Over the years, Levi and Elizabeth always talked about creating an ensemble together. Both Levi and Elizabeth are active musicians in the Sacramento area; and due to their busy schedules, Elizabeth and Levi's dream of starting a project together continued to be delayed.
During the pandemic, both Elizabeth and Levi did not gig with each other for a long time due to the lack of performance opportunities. When they were reunited at a gig in 2021, they decided that it was finally time to make their ensemble a reality.
The Pacific Standard Jazz Orchestra is a mixed jazz ensemble under the direction of Levi Saelua and Elizabeth Unpingco. This ensemble is a labor of love that celebrates the Great American Songbook through their contemporary arrangements, including works by George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, and more.
The Story of Our Name
Throughout the project, Elizabeth and Levi have prioritized being intentional with every detail of their ensemble. The name of the group took a lot of time and patience to discover; and like any brilliant thing, the answer came at the right time.
In the beginning stages of curating the ensemble's name, Levi and Elizabeth dove deeper into their friendship to find similarities in their lives to help with their process. In one of the early conversations they had, their heritage was brought to the table. It was in this discussion that Levi and Elizabeth found that they shared their Pacific Islander heritage and that their culture was a very important piece of their identity. Due to the overwhelming lack of PI representation in the jazz world today, they both came to the conclusion that the project's potential to celebrate their heritage was very strong.
Once the first word was established, the rest of the ensemble's name was easy to piece together. Standard came to be part of the ensemble's name for two reasons. One, both Levi and Elizabeth live in Sacramento, California, which is in the Pacific Standard Time Zone. Second, Elizabeth and Levi are known for arranging jazz standards and will be arranging for their upcoming concert.
As stated above, Elizabeth and Levi are very intentional with every choice they make in regard to the ensemble. The reason why the group is called a jazz orchestra is because they will be writing for strings in their mixed ensemble. Elizabeth made it very clear from the beginning of the project that she would like to use strings in her arrangements because she is inspired to write with the endless beauty that they can add to any wind ensemble. Levi was enthusiastic to add strings to the music as well; and together, they have used their name to inspire their collaborative writing process.
An award-winning composer, arranger, and saxophonist, Levi Saelua maintains a full schedule collaborating with artists and ensembles in a variety of genres. While studying jazz composition with the great Bill Dobbins at the Eastman School of Music, Levi had the opportunity to write and arrange several pieces for the Eastman jazz ensembles and studio orchestra. He currently directs Colossus West, a 20-piece modern big band, and co-directs Triism, an award-winning trio that performs an eclectic mix of original compositions and creative arrangements of standards, pop tunes, and folk songs from around the world.
"The classic American Songbook recordings by artists like Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra have always had a distinct influence on my writing. I'm so grateful for this opportunity to delve deeper into that catalogue of music with Elizabeth. I can't wait to share our interpretations with everyone!"
Elizabeth Unpingco is a Downbeat Award-Winning jazz vocalist and an educator in the Sacramento and Stockton area. She is a Sacramento State School of Music graduate with a degree in jazz studies with a dual emphasis in education and performance. Currently, she is pursuing her masters in music education at San Jose State University. When Elizabeth is not teaching, she is performing in various locations in the Sacramento area with her trios, duos, and big bands sharing her love for jazz with the people who come to see her.
"I am eager to share this project with the public. This project is a work of passion and exploration, and has pushed me to create outside of my comfort zone. Levi and I have been talking about doing this project for years, and we are so excited to finally share our collaboration with all of you!"
The PSJO is composed of some of the finest musicians that the Sacramento area is fortunate enough to have. To learn more about the members of the ensemble, refer to the bios below.