Artist Blog

Dave Rivello: My Time with a Master

“Reviving the past is both impossible and a waste of time.”

Thanks to JC Sanford and to ISJAC for inviting me to contribute to this fantastic blog. I am honored to be in company with all the talented musicians who have written articles for this blog. I am thrilled to say that my book project on ArtistShare, Bob Brookmeyer in Conversation with Dave Rivello, has finally been released, but before I give you information about the project itself, I want to tell you a bit about my experiences with Brookmeyer’s music, how I met Bob, and how this book came to be.

 

My story with Bob Brookmeyer actually begins from my undergrad days at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. A fellow student in the jazz program caught me after big band rehearsal one day and told me to go the local record store and buy the album Bob Brookmeyer, Composer Arranger with Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra. I went over that day and picked it up. When I got home, I put it on the turntable and as the first notes of Ding, Dong, Ding rang out, my whole world changed. Up until then, I had listened to a lot of big band music – Thad Jones, Basie, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and others – but I never heard anything like what I was hearing at that moment. I wore this record out, I played it so much, and when the next album with Bob and Mel came out, Make Me Smile & Other New Works, I wore that album out, too. (We sometimes jokingly refer to Make Me Smile & Other New Works as the “Brookmeyer White Album” because of its original LP cover.) This recording further expanded my sonic horizons and made me want to be a composer even more, and to be one more than anything else. Every time I listened to these two recordings, I thought to myself, “I wonder what it would be like to meet Bob Brookmeyer?” and “I wonder if that could happen someday?”

 

Well, not only did I get to meet him, but I got to spend fifteen amazing years working with him, first as his copyist, then as his student, and ultimately as his friend. Every time I visited, even in the later years when I’d go just to hang out for a weekend, he always continued to slip in a lesson and they were always exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, to further my work. But again, I jumped ahead, so let me go back and catch up with the story.

 

In the mid 1990’s, Fred Sturm (then Chair of the Eastman School of Music Jazz and Contemporary Media program), told me that there was a new Brookmeyer recording called Electricity, but that it was only available in Europe. He suggested I call Bob to get a copy and he gave me Bob’s phone number in New Hampshire. When I finally got up the nerve to make the call, I dialed, hoping that I would get his answer machine and that I could just leave a message, but Bob answered the phone. I was a bit nervous, but after only a few minute’s conversation, Bob put me right at ease.

 

As it turned out, he knew my name from Manny Albam. He and Manny were co-teaching the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop in New York City. I knew Manny from the Arranger’s Holiday summer program at Eastman, headed by Rayburn Wright. Bob and I talked for a few minutes about his new CD, and then he asked me what else I did besides composing. I told him I had also worked as a professional copyist for years. This was right on the edge of Finale coming in and he asked me if I copied by hand or on the computer. I told him I did both, but preferred copying by hand. He told me he might need me some day, and also, that he would send me his Electricity CD. I hung up and thought, “Brookmeyer is so progressive, he probably wants computer copying and I probably just messed that one up.”

 

A couple of weeks later, though, I got a call from Bob. He said, “Dave, it’s Brookmeyer – I need you!” He told me he was very behind on writing a four-movement suite for Clark Terry’s seventy-fifth birthday concert and wanted to know if I could copy it. Then he stated, “And I want hand copying.”

 

I, of course, said yes. I couldn’t believe my luck – that I would get to see a Brookmeyer piece before anyone else and get to study it… but there was no time for studying at that point. Bob wasn’t joking when he said he was behind. I got to know the Fed-Ex guy by his first name. Every day more pages arrived. I hired two proofreaders, so that one of them was always in my house. I wish I would have taken a picture of the stack of parts before I sent them to Germany. The pieces I copied were Silver Lining, Gwen, Glide, and Blue Devils. During this time, when I would call Bob with note questions, I said I would love to take a lesson with him. He said that we would find a time for that.

 

Shortly after the Clark Terry project was done, Bob called and gave me a date for the lesson. He told me to bring some of my work, and that I could decide if I wanted to work with him, and that he would decide if he wanted to work with me. I knew the answer to my half of this equation, but thought that if he said, “No, sorry kid…” – well, thankfully that didn’t happen, and he took me on as his student.

 

As many who knew him will tell you, Bob was incredibly generous. He knew that I couldn’t afford to pay for the lessons, so, as I mentioned in my Preface to the book, our agreement was that we would barter copywork for the lessons, but somehow every time I copied for him, there was a “budget” for copying from whoever was commissioning the music. In other words, he never let me pay. Along with this, he always made me call ‘collect’ for our phone lessons. So, when he turned eighty, I wanted to do something special for him. I organized an eightieth birthday concert at the Eastman School of Music. We played two hours of his music programmed chronologically and then, as an extra, I asked Bill Holman, Jim McNeely, John Hollenbeck, and Ryan Truesdell to each write a one-minute tribute to Bob on “Happy Birthday”. I also wrote one. I interspersed these “commissions” throughout the program. After the concert, we had a reception upstairs outside the Kilbourn Hall doors. I have a great picture of Bob blowing out the candles on the birthday cake we got for the occasion. I felt that it was a small thank you on my part for all he had given me. He wrote about it afterward and was clearly moved by the evening.

Bob’s Memorial Service

The other thing that I did around this time, was take a page from his playbook. He once told me that later in Bill Finegan’s life (Bill was Bob’s hero), he called Bill once a week, always asking if his pencil was moving. I started doing the same thing every week with Bob – I don’t know if he ever connected it.

