Jazz Flavors in Season

A longtime jazz performer and educator meets a renowned symphony orchestra.

by Dr. Todd Kelly, Artist-in-Residence, Peoria Symphony Orchestra
Dr. Todd Kelly
Dr. Todd Kelly performs with the Todd Kelly Three at a special taping for WTVP’s Sound Bites in May 2019. Photo by Stephanie Bartman

I am thrilled and honored to be the Peoria Symphony Orchestra’s Artist-in-Residence for the 2019-2020 season—and I’m particularly looking forward to bringing a jazz flavor into the season. This is the second year of the Artist-in-Residence program, which seeks to highlight musicians of high quality who live locally. Last year, the PSO welcomed pianist Geoffrey Duce, professor at Illinois State University. 

While I hold a degree in music education and two degrees in classical trumpet performance, jazz has always been my preferred means of self-expression. So, how did it happen that a jazz musician and educator was invited to be an Artist-in-Residence with a symphony orchestra? For this, I owe thanks to Maestro George Stelluto—and a lifetime of jazz.

Self-Expression and Direction
I grew up in Missoula, Montana, which had (and still has!) a vibrant arts scene. World-class musicians like Allen Vizzutti and Judith Blegen were raised in Missoula. I always loved playing the trumpet, but I really became hooked on it when I was 14 years old—and it was all due to my experience playing in the Missoula All-City Jazz Band. As a shy kid, I was attracted to the opportunity for self-expression that I found in jazz, and this eventually drew me into music as a profession. 

All of my college degrees focused on classical trumpet, so I am largely self-taught as a jazz musician, having picked up a lot of information at jam sessions and especially during my years playing on cruise ships. Because music has given my life direction and purpose, I feel a responsibility to be a strong voice for jazz education in central Illinois. I really enjoy encouraging and helping young musicians to find their way.

In the fall of 2017, the PSO was performing the La La Land soundtrack along with the movie. The first trumpet book is tricky, filled with improvised jazz solos and high notes, and Maestro Stelluto invited me to play the part, which was originally written for Los Angeles studio legend Wayne Bergeron. Later that season, I performed with The BraziLionaires and the PSO at their annual “Romance” concert. Maestro Stelluto called a few weeks later to explore the possibility of engaging me as Artist-in-Residence for the next year. I was thrilled at the invitation and happily accepted.

As Artist-in-Residence for the PSO, I will be performing on both the November and February concerts. In November, my quintet will perform with the legendary vocalist Judy Page. It will be a thrill to share the stage with her and the Peoria Symphony Orchestra, performing standards from the Great American Songbook! In February, I will perform Iain Hamilton’s wonderful Concerto for Jazz Trumpet and Orchestra. This jazz-flavored work is reminiscent of the orchestral works of George Gershwin and Duke Ellington—with a swing feel, interesting harmonies and a challenging trumpet part. The second half will feature an encore performance of The BraziLionaires, led by Rico Wayne Johnson and Dove Benoit. Standing in front of the PSO as a soloist is an exhilarating experience, and I am already hard at work preparing the music. 

Dr. Todd Kelly
Todd Kelly & Friends perform with the PSO, February 2019. Photo by Kelli Drake

A Life in Music
I am very busy as a performer—in groups such as the Todd Kelly Quartet and Quintet, The BraziLionaires, Tom Marko’s Inner Light, the Central Illinois Jazz Orchestra and Heartland Festival Orchestra. I believe it is important for a music educator to also be an active musician. This is particularly true in jazz education, where the landscape is constantly changing. As professor of trumpet and director of jazz ensembles at Bradley University, the focus of my musical life is my work at Bradley and in the community, working with and mentoring young musicians. 

As Artist-in-Residence, I have several other responsibilities during the year. This past May, we taped Sound Bites at WTVP with the Todd Kelly Three, and we will be performing at The Twelve Bar in Peoria Heights on September 14. Additionally, I will be presenting clinics for young musicians throughout the season. It is a great honor to represent the Peoria Symphony, and I hope you will join us—not only in November and February, but for all of the concerts in what promises to be a fantastic season! PM

Learn more about the PSO’s 2019-2020 season at peoriasymphony.org.

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