Program includes world premiere of Johnson’s "Stop Apologizing For Being Human," plus special guests, vocalist Milton Suggs and narrative artist Shanelle Harrison
Concert webcast for free at dso.org, YouTube, and via Facebook Live as part of DSO’s Live from Orchestra Hall series
Civic Jazz Orchestra gives an opening performance in The Cube prior to the concert
Tickets on sale now at dso.org/jazz
Detroit, (October 25, 2023) – The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) will continue its Paradise Jazz Series with a performance by the Paradise Theatre Big Band. This one-night-only concert will take place on Friday, November 17 at 8 p.m. at Orchestra Hall and will also be webcast for free at dso.org, YouTube, and via Facebook Live as part of DSO’s Live from Orchestra Hall series.
Led by Grammy Award-nominated trumpeter, composer, arranger, and DSO Civic Youth Ensembles alum Kris Johnson, the Paradise Theatre Big Band represents a multi-generational group of musicians who were raised in the Detroit traditions of versatility, mentorship, and innovation. Formed by the DSO in 2022 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Paradise Theatre, this dynamic ensemble features some of the most talented musicians from the Detroit music scene and prides itself on innovative arrangements and hard-hitting, genre-bending performances.
The Paradise Theatre Big Band honors the legacy of Detroit’s Paradise Valley and Black Bottom neighborhoods that served as a beacon of Black culture from 1920–1950. During the DSO’s hiatus from their famed venue on Woodward Avenue, Orchestra Hall reopened as the Paradise Theatre from 1941–1951, hosting some of the most well-known acts and big bands in Black entertainment from across the country.
The November 17 program will include the world premiere of Johnson’s powerful musical narrative titled “Stop Apologizing For Being Human,” a journey into the essence of humanity, emotional vulnerabilities, and the strength of self-discovery. Through pieces like "Contrary Emotion," where Johnson encourages embracing inner greatness, to "What No Longer Serves Me," and "Lifetime," the work encapsulates the myriad emotions that make us intrinsically human.
Also featured on the program is guest vocalist Milton Suggs, who lends his voice to the ensemble by interpreting the evocative poetry of the legendary Paul Laurence Dunbar, including his famous poems “Dreams,” “Poet and His Song,” “Death Song,” and “Anchored," and award-winning narrative artist Shanelle Harrison.
"This concert promises not only a soul-stirring musical journey, but also a transformative experience, challenging societal norms, breaking generational patterns, and most importantly, celebrating the sheer power and beauty of being human," says Johnson.
Prior to the performance, the Civic Jazz Orchestra, part of the DSO’s Civic Youth Ensembles, will give an opening performance in the Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube (The Cube) directed by Vincent Chandler.
Please note: the DSO does not appear on these performances.
Paradise Theatre Big Band will take place on Friday, November 17 at 8 p.m. in Orchestra Hall. Tickets for this performance start at $19. Tickets can be purchased at dso.org or by calling the Box Office at 313.576.5111, open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Subscriptions for the 2023-2024 Paradise Jazz Series can be purchased at dso.org/jazz.
Currently in its 24th season, the Paradise Jazz Series is named for and honors the legacy of the Paradise Theatre, the historic Detroit jazz venue that was on the site of Orchestra Hall from 1941-1951. The DSO is one of few major American orchestras to present regular jazz programming on its main stage. Acclaimed trumpeter, bandleader, composer, and educator Terence Blanchard has served as the DSO’s Fred A. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair since 2012. Learn more about the series at dso.org/jazz.
The Paradise Jazz Series is supported by Huntington, MGM Grand Detroit, and DownBeat magazine.
PARADISE THEATRE BIG BAND
Paradise Jazz Series
Friday, November 17 at 8 p.m.
Kris Johnson, bandleader
Milton Suggs, vocals
Shanelle Harrison, narrative artist
Led by Grammy Award-nominated trumpeter, composer, and arranger Kris Johnson, the Paradise Theatre Big Band represents a multi-generational group of musicians who were raised in the Detroit traditions of versatility, mentorship, and innovation. Formed by the Detroit Symphony in 2022 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Paradise Theatre, this dynamic ensemble features some of the most talented musicians from the Detroit music scene and prides itself on innovative arrangements and hard-hitting, genre-bending performances.