“You can’t find your future by ear – you’re either hearing your past or someone else’s.”

From my first lesson on April 16, 1996, Bob changed my life. The compositional exercises and the Three-Pitch Module Approach to composition that he developed are what I have been teaching at the Eastman School of Music for the past several years and are life-changing for all of the students who go through them. These exercises certainly changed and shaped my own writing. I realized then that the only way to get these unique exercises and the Three-Pitch Module Approach, was to study with Bob, or to study with someone who studied with Bob.

A few years into working with Bob, I started thinking that I would like to write a book about him and his compositional processes so that this information would be available to all. We both shared a love of books and particularly books of composers in conversation. There were several that we would often talk about – Conversations with Witold Lutoslawski, Ligeti In Conversation, Conversations with Nadia Boulanger, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis, Morton Feldman Says, and Flawed Words and Stubborn Sounds – a conversation with Elliott Carter. So that is where I began my project from, and Bob Brookmeyer in Conversation with Dave Rivello is the result.

After Bob and I discussed the idea of the book and decided on a time we could sit down and talk, he had me come to his house for a few days in February 2010. It was during that weekend visit that I recorded over ten hours of Bob answering my questions, with his answers often making me think of new questions to ask. During those three days, we recorded the interviews that would eventually become the book, and then late into the nights we would listen to – and talk about – music. When the book was finally finished, I thought that there would be no one better to write the Foreword than Jim McNeely, so I contacted him, and he graciously agreed to write it. It couldn’t be more fitting.

Since this is an ArtistShare® project, there is also an entire web component. Here is a list of the web content:

 

“The first solo only happens when nothing else can.”

 

In the book, Bob and I discuss all of the exercises and how to do them. My own homework, along with Bob’s corrections, is part of the downloads that come with the project on the Composer Participant level, in the streaming audio lessons. Here is a page from the book and is the first assignment (in Bob’s hand) that he had me do. The “White Note” exercise:

Here is another example from my first lesson:

The book also includes three appendices: Bob’s suggested listening list (mostly modern classical pieces), a list of Brookmeyer quotes (compiled from my lessons and many other sources), and a list of compositions starting from 1979, which was the year Bob returned to composition after a ten-year hiatus.

 

I will leave you with a couple of quotes from the back of the book:

“Brilliance and wisdom abound in this treasure of a book that is pure Brookmeyer gold. We can all be thankful to Dave Rivello (whom Bob loved and trusted) for having the foresight to conduct these wonderful interviews. Thanks to Dave, Bob’s tremendous insights are not lost treasures, but ones that will continue to enrich us all.” – Maria Schneider, composer and bandleader

“Dave, what a great idea! I can’t wait to get into the book and see the processes that Bob sometimes would glide over… as if we had an idea what he was talking about. – Bill Holman, composer and bandleader

I sincerely hope this article has given you some perspective on Bob Brookmeyer and will lead you to look further into his work. His archive of original manuscripts, and many personal documents and papers, is housed at the Eastman School of Music Sibley Library in Rochester, New York.

Bob Brookmeyer in Conversation with Dave Rivello can be found here:

https://www.artistshare.com/Projects/Experience/22/499/1/Bob-Brookmeyer-Music-Bob-Brookmeyer-In-Conversation-with-Dave-Rivello?v=2

 

Cover painting by Dutch painter Nikolaj Dielemans: http://www.nikolajdielemans.com

 

 

AND JC – here also is a great link to the Youtube video from Bob’s memorial service of his life and music that Maria, Ryan and Marie Le Claire put together, called The Life and Music of Bob Brookmeyer. I think it would be great to include this link also.

 

 


About the Author:

Dave Rivello is an American-born composer, arranger, conductor and bandleader working primarily in Jazz, Contemporary Media, and Modern Classical idioms. He apprenticed with Rayburn Wright, Bob Brookmeyer, Manny Albam, Bill Holman, and Sam D’Angelo.

He leads a 12- piece ensemble (The Dave Rivello Ensemble) that is his main orchestral voice. He is also the author of the book, Bob Brookmeyer in Conversation with Dave Rivello (ArtistShare). His debut recording, Facing The Mirror, received strong praise from reviewers in the United States, Italy and Ireland. The Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll chose Facing The Mirror as the Debut Release of that year.

He co-produced the Gil Evans Project live recording, Lines of Color – with leader Ryan Truesdell, which was nominated for a Grammy. He also recently co-produced Jennifer Bellor’s recording, Reflections at Dusk, on Innova Recordings.

He has served as composer-in-residence at a number of schools, writing for their ensembles, giving clinics as well as private lessons. His residencies have been sponsored by Meet The Composer, Harvard Project Zero, and The New York Council of the Arts. He has written for and been commissioned by: The Smithsonian Institute, The United States Air Forces in Europe Band, The University of North Carolina-Wilmington, The Youngstown Symphony Orchestra, The Penfield Symphony Orchestra, The Eastman Wind Ensemble, Bobby McFerrin, David Taylor, Phil Woods, Randy Brecker, Regina Carter, the Airmen of Note, The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, and many others. His music has been widely performed throughout the U.S. as well as in Germany and Spain. He is also on the faculty at the world-renowned Eastman School of Music.

