Chicago jazz institution losing its leaders

May 9, 2012

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(Photo courtesy of the Chicago Jazz Ensemble)
The Chicago Jazz Ensemble in concert.

The acclaimed Chicago Jazz Ensemble is losing its top two leaders.

Both the artistic director and executive director are resigning this summer from the group, which has been in residence at Columbia College Chicago since 1965. The group performs professionally and also provides mentoring, training and chances to perform for the community and the college.

Dana Hall, the CJE’s artistic director and drummer, is leaving in June. He’ll move to DePaul University as an associate professor of jazz and ethnomusicology starting this fall. He said he’s excited about the opportunity to make and present music.

His colleague, the ensemble’s Executive Director, Kate Dumbleton, will become visiting full-time faculty in arts administration and policy at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, an SAIC spokesman said. Dumbleton also is the new director of the 2012 Hyde Park Jazz Festival.

Hall said neither of them is “abandoning ship.” Hall said he’s been part of the CJE since the 1990s, and it’s an important part of his artistic life.

He said his resignation comes in response to the uncertainty surrounding the ensemble’s future.

In a Feb. 28 document, some officials at Columbia College recommended cutting a number of prominent institutions, including the CJE, the Center for Black Music Research and the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women & Gender in the Arts & Media.

Those recommendations are part of the “prioritization plan” Columbia College is going through in response to a tight budget and declining enrollment. Final decisions are still pending

Hall said the process has been “extremely demoralizing,” adding it’s made it hard for the ensemble to plan, write grants, invite guests or form collaborations.

“There’s a great deal of indecision and uncertainty with regards to the ensemble,” he said. “It doesn’t make for an environment conducive to planning ahead for the future.”

It’s unclear whether the CJE will have another season; there’s no calendar for next season on the group’s website. Hall is hopeful it will survive, but he says that can only happen in a “fully supported capacity.”

Dumbleton could not be reached for comment.

Columbia College released a statement saying it appreciated Dumbleton and Hall’s hard work over the years, and “wishes them every success in their future endeavors. They have been a big part of the Columbia community and we are sad to see them go.

“We look forward to announcing plans for CJE’s future very soon,” the statement said.

News of Dumbleton and Hall’s resignations come a day after Columbia President Warrick Carter, who’s come under tremendous pressure for the proposed cuts, announced he’ll retire in August 2013, a year early.

In an open letter to students, faculty and staff, Carter said:

“We are reaching the point in our transformation where I believe new leadership should shape the rollout and affect the implementation of Blueprint|Prioritization over the coming years.  After reading the recommendations from the community, it became clear that strategic implementation will take a good period of time—and we need to start now and expedite the leadership transition to support implementation.”

Carter announced that Warren Chapman, a Columbia board member, would become senior vice president on June 1 to oversee the prioritization plan.

In an open letter, the Faculty Senate noted high turnover among upper-level administration, leading to a "lack of stability, and a resulting lack of confidence." 

"We are at a low point in institutional morale and in danger of losing our culture of openness and mutual respect," the group said.

The Faculty Senate asked Carter to try to mend fences with staff, faculty and students, and called upon those working on the "prioritization plan" to seek input and consider the long-term consequences of any cuts.

WBEZ's Richard Steele contributed to this story.