Premiere performance pays tribute to Tuskegee Airman

The Heidelberg School of Music & Theatre is pleased to present the collegiate premiere of Michael Shirtz’s jazz narrative, To Rise Above: A Journey of a Tuskegee Airman, on Friday (Oct. 14) at 7 p.m. in Ohl Concert Hall. The concert is a tribute to the life and inspiring journey of surviving Tuskegee Airman Dr. Harold Brown.

To Rise Above is a five-movement jazz narrative highlighting experiences from Brown's 2017 biographical memoir, Keep Your Airspeed Up: The Story of a Tuskegee Airman, written by both Brown and his wife, Dr. Marsha Bordner. The dramatization, written by Shirtz, an adjunct faculty member at Heidelberg, is a musical narrative on Brown's childhood dream of flying, overcoming the despair of racial segregation, his passion for education both as a military aviator trainer and a leader in higher education, and the lessons for all people found in the six principles of the Tuskegee Airmen – Aim  High, Believe in Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit and Expect To Win.

Using the elements of jazz, Brown's journey is told by narration with soloists, a jazz group and accompanied by strings and a chorus of singers led by musical director Van Parker. 

The work outlines Brown's journey through five musical movements – The Dream, The Struggle, The Mission, The Man and The Dream Lives On. Each of the movements features narrated stories and a series of themes (tunes).

The Michael Shirtz Quartet features Shirtz on piano/vocals, joined by Dwight Bailey of Columbus on bass/vocals, Reggie Jackson of Columbus on drums/percussion and alto saxophonist George Michael of New York City. The group plays jazz with a blend of contemporary textures such as funk, rock, singer/songwriter, blues and gospel. A nontraditional and percussive approach to the keyboard, mixed with his vocals and interests in polytonality and improvisation, Shirtz’s quartet sound has developed strong Brubeckian and Previn-like influences. These influences have allowed the quartet to function as a revolving host to many musicians, even featuring the sounds of harmonica, cello, vibes, and violin. The quartet has provided Shirtz with a foundation for compositional ideas and unique arrangements working with such artists as Maureen McGovern, Ellen Winters and others.

Students and faculty from the Heidelberg School of Music & Theatre will be performing as the chorus and special narrated parts throughout the performance.

Tickets are $10 for general admission and $5 for 'Berg students, faculty & staff and Berg Bravo! members. Reserve yours today at

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