He will be presenting on Bob’s Compositional Exercises at the Jazz Education Network conference in New Orleans this January. The presentation is Thursday January 9th from 1:00-1:50 PM.

http://www.daverivello.com

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/daverivello

https://www.artistshare.com/Projects/Experience/22/499/1/Bob-Brookmeyer-Music-Bob-Brookmeyer-In-Conversation-with-Dave-Rivello?v=2

Artist Blog

Jason Palmer: Getting a Foot in the Door of the House of Composition

Thank you to the ISJAC for inviting me to contribute to the blog.  I didn’t know about this resource before the invitation, and I’ve learned a ton since diving into the archives.  I’d like to offer up a commentary on my journey through the world of composing creative music in a small group setting with the hope of inspiring those who are wanting to jump into the process but may not know a path to take.

I’ve been afforded the opportunity to present clinics on improvisation, composition, and everything in between over the past 20 years in places near and far.  One of the proverbial questions that always arises is, “So how did you approach composing original music?” So here are a few ideas that I have been relaying to musicians getting their pens/keyboards wet in the composition game:

Composition as Improvisational Language

When I arrived in Boston in 1997 to attend my undergrad, I met Darren Barrett, the great trumpeter/composer who was just finishing his studies at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music.  I asked him about the idea of composing and how he approached it.  He told me, “You know, when you’re composing, you’re documenting what springs from your improvising mind.  It’s all improvisational language.”  This idea initially sent me for a loop, but eventually made sense and settled in nicely.  Darren later relayed a relating idea of writing out solos to tunes that you’ve been working on just to have something in front of you that you can play variations on.  I started to really work on this and that’s when the idea of composing for small groups (what I was into at the time, and still am) started to take shape.

Contrafacts are our Friends

I took the idea “composing in real time” and locked myself in a practice room with a tape recorder, a pair of headphones, and my CD Discman.  I brought recordings of songs that I really dug at the time on cd with me, put on headphones and started playing along with them (in many ways, that’s a lot hipper than playing with an Aebersold or iRealPro), while at the same time recording myself practicing in those sessions.  I then listened back to the practice sessions and transcribed anything from my playing that I thought could become a composition.  What I later realized was that by doing this, I was able to “creep” into the habit of writing out melodies that were already attached to a particular chord progression.  Below are a few examples of contrafacts that I’ve recorded:

Found It (an original based on Myron Walden’s Like a Flower Seeking the Sun)

3rd Shift (an original based on Wayne Shorter’s Night Dreamer)

Learning Songs to Write Songs

As I began to write contrafacts, I did my best to become more mindful of making a stronger effort to learn about the art of composing interesting harmonic progressions for improvisers.  At the time, I didn’t know many songs but I was attending a weekly jam session at Wally’s Jazz Café in Boston, where tunes that I didn’t know were being called left and right.  I made it a point to go to the local record stores (there were about 5 really good ones in Boston/Cambridge at the time) and spend all of my work study money on records that had the quintessential versions of the songs that I had to learn on them.  I then transcribed the song(s) on the record along with all of the other songs on the record, which built my repertoire immensely.  It was there that I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the foundations of consonant/dissonant harmonic functions in this music.  This gave me the ability to compose without relying on chord changes from other tunes and only returning to that idea when I feel the itch!  I always tell my students that you don’t have to give up the idea of learning more standards if you want to start to compose original material and vice versa.

Have a Band/Gig?  Write Flexibly for It!

I was lucky to have a steady gig on the weekends leading my own band for over 15 years in Boston at Wally’s Jazz Café.  It was really an incubator for compositional experimentation for me.  It was unique to me because I was able to test out new material constantly (with no artistic constraints whatsoever) for an audience that didn’t necessarily come to hear us play.  While I found that to be a welcomed challenge, I also faced the challenge of writing music for great musical bandmates that juggled busy life/school schedules, therefore limiting available time to rehearse.  There was also the aspect of hiring subs, which always altered the repertoire for any given night.  I started to compose and organize older compositions of mine into 3 graded categories that I found to be useful.  Examples are at the below the description:

Grade 1:  Songs that are easily sight-readable by any competent musician, needing no rehearsal.  Fun songs to improvise on (“blowing tunes”) that make the band sound like “a rehearsed band”.

 

Grade 2:  Songs that would need to be looked at ahead of time for most competent musicians, but don’t necessarily need to be rehearsed beforehand.  These songs strengthened the idea of what a “band” sounds like to novice listeners.  These songs have unconventional song forms, challenging harmonic progressions, and melodies that need shedding before hitting the stage.

Grade 3:  Songs that need a thorough rehearsing with the band.  These songs are written to push and advance my technique and challenge my bandmates as well as the audience.

After you’ve composed pieces and considered what level of musicianship is required to have the songs come to life in a way that you’ve hoped for, considering organizing them into separate books that can be easily pulled out to match the appropriate personnel in your band for any given gig.

It’s my sincere hope that at least one person finds something helpful from post.  I invite everyone reading this to take any or all of the information and run with it!

Sent with LOVE,

Jason Palmer


About the Author:

Jason Palmer was recently named to the inaugural class of the Boston Artist in Residence Fellowship for Music Composition.  He also received a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works for 2019.  In 2011 and 2017, he was named a Fellow in Music Composition by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. In 2014, Jason was honored as a recipient of the French American Cultural Exchange Jazz Fellowship where he collaborated with French pianist Cedric Hanriot, collaboration on an album and touring the United States and Europe. Jason won 1st Place in the 2009 Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition and was cited in the June 2007 issue of Downbeat Magazine as one of the “Top 25 trumpeters of the Future”.   

