Charleston Jazz Orchestra keep these stories alive through their programs.
The late Jack McCray, who worked closely with the initiative, summed up Livingston’s legacy in a Post and Courier column in 2009:
“Livingston’s place in American music history is that of an ultra-modernist. In an era with a simplistic, brittle, tinny feel to its soundtrack, Livingston’s music was lyrical, lush and smooth by comparison.”
Experience his contributions to the genre at the orchestra’s shows at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday. The program will center on the big band hits of the swing era, which include classics by Cab Calloway, the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and more.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.