The Paradise Theatre Big Band honors the legacy of Detroit’s Paradise Valley and Black Bottom neighborhoods that served as a beacon of Black culture from 1920–1950. During the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s hiatus from their famed venue on Woodward Avenue, Orchestra Hall reopened as the Paradise Theatre from 1941–1951, hosting some of the most well-known acts and big bands in Black entertainment from across the country.
CIVIC JAZZ LIVE!
Friday, November 17 at 7 p.m.
The Peter D. and Julie F. Cummings Cube
Civic Jazz Orchestra, ensemble
Vincent Chandler, director
Civic Jazz Live! is the opening act for the DSO’s Paradise Jazz Series, featuring student musicians from the Civic Youth Ensembles’s Civic Jazz Orchestra, directed by Vincent Chandler. Join us in The Cube before the show!
About Kris Johnson
Kris Johnson is an award-winning trumpeter, composer, and educator based in the Detroit metro area. As an artist, Johnson’s work focuses on music that spans the depth and breadth of Black American music. The influences that have shaped his artistry include Terence Blanchard, Thad Jones, Nicholas Payton, Stevie Wonder, Dave Matthews, Clifford Brown, Roy Hargrove, and many others.
As the leader of The Kris Johnson Group, he has recorded several studio albums including Odd Expressions, Journey Through a Dream, and The Unpaved Road with Lulu Fall. Many of his projects in recent years have combined his music with technology and often address poignant themes, including his 2020 self-produced and entirely self-performed audio-visual album SAFE, which features his abstract illustrations and animation and explores childhood memories. In 2021, Johnson compiled the music produced for a social media series examining the idea of breaking free from generational trauma into an album, #looptherapy, vol. 1. Lighter in mood but no less impressive is his series of videos with the Kris Johnson Big Band, a project dreamed up during the pandemic of 2020, which uses clever video editing to create an entirely virtual large ensemble, the players of which were gathered from Johnson’s diverse circle friends and professional contacts from around the globe.
Besides his own projects, Johnson’s career has been filled with incredible moments working as a trumpet player for hire. He toured the world with the illustrious Count Basie Orchestra from 2008 to2019 and has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious jazz venues including the Apollo Theater, the Blue Note Jazz Club (US and Japan), Sydney Opera House, Blues Alley, and the Hollywood Bowl. Johnson has also performed with many jazz greats including the Jazz at Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Patti Austin, Wes Anderson, Wycliffe Gordon, Jon Hendricks, Monty Alexander, Christian McBride, and Jamie Cullum, and was featured soloist in the 2013 standup-comedy film Make Me Wanna Holla starring Sinbad.
Johnson has a keen sensitivity to the nuances of film and a knack for storytelling through music, as is evident in his award-winning film scores for various web series, documentaries, short films, and feature films, and the two full-length musicals he has written. Kris scored the Dui Jarrod web series King Ester, which was picked up by Issa Rae’s YouTube Channel, “Issa Rae Presents.” The series was nominated for four Daytime Emmy Awards in 2020. Johnson received an Outstanding Score award for his work on the comedic web series, The PuNanny Diaries, at the 2011 LA Webfest and wrote the score for Searching for Shaniqua, which won HBO’s Best Documentary Award at the 2016 Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival.
The Plowshares Theater (Detroit, MI), in partnership with the Kresge Foundation, recently commissioned Johnson to compose a musical influenced by Detroit’s historic Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods. The work, titled Hastings Street, premiered in 2022 with music/lyrics co-composed by Johnson and playwright/actor John Sloan III. Johnson was awarded a grant in 2014 from New Music USA to fund a studio recording of his original musical Jim Crow’s Tears with a book by Gary Anderson of Plowshares Theater.