In addition to performing on over forty albums as a sideman, Jason has recorded thirteen albums under his own name on labels Ayva, Steeplechase, Whirlwind, Newvelle, and most recently with Giant Step Arts. Four of his recordings were reviewed by Downbeat Magazine, all receiving 4 stars or better. Jason has toured in over 30 countries with saxophonists Mark Turner, Greg Osby, Grace Kelly, and Matana Roberts, and has been a featured guest artist on multiple projects in Portugal, Mexico, Canada and Russia. 

In addition to a heavy performing schedule, Jason Palmer offers his passion for improvised music as an Assistant Professor of Ensembles and Brass at Berklee College of Music. Jason has also served as an Assistant Professor at Harvard University and at New England Conservatory. He has also served on the faculty at the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York City.

Artist Blog

Asuka Kakitani: A New Outlet for Big Band Composition Sprouts in the Midwest

What is TCJCW?

The Twin Cities Jazz Composers’ Workshop (TCJCW) was born in 2017 soon after my husband JC Sanford and I moved to Minnesota with our daughter for our new adventure after over a decade in New York City. Both JC and I are some of the lucky people to proudly call ourselves former members of the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop. For the readers who aren’t familiar with the BMI Composers’ Workshop, here is a quick description from the BMI website: “The workshop was founded in 1988 by acclaimed composer/trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, composer/educator Manny Albam and author and jazz authority Burt Korall. […] The BMI Jazz Composers Workshop stresses exploration, ranging from the traditional to the new. The primary emphasis is placed on individuals and their ideas, along with the acquisition and understanding of techniques that make possible the execution of thoughts and the development of personal language within the big band setting.”   The way the workshop functions is that the participating composers would meet weekly in a quasi-classroom setting led by the world-class “faculty” composers who go through the “students’” charts and offer guidance and suggestions based on their wealth of knowledge and experience. From time to time, guest composers would come in and present their music and sometimes look at participants’ charts, adding a freshness to the process. Usually on the last Tuesday of the month, there would be a reading session in which some of the most skilled players in New York City volunteered to read new big band charts that were composed by the workshop participants. In the summer, a handful of the “best” works from the season would be performed by the BMI/New York Orchestra at the Summer Showcase Concert, and guest adjudicators would select the “very best” work as winner of the Charlie Parker Composition Prize and an accompanying commission for a new work to be premiered on the next year’s concert. And this is all tuition free. As far as I know, there has never been a situation like this anywhere else, and definitely not one with this much sustaining power and influence over several generations of creative composers worldwide.

I received excellent training while I was a student at Berklee College of Music from people like Greg Hopkins, Ted Pease, and Scott Free, but being in the workshop was one of the most important and meaningful times for me while I was in New York, if not for my entire life. I remember that precious time fondly, even though I was extremely shy to make friends during the first year. Because of the workshop I moved to New York from Boston, wrote many pieces, heard many pieces of fellow composers, made many composer and performer friends, and even had some drinks with my hero Jim McNeely, the musical director of the workshop at that time, along with Michael Abene and Mike Holober. Most importantly, I got to hear the workshop members talking about their ideas, processes, and inspirations. I also had the chance to talk about mine, and I received lots of feedback from fellow composers and the musicians of reading band. Much of the advice I got still often pops out when I compose, so the value of the workshop has been lasting for me, even after 12 years since I finished my time there. I feel I was incredibly lucky to be able to be there as the time I spent and what I experienced at the BMI workshop are very special gifts that I carry everywhere I go for the rest of my life.

The Beginnings and Growing Pains

When we decided to move to MN to live closer to JC’s family, we wanted to try to take the legacy of Bob Brookmeyer and Jim McNeely with us and see if we could plant a little seed to grow and spread the spirit of the BMI workshop in the Midwest. We hoped that given our time at BMI, plus my studies at Berklee and JC’s long relationship with Brookmeyer, we had the experience to try and create a similar scene.

Minnesota welcomed us warmly. It is a truly great state to be an artist. They have many enthusiastic and passionate organizations to support artists such as the American Composers Forum, Springboard for the Arts, and the McKnight Foundation, in addition to the MN State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils, and JC and I have both been able to take advantage of some of the opportunities these organizations provide. Not long after our arrival in MN, we connected with like-minded composers in the area who became co-founders of TCJCW, Aaron Hedenstrom, Adam Meckler, Dave Stamps, and Kari Musil, and we started to have meetings and reading sessions modeling the BMI Workshop as best as we could. Before our move, JC knew a few people, but we basically didn’t have much connection to the MN jazz scene, and we had no idea what to expect. We are very thankful to our friends Dave Hagedorn and Pete Whitman in particular who gave us a long list of recommendations for musicians and Mac Santiago has provided a space for us at Jazz Central Studios (a gem of Minneapolis!) for our meetings and readings. We were pleasantly surprised that many musicians were interested in playing new music and donating their time to playing reading sessions, and we’re so grateful for their high level of talent and willingness to be involved.

Our first workshop year was very successful, overall. Of course, not having a massive corporation like BMI to support us, we had to adapt our plans and expectations to fit our specific situation, logistically and financially. It became clear from the beginning that we weren’t in a position to have our organization function exactly as BMI did, so we became a kind of workshop/composers’ collective hybrid for practical reasons. We also had to adjust to the fact that, unlike NYC, most of the top musicians in the Twin Cities area have something resembling a 9-5 day-job, which limited our weekday scheduling options. Yet during our first season, the six of us managed to collectively create more than 15 original works, we raised over $3,000 on our Kickstarter campaign, found private donors to match our campaign funds, had over 100 audience members collectively for two concerts at Studio Z (a gem of St Paul!), and featured BMI Charlie Parker award winner, NY-based composer Nathan Parker Smith as a guest composer/conductor on our Fall concert. We are deeply touched and thankful to everyone who donated funds for our concerts, came to support live the music, and the musicians who played reading sessions and concerts throughout the season. It was a complete blast and felt really like we were making a difference and building something that could grow and grow.

