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"Jazz is a uniquely American art form. The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band... takes that one step further." -Olympian, 2022

The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band (JKIBB) is an ensemble of Native and Indigenous jazz musicians from across Indian Country. Performing pieces from their under-appreciated predecessors in jazz, like Mildred Bailey (Coeur d’Alene) and Jim Pepper (Kaw/Mvskoke), alongside works by contemporary Indigenous composers, the band spotlights a vibrant, long-standing tradition of Indigenous improvised music today. 


Led by the celebrated vocalist and luminary Julia Keefe (Nez Perce), the ensemble brings charisma, passion, and purpose to every stage, leaving audiences both inspired and educated. Premiering at Washington Center for the Performing Arts in 2022, the band quickly gained a reputation for deepening and challenging our understanding of the “uniquely American” art form known as jazz. JKIBB features a ‘who’s who’ of Indigenous bandleaders today, including Mali Obomsawin (Odanak Abenaki), Delbert Anderson (Diné), Chantil Dukart (Tsimshian), and Ed Littlefield (Tlingit) among others, and will be headlining the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C spring 2024. 


Band Statement:

Indigenous jazz musicians, ensembles, and big bands have their place in the contemporary jazz world and jazz history. Following 19th-century federal policies to remove Indian children from their homes and indoctrinate them into European culture (Indian Boarding Schools), small ensembles and big bands began to flourish on reservations across the US and Canada in the first half of the Twentieth Century. Indigenous musicians started to ascend to celebrity with jazz as their medium – including Russel “Big Chief” Moore, Mildred Bailey, Oscar Pettiford, and Jim Pepper – but were never duly credited as Indigenous visionaries in the genre. 


From time immemorial, songs have been the vessels of stories and lessons for the Indigenous people of the Americas. The goals of the Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band are to celebrate and continue that tradition, to compose and perform new music inspired by traditional backgrounds, and to create a community of like-minded peoples from all backgrounds to uplift the next generation of Indigenous jazz musicians.


Indigenous cultures are not monolithic; many cultures carry traditions and songs as old and sacred as the next. The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band reflects a wide range of Indigenous identities, from South America to Canada, Northeast to Southwest. Together, we represent a long-silenced, long-forgotten chapter of jazz history: the participation, contribution, innovation, and legacy of Indigenous jazz musicians. A legacy that seasoned composers and arrangers Julia Keefe and co-director Delbert Anderson carry forward through original works inspired by songs and rhythms of their Native heritage reimagined through the language and stylings of jazz.


It is a rarity to see a single Indigenous jazz musician nowadays, let alone sixteen, on stage. It is even rarer to see female Indigenous jazz players, yet we have Julia Keefe, Chantil Dukart, and Mali Obomsawin within the ensemble. The Julia Keefe Indigenous Big Band celebrates the diversity and vitality of Indigenous peoples in jazz: past, present, and future. It is the bridge for people everywhere to see themselves on the bandstand regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, or socio-economic status.


The JKIBB premiered at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts in May 2022. The premiere performance was made possible with the support of Jazz Road, a national initiative of South Arts, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation with additional support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


Director - Julia Keefe

Co-Director - Delbert Anderson

Tour History

January 13th, 2024

Joe's Pub, New York, NY

May 11th, 2023

Juneau Jazz & Classics Spring Festival, Juneau, AK

May 19th, 2022 

Washington Center for the Performing Arts, Olympia, WA

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