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Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band at Washington Center for the Performing Arts
From time immemorial, songs have been the vessels of stories and lessons for the Indigenous people of the Americas. Indigenous jazz musicians, ensembles, and big bands carried on that sacred tradition. There were small ensembles and big bands on reservations across the US in the first half of the Twentieth Century and several Indigenous musicians ascended to celebrity in jazz, shaping musical history in their wake. The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band celebrates this legacy through the tradition of storytelling and song by an all-Indigenous 16-piece band comprised of some of the jazz world’s most respected Indigenous jazz musicians today.
This ensemble represents a wide range of Indigenous cultures, from South America to Canada and Northeast to Southwest Indigenous Americas. Together they represent a long silenced, long-forgotten chapter of jazz history: the participation, contribution, and legacy of Indigenous people in jazz. A legacy that seasoned composers Julia Keefe and co-Director Delbert Anderson carry forward through original works inspired by the songs and rhythms of their Native heritage reimagined through the language and stylings of jazz.
It is a rarity to see Indigenous jazz musicians nowadays, let alone an all-Indigenous 16-piece band. It’s even rarer to see female Indigenous jazz players, yet this ensemble features both Julia Keefe and Mali Obomsawin in its ranks.
The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band is both a reflection of a time long forgotten and a window into the future. It is the bridge for all peoples to see themselves on the bandstand regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or socioeconomic status.