Our second year was very different from the first. Many of the composers became busier in their lives, and schedule conflicts grew more numerous. Therefore, we weren’t getting the output that had been generated our first season. As a result, we only had two reading sessions and no concert. (I have to confess that I myself wasn’t there to help much because I took a year off due to commissions that needed to be finished.) JC and I talked about the workshop constantly during that year. We were frustrated and discouraged and didn’t know what we could do about it, even though we tried several different approaches to attempt to accommodate everyone’s availability to keep all the composers involved. We constantly evaluated whether or not it was even worth the effort. On several occasions we were on the brink of dissolving the whole organization. Maybe something like this just wasn’t practical or sustainable outside of New York.

The Women I Met Who Opened My Eyes

In July 2019, the big band Inatnas Orchestra that I co-lead with JC in MN (also a new product we started after arriving in MN and seeing how talented the players were) had a concert at a great jazz club in Minneapolis called Crooners. It was a really fun gig with great energy, and we were very happy. After the gig, a young girl, maybe a high school or college student, stopped me to say something like “I just wanted to say it was great.” She continued “I think you are great.” And then she was gone. I even didn’t catch her name. Somehow, something about her reminded me of myself from 15 years ago when I was at Berklee. The time I went to many concerts and loved and was inspired by almost everything I saw. I had many dreams that were just waiting to come true (and still do now!). I hoped that night that the music touched somewhere very deep in the girl’s heart, and she will remember that night even if she can’t recall the specifics of the music she heard. That magical feeling I had from my interaction with her has stayed with and helped to get me motivated again.

A few months after that gig, I had the amazing opportunity to meet a musician whom I have admired for a long time. In person she was a warm, deep, and beautiful person just like her music. Afterwards, I was lucky to be able to exchange a few emails with her to tell her how her music has influenced me. I sat down and thought about when I was first introduced to her music, how her voice inspired me, and how her compositions brought me into a new world of poems. I was sort of shocked to realize how big her impact was on me. And again, a younger me from 15 years ago showed up. The girl who was anxious to soak up everything she experienced. And then, something in me clicked, and a deep realization struck me.

I could see with a much clearer eye that everything I was around all my life made some sort of impact on me and my music. I knew this already on some level, but it was a sudden understanding that whether we want to or not, we all affect each other. So, I felt a strong urge to see if TCJCW has the potential to make at least a small difference in my new community.

Maybe I’m at a certain age that people are starting to think about the next generations. Maybe because I have a young child and see my music students on a regular basis, I started to care more about what influences I might have on others. Maybe seeing people in Minnesota who work hard and contribute to the community not only being an artist, but as a curator, artistic director, radio host, vice president of a non-profit organization, and donor to fund various projects made me feel like I’m a responsible part of the community that I’d like to help make better. Probably all of those things happened at the right time at the right place.

New Beginnings

Spoiler alert: TCJCW didn’t fold. We just kicked off our 2019-2020 Workshop year. Based on an online composers’ lab I participated in hosted by composer William Brittle through New Amsterdam Records this past year, we changed our in-person meetings to online ones using Zoom as a platform. This change not only allows us to have more flexibility in scheduling our local composers, but we also have been able to include more composers from outside Minnesota and wherever they live to join us. We schedule regular guest clinicians to talk about anything related to large ensemble jazz composition and to also view and comment on workshop participants’ pieces. In October, JC gave a conducting/rehearsal technique clinic that he used to give at the BMI Workshop to talk about his experiences in many projects including being the conductor of the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble for 16 years. For the rest of 2019, our guests include a return by Nathan Parker Smith, leader of his own unique prog-rock big band, Bob Washut, Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Northern Iowa and a prolific big band composer, and Ayn Inserto who studied closely with Brookmeyer and has taught a Compositional Techniques of Bob Brookmeyer course at Berklee.

 

At the workshop, we ask each other questions, give suggestions, talk about ideas, and exchange information. We ask each other to take risks, go beyond our comfort zone, and be curious and stretch our musical language. We don’t judge each other’s music. We try to inspire, influence, and learn from each other. Then we discover the results of the risks we take at the reading sessions, played by some of the best musicians in the Twin Cities area. It is a perfect opportunity to try a whole piece, some shorter ideas or fragments in several different orchestrations, experiment with extended techniques on various instruments, practice rehearsal technique and conducting a band, get feedback from the musicians, and socialize to make friends and musical connections. The participants who are not in the area send their parts, and we can read down and record their chart for the composer to review. All the reading sessions are open to the public, and we also are planning to stream them, so you can watch from home (see below for our FaceBook page)! We will end the season with our Showcase Concert in May 2020, and we will premiere 7-8 pieces that were created in the workshop by the participants. We will have guest judges to choose “the best composition” at the concert and commission a winner to compose a new piece to be premiered in the Fall 2020 by the JazzMN Orchestra, one of Minnesota’s premium professional big bands. Again, we’ve had to alter our practices to fit our current situation due to practicality, but still we aim to emulate the workings of the BMI workshop as much as we are able.

