Two Incredible Nights of Jazz: Olivia Van Goor and Henry Ford College’s Big Band

Olivia Van Goor at the MacKenzie Fine Arts building, Henry Ford College, Dearborn, MI

Olivia Van Goor, MacKenzie Fine Arts building, Henry Ford College, Dearborn, MI. Photo by Katherine Warden

For the first in a planned series of concerts, Henry Ford College’s Big Band teamed up with local jazz artist Olivia Van Goor.

The concert was a two-night event held on Sept. 22 and 23 and was hosted at the Adray Auditorium inside the Fine Arts building on Henry Ford College’s main campus in Dearborn, Michigan. A pre-glow event took place in the newly dedicated John McDonald Student and Culinary Arts Center prior to the Sept. 22 show.

Henry Ford College’s Big Band is an advanced student jazz ensemble that was formed by Henry Ford College band director Rick Goward in 1983. The Big Band is known for a repertoire of jazz, swing, and Bossa Nova from the jazz era, a period of time from the 1920s through the 1930s that includes compositions created by Glenn Miller, Buddy Rich, Duke Ellington, Maynard Ferguson, and various other jazz greats. The Big Band has had the great honor to perform at prestigious jazz festivals, such as the Umbria Jazz Festival in Europe; world-class concert halls; Presidential inaugurations for President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama; and at renowned concert events across the United States and Europe.

The Big Band and the college’s music department plan to bring together aspiring and established musical artists from all over Michigan in hopes to show students what can be accomplished as well as help those artists. All of this is being done under the leadership of Anthony Lai, a full-time music instructor.

After the retirement and passing of creator and music director of the Big Band, Rick Goward, the music department had what Lai says was an “identity crisis.” Lai reflects, “The big question was, how does this band continue without Rick?” Lai and Joe LeRussa, HFC music instructor and performer, decided to “reach out to the community and combine forces with different artists.” That is how the idea to reach out to Olivia Van Goor came about. Lai said, “So this is the first concert of this idea, where, for example, Olivia has her audience. She’s got an online presence. She’s got her YouTube channel.” For Lai ”Everybody wins, ideally, because the college is exposed to these established artists.”

Olivia Van Goor is an award-winning Detroit jazz artist who is a singer, band leader, arranger, and musical composer. Goor began singing jazz in her high school years in Hudson, Ohio, where she also learned to play piano and sing in a choir. She moved to Michigan in 2017, and fell in love with the music of the city. While living in Michigan, Goor graduated from Denison University in Granville, OH, with a bachelor’s degree in music and education in 2019.

Goor has played at Aretha’s Jazz Cafe at the Music Hall in Detroit and the Blue Llama Club in Ann Arbor and has toured through various cities such as Toledo, Cleveland, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. She has also released two EPs. The first was “When the Shadows Fall” in 2021 and “Don’t Be Mad at Me” in August of 2023. She has also produced the show “Duets” with vocalist/bassist Reuben Stump, which explores the history of vocal jazz duets and other related topics.

The Big Band performed classics like “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Louis Prima and “I Just Found Out About Love” by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh, followed by an arrangement by Goor of “My Old Flame” by Sam Coslow and Aurthur Johnston, and songs “I thought About You” by Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen and “Splanky” by Neal Hefti. “Splanky” was especially unique due to the fact that it is typically instrumental only, but Goor accompanied with scatting improvisation and wordless vocal stylings.

A mid-concert interview between LaRussa and Goor took place in lue of an intermission, which allowed for an intimate feel, but also gave the audience a chance to learn more about the artist.

After the break, the rhythm section of the band composed of drums, guitar, and piano came on stage to accompany Goor, who sang a set of songs, including “Over the Rainbow” by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen. After the rhythm section set was over, the rest of the band joined in for the next set consisting of “Orange Colored Sky” by Milton Delugg and Willie Stein, “Get Me to The Church On Time” by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. The night rounded out with the final two songs of “Embraceable You” by George and Ira Gershwin and “I Wish You Love” by Charles Louis Trent and Albert Beach.

Each song was gracefully performed by Goor and the Big Band. Goor said, “It was so wonderful to be quickly welcomed into the band. Everyone is a team player and knew this would be a different type of performance than they usually have, and I felt so supported the whole time and they embraced what I brought to the table.”

For gig scheduling, streaming music, and new music drops from Olivia Van Goor, go to:

For more information on the Henry Ford College’s Big Band go to