New jazzy executive director

By Alexandra Kukulka

The Chicago Jazz Ensemble demonstrates its ongoing commitment to music education to students on and off Columbia’s campus, according to the organization’s website.

In 2009, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble hired a new executive director, Kate Dumbleton, who has years of experience in jazz and music. After college, she worked in San Francisco, where she opened and owned a jazz club and performance space. She also worked as an independent producer and curator.

Dumbleton later moved to Chicago and went to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received a master’s in arts administration and policy. Her position as executive director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble is her first job after completing her master’s. The Chronicle sat down with Dumbleton to talk about her role as executive director, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble and the new vision she has for the group.

The Chronicle: What are your duties as executive director of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble?

Kate Dumbleton: I’m the person [who] makes it possible for the band to walk onstage. I’m the business manager for the organization, so I raise money, write grants and manage the marketing and all the relationships in the community. I am a community builder, so I manage the relationships with all of the venues, universities and high schools we work with.

The Chronicle: How is the job treating you so far?

KD: We’ve had a lot of change in the organization. It’s been really interesting and very exciting to be part of those changes. I think it is a very [fulfilling] time to work in the arts. The reason for that is that even though there’s a lot of economic challenges and a lot of arts organizations are really struggling to stay afloat, the arts are rethinking their management strategies. I think that inside some of that, [there] is some real opportunity for creating new work.

The Chronicle: What is next for the Chicago Jazz Ensemble?

KD: We are launching a small ensemble concert series on Dec. 15, at the Harold Washington Library [Center, 400 S. State St.]. It’s going to be a concert featuring Art Blakey music. It’s pretty exciting because this is the first time we have done a concert with a small ensemble. Then in January [2012], we are going to be performing at the Harris Theatre, [205 E. Randolph Drive], with our full ensemble to celebrate Charles Mingus. As part of that concert, we have bassists Meshell Ndegeocello and Christian McBride joining us. Meshell is also an amazing vocalist, and she is going to be doing work with the ensemble to present some of Joni Mitchell’s music that she worked on with Mingus in the ’70s. In February, we have an incredible concert of Charlie Parker’s music [where]we are going to have a ten piece string ensemble, as well as the band.

The Chronicle: What is your new vision for the ensemble?

KD: One thing we are always thinking about is we are in the 21st century now, and the ensemble has always celebrated the great composers of big bands of the past. One of the things we are interested in doing is what the music is now, who is creating it, how it’s being created and what are the ways in which contemporary artists are making new art. One of the primary elements of our vision is to think about that broadly through collaboration and different projects with different types of artists whether they are from a different genre or a different area of music.

The Chronicle: What is it like working with Dana Hall, artistic director of Chicago Jazz Ensemble?

KD: He is really one of the most intelligent artists I have ever worked with, and I’ve been doing this a long time. The reason for this is because he has an incredible knowledge of the history of music. He knows traditional repertoire and big band music extremely well. He knows a lot about soul, hip-hop and rock music. He also has a really contemporary sensibility about what is happening in music. He really thinks about the ensemble and the here and now, and that’s exciting because he has a lot of really interesting ideas. He has big ideas, and I really admire people with big ideas. It’s challenging because you have to figure out how to do the big ideas. I think it is really important, especially in the context of Columbia, to make space for risk and pushing the envelope. He is also an unbelievable drummer and a stunning musician. He is one of those rare people who has the ability to create work and also shape it.

The Chronicle: What sets the Chicago Jazz Ensemble apart from other ensembles?

KD: We have great musicians. They come from different histories and different traditions, so they all bring unique perspectives. If you think of jazz or you think of music overall as a dialogue, it’s a very interesting conversation to have with all these musicians because they all bring their own stories, but they bring them in a way that is cohesive. Because [of this], they have an elasticity that allows them to play a lot of different music really well. I think also that Dana Hall as a curator and artistic director really differentiates the group. I think one of the really distinguishing factors of the [ensemble] is the scope and approach to curating that we are taking now, where we are really thinking about playing the great pieces of music from the last [100] years of big band, but also considering what it means to commission and create new work. I don’t think there is anybody else doing what we are doing, on that level, in the country.