The Future

We’ve had to remind ourselves many times that we’re playing the “long game” and that lasting change and building a solid foundation takes time. Our goals are to continue to grow as best as we can. We really look forward to establishing ourselves financially through donations and grants and hopefully eventually some corporate sponsorship so that we can regularly bring in guests artists like we did with Nathan, which was incredibly fun and very impactful for these local musicians and listeners who hadn’t heard much of anything like his music before (check it out, if you haven’t!). Building a strong pipeline between NY and MN is one of our main goals since we decided to move here. We are also accepting applications from folks not affiliated with the Twin Cities area who want to be involved. If you or anyone you know would be interested, please visit our website at www.tcjcw.org or our FaceBook page at https://www.facebook.com/tcjcw/.

By the way, part of my motivation in writing this blog was to show anyone interested in trying to start an organization like this in their own community that it can be done, as long as you sculpt it to the practicalities of your area. If you have questions about getting started (or would like to commiserate about the difficulties you’ve already experienced), please get in touch!

 

TCJCW Fall Concert 2019 (abridged)

 

TCJCW Inaugural Summer Concert, July 2018

 


About the Author:

“A musical impressionist and supreme colorist” (Hot House Magazine) aptly characterizes the Japanese-born composer Asuka Kakitani. Her deep love for nature and animals inspires Kakitani to transform her imagination into epic musical stories that DownBeat Magazine described as brimming with “sumptuous positivity and organic flow.”

She is the founder of the 18-piece ensemble the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra, and their first recording Bloom has been featured on the international radio program PRI’s The World, acknowledged as one of the best debut albums of the year by DownBeat Magazine Critics’ Poll and NPR Music Jazz Critics’ Poll, and All About Jazz called it “absolutely superb.”

After she relocated to Minnesota from Brooklyn, NY in 2016, she co-founded the Twin Cities Jazz Composers’ Workshop, which aims to foster creative and forward-looking composition for the modern jazz orchestra in the Twin Cities area. Kakitani also co-founded and conducts Inatnas Orchestra with her husband, composer/trombonist JC Sanford, that features both of their music and some of the best jazz musicians in the Twin Cities area.

In 2019, Kakitani’s string quartet Three Stories of Birds was premiered by Artaria String Quartet at the Bridge Chamber Music Festival in Northfield, MN. She will premiere Ghost Story of Yotsuya by the new music group Zeitgeist at Studio Z in St. Paul, a culmination of a five-day composer workshop with the group in August. She will also premiere her collaboration with percussionist Dave Hagedorn, a 45-minute solo percussion suite that was funded by the Jerome Foundation will be premiered in January 2020.

Kakitani has been the recipient of grants and awards including the BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, the Manny Albam Commission, the Jerome Fund for New Music from the American Composers Forum, Brooklyn Arts Council, two Composer Assistance Grants from the American Music Center, and recently was awarded a 2019 McKnight Composer Fellowship.

 

https://www.asukakakitani.com

Artist Blog

Jihye Lee: Originality comes from who you are

I often wonder how I got here. Being a jazz composer seemed far from my fate but I paved my way, built and followed a new destiny.

I do not hail from a musical family, only having six months of piano lessons when I was nine years old. I had no real exposure to classical or jazz music, just the pop music that was on TV. My only instrument was a recorder, with which I would play all the cartoon theme music key in C and it naturally developed my movable Do solfege. When I was young what I really wanted to do was singing but I was a shy kid so I repressed the urge until my late teens. I remember visiting my friend’s rock band, eager to join the circle as a vocalist. I said I wanted to be a guitarist instead because I felt singing required a thick skin. After a year of self-taught guitar playing, I desperately wanted to dive deeper into the art and finally decided to take up singing. I studied music theory books, at the same time listened religiously to and imitated many female pop singers.

I was still hungry after graduating Dongduk Women’s University with a degree in Voice Performance. During that time I noticed my personality was a bit different from other singers. I was more interested in writing music than singing itself. I sort of settled on a singer-songwriter path, but could not resist my desire to do more, especially composition. I picked up the dream that I had given up a long time ago because of my previous financial situation. Withdrawing all the money that I had saved up over the years, I decided to move to Boston and attend Berklee College of Music.

What is this jazz orchestra? I knew I wanted to study composition but did not know what I would encounter. Since the songwriting course was focused on English lyrics, I did not even try – I barely spoke enough to survive. Film Scoring and Contemporary Writing and Production were too threatening because I was not good with technology. I had one choice left, Jazz Composition. I heard big band music for the first time in my life, both from recordings and live performances. Of course I had no idea about the instruments and how to write for that many people, but I was certainly enchanted. Several months after declaring my major in Jazz Composition, I received the prestigious Duke Ellington Award; in that moment I almost fell to the ground not just because it was a big surprise but because I was out of money and this scholarship was a sign that I will make it through somehow. With the help of many miracles and supporters, I was able to finish all of my studies including a masters degree from Manhattan School of Music under the direction of the great Jim McNeely.

Situations can be perceived from different perspectives. Although I was neither a prodigy (maybe I was but no one cared!), nor had the support system to become a musician, I like how my life has unfolded. It makes me unique and I show who I am through my music. Since my path as a composer is not traditional, I am actually encouraged to be bold and not to think what is right or wrong in writing. Having little musical background can certainly be a minus and I am always trying to catch up. I feel embarrassed when I contemplate my old works. I do not even know what I was thinking sometimes and I will forever carry this doubt as I learn and improve. Nonetheless, flashes of creativity does creep through if you listen to your true self.

