The Chicago River

The year is 1890. Chicago is the fastest growing city in the world. It has immense potential, but one, major liability — it's poisoning itself. An audacious idea arose...reverse the flow of the Chicago River. A 35-mile canal is built to direct the city's sewage away from Lake Michigan, sending it down the nearby Illinois River toward the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. The project, which makes modern Chicago possible, takes decades to complete. More than a century later, the city still depends on the canal. Nature has been bent.

Orbert Davis' critically acclaimed, orchestral composition “The Chicago River”, performed by his Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, documents this historic reversal of the river as distilled through glass plate images from Richard Cahan and Michael Williams’s photobook "The Lost Panoramas: When Chicago Changed Its River and the Land Beyond”.

Davis was captured by the notion that while the river’s geography didn’t change, everything around it did: “When you look at the river, you see the water and the river itself, but even more so we see the reflections in the river that change over time. I make musical connections to the aspect of reflecting.”

Hailed as one of the greatest engineering feats ever undertaken, changing the river’s course greatly improved Chicago’s sanitation and public health, but it also had significant consequences on the natural environment and cultural landscape for other parts of the region.

The five-moment, third stream masterwork was commissioned by and premiered at Chicago's Symphony Center in May 2013.

  • Orbert Davis
    Standing on Common Ground, DuSable to Obama (Composer), The Babe, American Pop (Soundtrack), American Playhouse (Actor), Road to Perdition (Jazz Consultant), 60 Minutes, Beauty Rises, The Babe
  • Orbert Davis & Mark Ingram for 3Sixteen Records; A Division of Orbark Productions, LLC
  • Michael Williams & Richard Cahan for CityFiles Press
    Cinemagraph Associate Producers
  • Roger Heiss
    Music Recorded and Mixed by
  • Arthur Turnbull for Arturo Solo LLC and Nat Soti for Zero One Projects
  • Project Type:
    Music Video, Short, Other
  • Genres:
  • Runtime:
    40 minutes 26 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    May 15, 2019
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
    Black & White
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography

The Chicago Tribune's "1995 Arts People of the Year" and one of seven “Chicagoans of the Year for 2002”, Orbert Davis is one of Chicago’s busiest and most sought after jazz artists. Davis has a bachelor's degree from DePaul University and a Masters of Music in Jazz Pedagogy from Northwestern University. In addition to being a professional jazz musician, performer, and composer, he is a clinician and teacher, having taught music theory, jazz history, jazz improvisation and trumpet performance at Columbia College during his 14 year tenure. In addition to having co-founded Discover Music: Discover Life, Inc. in 1999, he is the Founding and Artistic Director for the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic and is Associate Professor of Jazz History at UIC.

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