Lauren Deutsch Credit: Myra Melford

Yesterday the Jazz Institute of Chicago announced that Heather Ireland Robinson, director of the Beverly Arts Center from 2014 till 2017, will take the helm of the venerable jazz-advocacy organization on Thursday, March 1. She replaces outgoing JIC executive director Lauren Deutsch, who’s held the position since 1996.

Founded in 1969, the JIC is perhaps best known as the group that programs the annual Chicago Jazz Festival (I’ve been a volunteer on the programming committee since 2011). But that curatorial function is just a sliver of its mission, which is to promote jazz and help sustain its strength and breadth via educational endeavors and other public programs.

In 1997, early in Deutsch’s leadership, the JIC launched the popular JazzCity program in collaboration with the Chicago Park District, which continues to present free concerts by diverse local musicians in parks all over town. During her tenure the organization’s annual budget more than quintupled, climbing from $175,000 to almost $950,000. But for me Deutsch’s greatest legacy as director is the JIC’s increased role in fostering the talents of young musicians, especially girls and women. So many significant players to come out of Chicago have been helped by the JIC in one way or another, among them trumpeter Marquis Hill, vibist Joel Ross, and saxophonist Rajiv Halim.

I reached out to three of the women touched by Deutsch’s work over the years—who are also three of the most important and consequential musicians the JIC has ever served—and asked them to share their thoughts about the departing director. Because Deutsch is also a terrific photographer, I’ve illustrated each testimonial with a photo she took of the artist in question.

Tomeka Reid:

It’s hard to sum up in a few words the impact that Lauren has had on me. She’s always been supportive and encouraging throughout the entire time I’ve known her. A true advocate for female musicians, making sure that our voices are heard throughout the city, and just genuinely involved in the jazz community in general. She is a great artist herself, so it will be amazing to see her photography continue to blossom. I’m very grateful for all that she has brought to the Chicago jazz music scene. Her impact is felt.


Tomeka ReidCredit: Lauren Deutsch

Katie Ernst

I met Lauren when I was in high school and aspiring to be a professional jazz musician. I attended a student jam session hosted by JIC and established friendships with fellow young musicians who are still going strong today (Zakiya Powell, Matt Carroll, John Foster, and Coco Elysses were in attendance). Lauren actively facilitated connection/community/collaboration between groups of people—young and old, suburban and urban, audiences and musicians. I also have photographs from that day, because LD was always documenting the scene! Her photo archives of Chicago jazz music are astounding. I remember being impressed by how hip Lauren was—a jazz photographer and leader of a big institute for jazz. An early example for me of someone who serves a community as both artist and leader/advocate.

She later gave me an opportunity to intern at the Jazz Institute when I had just finished college. There wasn’t a formal internship program, but she worked with me to create a position in the education department of JIC to work under Diane Chandler-Marshall. I was a part of the team for four more years as a part-time education associate. In those five years as a staff member, I had a chance to get to know Lauren as a collaborative leader. She listens to students, to educators, to staff, to musicians, and she allowed the mission of JIC to adapt and grow in accordance with the needs of our jazz community. Even as an intern, Lauren made me feel like an important member of her team.

Lauren’s support for the jazz community is radically holistic. She’s championed both the elder statesmen and women of Chicago jazz and the youngest students of the music. She cares about jazz education and the people who teach jazz. She brings the music to venues all over Chicago. She connects generations of musicians to one another. She documents the evolving jazz scene. That kind of full-picture advocacy for jazz has strongly impacted my personal trajectory as a musician and educator. Lauren models for me what it looks like to be involved in the next generation of this music as well as cherish and celebrate the legacy of the music that has come before me.

Katie ErnstCredit: Lauren Deutsch

Nicole Mitchell:

It’s hard to put in a few words the incredible legacy that Lauren Deutsch has carved with the Jazz Institute. Visionary. Inclusive. Humble. Courageous. Genuine. In Chicago, we can’t take for granted that we’ve had something rare that doesn’t really exist in any other major city—an organization that’s been an idea factory, celebrating jazz in all of its diverse incarnations, permeating all the neighborhoods of Chicago with free concerts, providing exciting monthly jam sessions with jazz masters for underage youth, initiating a network of high school jazz educators to help alleviate their challenges, fostering scholarships for free private lessons for serious youth, establishing a performance series for emerging artists.

She initiated the Made in Chicago festival in Poznan, which brought Chicago jazz artists each year to Poland, and then helped initiated Made in Chicago in Millennium Park. JIC’s action never stops all year round, and Lauren has been right in the middle of it! She’s been a great friend, mentor, and for myself and many artists, a dream facilitator. I don’t know anyone who loves the music more than Lauren or who listens wider. Wherever the music be/was—whether at the Jazz Showcase, the Velvet Lounge, Constellation, Green Mill, with the AACM, Asian Improv Arts Midwest—Lauren is listening, photographing, celebrating right there with you.

Nicole MitchellCredit: Lauren Deutsch

Robinson, a Chicago native, previously worked for the JIC as education and community coordinator in the early 2000s. Deutsch will retain some ties to the JIC, staying on in the newly created position “director of artistic collaborations.”

Today’s playlist:

Jimmy Stewart & Kuntu, An Engineer in Sound (Cadence Jazz)
Domenico Guaccero, Rot (Die Schachtel)
Tomoko Sauvage, Musique Hydromantique (Shelter Press)
Young Danish String Quartet, Carl Nielsen: String Quartets Vol. 1 (Dacapo)
Victor Assis Brasil, Toca Antonio Carlos Jobim (Far Out/Quartin)