Transitioning from pop singer to jazz composer is an uncommon experience and people will see it through their prejudices. I like the fact that my experience gives me different angles to jazz composition. It not only provides me with the lyricism to my melody writing, but listening to all the pop music makes me think about characters in every composition, something with which people can identify. Also since I am not an instrumentalist, I do not have the habit of going to the piano or guitar right away to play chords and melodies, instead I first come up with an idea, image, or message and try to find a way to express them through musical elements. For example, I used only one bass note throughout my composition ‘Unshakable Mind’ to symbolize the meaning of the title.

Click here to see an example of the bassline from “Unshakable Mind”

Composition is form of record-keeping for myself. As my life changes, so does my music and I am not afraid of that. When I first moved to New York in 2015, everything was chaotic, my personal life and the city itself and my music reflected this. At that time, I wrote music for myself as an emotional release. I was able to endure the hard times because I composed. After a few years, I am more relaxed and my music is becoming less complicated and easier to listen to, harmonically more of tonal sense as well. All living things change. I am happy and excited to discover what will come of my life and writing. What I should do is to be honest and keep on documenting. Composition also can be like raising a child. Sometimes you kind of have to surrender, give up on creating the perfect piece but accept what is given and work hard to polish and develop it further. You learn how to love it regardless how imperfect it may be.

Jazz welcomes you to be yourself. It is the most accepting art form to which everybody can contribute, making it as lush and diverse as who we are, so as long as we accept ourselves first. Jazz does not exclude based on gender, nationality, ethnicity, religion, age and so forth and I am blessed to have found that home to which I can belong. Be true to yourself and be happy with what you have in life. Never pretend to be someone else and keep on searching for what you really want. I remember Jim McNeely told me once that he enjoys working with students who tell a story more than students who write well-written music. I am well aware of how important it is to hone a skill – a skill can be taught but originality through life cannot.

I am still a novice composer, enjoying all the ups and downs, at least trying to enjoy. I dream to keep on creating something that only I can offer to the jazz scene. I wrote many words and these are not my final conclusion but the thoughts that I have now. I just wanted to share my story and encourage everyone to create the music with their originality. Your background, whatever it is, makes you the one and only.


About the Author:


Jihye Lee is a New York-based jazz composer and bandleader.

She was an indie pop singer-songwriter in South Korea. Feeling that something was missing, Lee followed her curious heart and embarked for uncharted waters in 2011. She studied at the Berklee College of Music where she was introduced to big band music for the first time in her life, leading her to forge a whole new path in jazz composition. Soon after, she would receive the prestigious Duke Ellington Award for two consecutive years along with other scholarships and honors, confirming her hidden ability.

After graduating from Berklee, Lee organized a successful crowdfunding campaign for her first big band album, April, which was co-produced by Greg Hopkins and recorded with musicians consisting of other Berklee faculty and professionals from the Boston area. In 2015, with generous funding from school scholarships and the CJ Cultural Foundation, Lee finally moved to New York to study with Jim McNeely at the Manhattan School of Music.

Lee released her album, April, in 2017, garnering global praise as a fresh original voice on the jazz composition scene. She has presented her music in the United States and Asia at various venues and festivals including the DC JazzFest.

The BMI Foundation awarded Lee with the Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize in 2018. Recently, she has written music for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Carnegie Hall’s NYO Jazz. She is currently working on her second album.

Learn more at jihyemusic.com or by emailing info@jihyemusic.com

 

Artist Blog

Mike Holober: The Shaping of “Hiding Out”

When I was invited to prepare a post for this blog, I started sketching out ideas; the result was several pages of random notes that could have filled a book if each was fully developed.  It became clear I needed to focus, so I decided to zero in on what has been occupying my thoughts most recently – my new CD release Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra:  Hiding Out.  Beyond the (admittedly) self-serving goal of promoting the record, this will provide a convenient framework for discussing some of the ideas that have shaped my approach to jazz orchestra writing over the years.

I first got hooked on writing for jazz orchestra in the 1980s, when I was teaching at Binghamton University, which had a very good big band.  The hook was further set at the Eastman Arrangers Festival during the summer of 1986, where I spent several priceless weeks with Manny Albam and Ray Wright (I remain friends with many of the people I met at the workshop that summer).  When I moved to New York City in the early 90’s I enrolled in the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop (with Manny Albam, Jim McNeely, and Roger Kellaway at the helm), and I realized that writing was going to be a big part of my musical life (though I had not anticipated that it would take over completely at times!).  I decided that I should form my own big band, and The Gotham Jazz Orchestra was born.  We had a good run:  we released our first CD in 2004 (Thought Trains) and a second in 2009 (Quake).  However, sustaining a 17-piece jazz orchestra takes a lot of focus, and other opportunities started to take precedence.

In 2007, I was invited to serve as artistic director of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra, a position I held until 2013.  This was an exciting opportunity, and a valuable learning experience.  Under my tenure, we commissioned over 140 new arrangements for jazz orchestra (almost 50 of them mine), which we performed to sell-out crowds at our home theater in Irvington New York.  We also released a critically acclaimed recording titled Maiden Voyage Suite, featuring newly commissioned arrangements of the tunes from Herbie Hancock’s seminal recording, formatted as a seamless set-length work.  It remains one of my favorite projects with WJO.

