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Philanthropy Friday: A Conversation with Local Jazzman Byron Stripling

 Margaret Robinson, The Columbus Foundation Philanthropy Friday: A Conversation with Local Jazzman Byron Stripling
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Photo by Stephen Pariser Photography.

Supporting your local jazzman is easy when that man is Byron Stripling. He has been leading the Columbus Jazz Orchestra (CJO) with passion and vision for a decade. His love of performing and “feeding the souls of young people” in the Jazz Academy at Jazz Arts Group of Columbus grounds his impressive stance on both life and stage.

Thanks in part to the trumpet, Stripling’s impressive determination naturally inspires those in the Jazz Academy and audience members in theaters like the Southern, CJO’s home. With Stripling as artistic director, the CJO presents over 40 concerts each season in Columbus.

“I play an instrument that’s a beast. It’s not forgiving. If you don’t practice, it will kick your behind. It’s just a piece of metal up against your lips,” Stripling said.

Stripling, who has played with people like Dizzy Gillespie as part of the Count Basie Orchestra, remains passionate about the resources and ideas that helped him in his early years.

“School never hooked me, not at all. What I did love was music,” Stripling said.

So Byron took advantage of his neighborhood library.

“I used to check out records and then record them to cassette tapes. That was my library. People should always support libraries. You have to make sure everyone has access to information because that can be a form of censorship,” Stripling said.

Censorship is a topic at the forefront of Stripling’s thoughts these days as he prepares CJO’s upcoming show “Don’t Listen To This!” which kicks off  The Jazz Arts Group’s Inside Track series for the 2011-12 season on September 23–24 at the Lincoln Theatre. The program features music and lyrics that once fanned the flames of controversy, performed by Stripling, Dave Powers, and Christian Howes. A pre-concert presentation by the Thurber House will highlight censorship in literature.

The idea for “Don’t Listen to this!” came to Stripling in the form of a question.

“Why don’t people want you to hear certain things? If someone tells me, ‘don’t listen to this,’ then that’s exactly what I want to listen to,” Stripling said.

Photo by The Columbus Foundation.

Stripling is still fine tuning the set list for the upcoming show, but one classic you are sure to know will certainly be performed.

“Chubby Checker, his big hit was The Twist, people censored that. The Twist was the dumbest dance in the world. All you do is go like this,” Stripling said, jumping to his feet to do The Twist.

All of the joking aside, Stripling is very serious about his two daughters and the Columbus community. Stripling was surprised by the realization that Columbus is a great place for a world-renowned jazzman to call home.

“The mythology is New York and L.A. but I’ve brought shows to Los Angeles after performing them in Columbus and so many times they sound better here than they do there with an all-professional band. Don’t tell that to anybody in L.A. but it’s the honest truth. The quality of musicians here is so high,” Stripling said.

Local musicians, schools, and community members were more than enough to sell Stripling on raising his family in Columbus.

“My thought was to commute. Come to Columbus to conduct, perform, and always return to New York. But that changed as I was around the community more and saw the quality of life. I’m celebrating my tenth anniversary this year as leader of The Columbus Jazz Orchestra. It seems like yesterday I got here,” Stripling said, punctuating with a quick snap of his fingers.

A cemented and integral part of the Columbus community, Stripling is an ideal mentor at the Jazz Academy.

“It is a place where we can nurture the soul of young people. Have you seen the creativity of these kids? The art is in them and it must come out. It’s their song, their heart and soul,” Stripling said.

Stripling believes supporting nonprofits like Jazz Arts Group is very effective for improving the lives of young people and the community.

“When people support this they are supporting a community and helping kids.
It’s kids being uplifted by music, uplifted by art. Here, young people also get confidence to stand up in front of people and strength for job interviews. This is a transformation,” Stripling said.

Photo by The Columbus Foundation.

In the last ten years Stripling has delivered many memorable performances and engaged with the community through collaborative shows with visual artists ranging from Aminah Robinson to Columbus College of Art and Design students.

“Columbus deserves to have a great jazz orchestra and it also deserves to have a great orchestra,” Stripling said.

Jazz Arts Group of Columbus is the winner of the 2010 Columbus Foundation Award. As such, a $25,000 grant will be awarded to Jazz Arts Group to recognize its work in the betterment of central Ohio.

For more information on Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, visit PowerPhilanthropy®, The Columbus Foundation’s giving tool with information on nearly 600 central Ohio nonprofits, which can help you help others through the most effective philanthropy possible. Or, visit their website, www.jazzartsgroup.org.

Philanthropy Friday is a feature series produced by The Columbus Foundation that highlights Columbus area nonprofit organizations. For more nonprofit information, follow us on Twitter at @colsfoundation and like The Columbus Foundation on Facebook.

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