In addition to his work on film scores and musicals, Johnson has been commissioned to write compositions and arrangements for the Count Basie Orchestra, Kenneth Thompkins (DSO Principal Trombone), Arts League of Michigan, Karen Clark Sheard, Yolanda Adams, the Clark Sisters, Farmington Community Band, the DSO’s Civic Youth Ensembles, Ferndale Community Concert Band, Motor City Brass Band, Troy High School, New Trier High School, and many others. In 2012, Johnson received an ASCAP Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers award and was selected as one of 25 Detroit performing and literary artists to receive a $25,000 Kresge Artist Fellowship.
Johnson’s journey as an educator began with his own education at Michigan State University, where he received his bachelor’s and master's degrees in jazz studies in 2005 and 2007, respectively. He has gone on to serve in the role of Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Utah from 2015 to2019; a Project Director for Pontiac School District, leading a US Department of Education Arts in Education—Model Development and Dissemination Grant; and as the Education and Digital Programming Manager for the Motown Museum. Additionally, he has served on the teaching faculty at The Ohio State University, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s Civic Youth Ensembles, and as an Artistic Liaison for JazzEd Detroit through a partnership with ArtOps and the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. Currently, Johnson is the Director of Michigan State University’s Community Music School in Detroit.
About Milton Suggs
Milton Suggs’s voice and approach to music are a reflection not only of his direct lineage, but of the many great voices in Black American music and culture from the past century and beyond. Firmly rooted in the blues, Suggs sports a rich baritone with the breadth and power reminiscent of singers like Joe Williams, is able to emote with the soulful intensity of singers like Donny Hathaway, and achieve a velvet palette suggestive of Nat King Cole. Suggs possesses a unique ability to evoke emotion with a masterful sense of phrasing and dynamics.
A gifted composer, arranger, and lyricist, Suggs's music is both honest and inventive, drawing inspiration from a number of influences while forging a singular identity. As a visionary artist, Suggs seeks to pave new roads within the vast traditions that were laid before him for it is the spirit, struggles, triumphs, and stories from the many generations that preceded him that make up the foundation upon which his own artistry stands.
Voted repeatedly a top 10 rising star male vocalist in Downbeat Magazine’s annual critic’s poll, the recognition of Suggs’s talents have continued to grow throughout his years as a fixture in jazz working with artists and bands such as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Orrin Evans, Wycliffe Gordon, Ulysses Owens, and Marquis Hill, among others. Suggs has also been consistent with his own efforts as a recording artist, producing four albums to date and continually developing new projects with new ensembles.
Shanelle Harrison (b. 1997, Columbia, MD) is an award-winning narrative artist, researcher, printmaker, educator, and author. Working at the intersection of storytelling, audio installation, assemblage, print, and sculpture; her practice explores themes on memory, distortion, psychology, race, identity, spirituality, and romance.
Harrison is a recipient of the 2021 Independent Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council and an international scholar for Vā Moana Research Cluster in Auckland, New Zealand. Recently, she has exhibited at the Carr Center Contemporary Gallery and The Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Michigan, The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland, and The American Hungarian Foundation in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Harrison received her BA from Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD in 2019 and she is a current MFA candidate at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI.
About the DSO
The acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra is known for trailblazing performances, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and a deep connection to its city. Led by Music Director Jader Bignamini since 2020, the DSO makes its home at historic Orchestra Hall within the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, offering a performance schedule that features the PVS Classical, PNC Pops, Paradise Jazz, and Young People’s Family Concert series. In addition, the DSO presents the William Davidson Neighborhood Concert Series in metro area venues, as well as eclectic multi-genre performances in its mid-size venue The Cube, constructed and curated with support from Peter D. & Julie F. Cummings. A dedication to broadcast innovation began in 1922, when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a live radio broadcast of a concert and continues today with the groundbreaking Live from Orchestra Hall series of free webcasts.
Since its first school concerts a century ago, and particularly since the founding of the Civic Youth Ensembles in 1970, the DSO has been a national leader in bringing the benefits of music education to students, teachers, and families in Detroit and surrounding communities. The DSO remains committed to expanding its participation in the growth and well-being of Detroit through programs like its Detroit Neighborhood Initiative—cultural events co-created with community partners and residents—and Detroit Harmony, a promise to provide an instrument and instruction to any student in the city who wants to learn. With unwavering support from the people of Detroit, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact lives through the power of unforgettable musical experiences.