2024 CYSO Gala Honors Legacy of Duke Ellington

The 2024 CYSO Gala: Got That Swing! took place at Chicago’s Radisson Blu Aqua hotel on Saturday, March 2nd. Celebrating the 125th birthday of Duke Ellington and his legacy as one of the most enduring creative voices of the 20th century, CYSO was proud to bring together nearly 400 board members, parents, alumni, and supporters for this special evening The event raised more $525,000 to support CYSO’s award-winning programs for the next generation of young musicians and leaders.

The evening began with a bustling cocktail hour in the ballroom’s blue-lit foyer where guests sipped on a signature drink—”The Sophisticated Lady”—and enjoyed music from members of CYSO’s Preparatory Strings, one of our youngest ensembles. Throughout the evening, each of the CYSO ensembles that performed for guests played from a selection of Duke Ellington compositions and other jazz classics. Preparatory Strings entertained with jazzy, bouncy melodies including Doug Spata’s Beale Street Strut, William Owens’ “D” Jam Blues, and Kirt N. Mosier’s Jazz Rhythmico.

As they mixed and mingled with other CYSO supporters, cocktail hour guests also have the opportunity to pose in front of the step and repeat and experience a 360-degree photo booth provided by Record-A-Hit Entertainment.

The doors to the ballroom opened at 6:50 pm to signal the start of the seated program and Symphony Orchestra took the stage, welcoming guests to their seats with the sounds of Ellington Portrait, a medley of Duke’s most famous tunes. On the table, supporters were each greeted with glowing art deco-inspired lanterns and beautiful blue and white floral arrangements.

Now a familiar face to Gala attendees, WGN anchor and investigative reporter Lourdes Duarte served as the evening’s host for the fourth time since 2019, welcoming guests to the event with her signature enthusiasm and charm. She introduced Gala co-Chairs Tyler Forbes and Maestro Allen Tinkam. CYSO student “Gala Guides” welcomed guests at VIP tables as dinner was served. As guests enjoyed their meal, the live auction began and attendees bid on luxury travel packages to the Florida Keys, Mexico, the Bahamas, and more.

The auction was followed by evening’s Note of Excellence Award presentation. CYSO Board Chair Emeritus Ross Bricker introduced Jan Feldman, Executive Director of Lawyers for the Creative Arts. LCA has had a profound impact on the creative communities in Chicago, providing not only pro-bono services to artists, but also actively working with legal, arts, and philanthropic communities to help artists meet new challenges through developing the next generation of programs and services.

CYSO Jazz Orchestra alum Isabella Isherwood took the podium next to present the Note of Excellence to Pharez Whitted, CYSO Director of Jazz and award-winning trumpet player. Isherwood highlighted Whitted’s musical achievements and commitment to his students, as well as the profound impact he has had on her life and career as a former student. Jazz Orchestra students cheered as Whitted took the stage to accept his award. He spoke about the connection he feels with students, the many ways his role at CYSO has allowed him to grow as both an educator and musician, as well as the Duke Ellington’s importance to the history of music as well as in today’s world.

An exciting performance followed the awards as Whitted invited special guest Jahari Stampley, 2017 CYSO alum and 2023 Chicago Tribune Chicagoan of the Year for Jazz, to the stage to join Jazz Orchestra . Whitted congratulated Stampley on his achievements and shared anecdotes from when Stampley was a member of the inaugural year of CYSO’s Jazz Orchestra. With Stampley on piano and Whitted on trumpet, the ensemble brought four well-known Ellington compositions to life, including Boo-Dah, Jeeps Blues, It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), and Second Line. Audiences were moved by the incredible chemistry between the orchestra and soloists, clapping and cheering the students on as they played with gusto.

To introduce the evening’s scholarship video and paddle raise, Executive Director Jennie Oh Brown spoke to guests about the importance of carrying on Ellington’s legacy of pushing boundaries and CYSO’s commitment to dedication to innovative programming that builds community and supports students’ quest for artistic and personal excellence. The audience was treated to a new short film created by Accenture that highlights CYSO’s work, as told through the voices of our young musicians. Guests laughed and cried watching as the featured students speak eloquently about the skills they’d developed and friendships forged during their time at CYSO. The crowd was moved to raise nearly $160,000 in the paddle raise to support CYSO financial assistance and keeping tuition affordable for all families.

To culminate the evening’s program, Symphony Orchestra and members of Jazz Orchestra came together for a final performance of Black, Brown, Beige Suite and Grand Slam Jam. Maestro Tinkham explained the importance of Grand Slam Jam as Ellington’s first composition for symphony orchestra and band, which he initially gave the tongue in cheek title Non-Violent Integration”. The room buzzed with excited energy inspired by the immense dedication on display by the performing musicians, who earned a well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

Following the dinner, guests returned to the ballroom’s foyer for a dessert reception. Students from CYSO’s Kaiso Steel Orchestra performed Ellington tunes and other favorites in honor of the program’s 10th anniversary this year. Attendees danced, mingled, and enjoyed sweet treats as the evening wrapped up.

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who attended, donated, spread the word, performed, volunteered, and cheered on our 2024 Gala. We are so grateful for the support of the CYSO community.

Thank you to our Gala Co-chairs Allen Tinkham & Rachel Lang, Tyler Forbes & Christopher Taylor. Thank you as well to our Host Committee: Anonymous, Saurab & Anjani Bhargava, Willard Bransky, Ross Bricker & Nina Vinik, Rebecca & Josh Butler, Jon & Stacie Dennis, Jerome & Yifang Fifer, Sara & Scott Fisher, Mary & Lionel Go, Kelly & Dennis Howe, Laura Cordell & Michael Lobash, Richard Blessen & Laura Mandel, Jennifer Myerberg, Angela & Dana O’Banion, Stacy & Joseph Raviv, Stephen & Terry Schwartz, Cynthia Van Osdol & John Sandwick.

We are also grateful to our generous lead Gala sponsors: Chapman, Jenner & Block LLP, Cynthia Van Osdol & John Sandwick, US Bank, Conagra Brands, The Alvin & Louise Myerberg Foundation & Jennifer Myerberg, Pritzker Traubert Foundation, Stephen & Terry Schwartz, Accenture, Alliant, Boston Consulting Group, Mary & Lionel Go, KPMG, Old National Bank, Real Digital LLC, RL Canning, Russ Financial Group & Charlie Russ.

More information on the Gala and complete photo galleries can be found at cyso.org/gala.

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