By Brenna C. Cronin
From his school band program where he met the trumpet, to prestigious jazz degrees at Depaul University and Northwestern University, there is no question of the power of music over Orbert Davis’ life. He built his career path from a studio musician in the “jobbing” economy, to four successful business ventures, including Discover Music: Discover Life, Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, Chicago Immigrant Stories, and Chicago Jazz Academy. Mr. Davis visited the Revenue Strategies class, led by Professor Karen Gahl-Mills, to discuss the power of combining revenue strategies to create a successful business.
“I did pretty well working as a studio musician—you had to know all styles on trumpet, never knowing which style the day would bring. Be it Harry James or Louis Armstrong, you had to be ready for change.” That message of versatility and flexibility shined a light on Mr. Davis’ ability to be creative and adapt to future change. For him, playing trumpet was an obsession and he even joked that “they would tell me to stop practicing!” Mr. Davis shared a story of being a ten-year-old at his first paid gig, playing Taps for a military memorial service. “They passed the hat around, I made $25 dollars and thought, oh I love this! … but the twelve gun salute scares me every time.” Between studio gigs, wedding receptions, corporate gatherings, and the like, Mr. Davis found his way through the music world and enjoyed getting paid for his efforts.
With great passion, Mr. Davis discussed the importance of getting instruments into student’s hands earlier, specifically in 4th to 6th grade through his program Discover Music: Discover Life. “You cannot start in high school if you want to build diversity in music… do not recruit high school students, recruit 6th graders,” shared Mr. Davis, when he wondered why the philharmonic only had two minority students participating. “It’s cause they start teaching in high school”.
Professor Gahl-Mills encouraged Mr. Davis to talk about how his for-profit endeavors were helping to financially support his nonprofit missions, an idea that really resonated with the class. “If you’re going to do this work, you have to be very clear about your purpose and your vision… it must be in the public interest. What could be more in the public interest than artists responding to the events of our times?” offered Gahl-Mills. “As artists, what is our story? What is our purpose?” asked Mr. Davis. The growth of Chicago Immigrant Stories was a powerful and timely discussion on combining artistic power with public purpose in a time of significant society change and unrest. “The purpose of Chicago Immigrant Stories is to create change, and to create an artistic response around it. I have friends who came to America in search of education… employment opportunities… for a better life… many whose ancestors like mine were stolen from their homes and brought here to be slaves… to flee the Holocaust… What’s your story?” Through CIS, first generation immigrants are intentionally hired to perform with them. However, as Mr. Davis pointed out, “Diversity has never been the goal. Diversity is the byproduct. Diversity just happens. This is America – go make a friend.”
For more information about Chicago Immigrant Stories, click here.
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