Despite the organization’s success, WJO came to an end when it faced staffing difficulties (as not-for-profit organizations often do), but by this time I had already begun working with the German radio big bands (hr-Bigband in Frankfurt, and WDR Big Band in Cologne), which kept my pencil busy for many years.  I had also started working as Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop with Jim McNeely, which gave me an opportunity to read through hundreds of charts by some very gifted writers, which was as much a learning experience for me as it was for them.

In his recent post, Jim McNeely wrote that the best way to learn big band writing is to write, listen, evaluate, and repeat – and I really got a chance to practice this method during this period! I like to tell my own students when they are about to dive into their first jazz orchestra piece that the learning curve is steep – they should really write two, because they will learn so much from the first one.  I remember that my first chart (written in a euphoric-rush-of-inexperienced-adolescent-writer-frenzy) ended up in the circular file; the second one, an arrangement of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” actually worked.  Write, listen, evaluate, and repeat – wise advice indeed.

The sheer volume of commissions I was working on during this period (often full-length concerts) forced me to hone my craft, while the challenge of working with such a diverse range of musical personalities and temperaments also taught me a great deal about the role of the arranger and conductor as artistic collaborator, diplomat, and psychologist, all rolled into one!

When arranging someone else’s music, it is necessary to maintain a balance between the voice of the composer, the arranger, and the performing artist.  But I also believe that for an arrangement to be really good, it should sound as if it was originally written for that exact instrumentation – and sometimes this means that the original composition must “grow” some new music (intro, interlude, tag anyone?).  Of course, this depends on the original material; when writing for Miguel Zenon, for example, some of his quartet lead sheets were very detailed in form (already approaching 300 measures), making me less inclined to add new music.  But for others (such as Al Foster, or Eli Degibri), their shorter forms invited a deeper collaboration, allowing the arranger’s voice to assert itself in a way that complimented the original intent, enhancing the message of the tune.  When an arrangement is completed, I strive to hear from the composer: “I love what you did with my music.”

Hiding Out
In spite of my busy schedule as an arranger, I did manage to continue working on my own compositions — and this is the work that is the focus of my new CD Mike Holober & The Gotham Jazz Orchestra:  Hiding Out (ZOHO, 2019).  The two featured works, Hiding Out and Flow, are in extended form, with multiple movements.  Perhaps my classical background was in my thoughts, or maybe I was just trying to get away from the idea of stand-alone medium length works — but I found myself thinking in large form multi-movement works, with no agenda about length, radio air-play, or jazz club suitability versus concert setting.

I was also very fortunate to have what I refer to as a “perfect storm” of compositional opportunity to write these pieces.  This means a commission for an excellent ensemble, an artist colony residency where I could focus on the creation of the work, and a suitable premiere setting. 

Hiding Out was commissioned for The Gotham Jazz Orchestra by The Philadelphia Museum of Art (funded by the Pew Foundation), and was first performed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  It was composed during a residency at the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming (my cabin was called “Jesse’s Hide Out”), and was inspired by the beauty of its setting.  Flow was commissioned by the Westchester Jazz Orchestra (with funding from a NYSCA Grant), and was premiered by WJO in an Americana-themed concert at Irvington Town Hall.  It was composed at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where I stayed in the cabin that Aaron Copland worked on Appalachian Spring, and Leonard Bernstein worked on his Mass.  The ghosts of these two great American composers no doubt influenced the resulting composition.

To demonstrate some of the ideas that have shaped my writing process, I have selected the opening passage of “Tear of the Clouds,” from the first movement of Flow, as an example.   I will focus my comments on two basic elements:  motivic development, and orchestration.  Igor Stravinsky said “Good composers borrow, great ones steal,” and I hope this analysis will give readers something worth stealing.

When I first started to compose I was familiar with the concept of motivic development, but I didn’t take it seriously enough.  Now I can’t get enough of it.  There are so many compositional devices that can be used to develop a motif (transposition, re-harmonization, augmentation, inversion, retrograde), that the possibilities are endless.  This not only provides a constant source of material, but also gives a composition structural logic.

Orchestration plays vital role in motivic development.  Ravel refers to orchestration as a device for revealing form (nowhere is this more obvious than in his Bolero).  The way a composer assigns notes to an instrument is integral to the development of the work.  I often think about orchestration as being like a painter’s palette – mixing colors, blending edges. This applies especially to a woodwind and mutes passage (as in the sample I analyze below):  As you add instruments and colors on the top of the harmony (the melody?), it doesn’t double in volume, but instead becomes slightly more colored and pronounced.  If there is a Bb (a 7th above middle C), and it is orchestrated for a unison of flute, cup-muted trumpet, and clarinet, it is easily balanced by single voices underneath; add guitar, and it becomes a little warmer; add flugelhorn and it smooths it out — or 1 harmon-muted trumpet to put a little buzz on it, or piano 8va to light it up or pop it out; or even add all of these at once – it’s barely getting louder – you are just using your palette to color the top and influence the expression of the music.

In my arranging classes, I often tell students to exercise their minds by making an “orchestration structures” list, designed to help them think about the range of their timbral palette.  Saxes unison with brass hits — that’s the idea!  Now make a quick list of 30 different combinations!  Keep in mind that only some of them should have everyone playing.  Would the voices be balanced if they all play the same dynamic — in other words is there a registration balance?  What is the natural or organic “power” of each voice in the range it is written?

Now let’s look at the excerpts!

 

 

Click to View PDF

 

#1 M 37 – M 44
This is the entire main theme.  Here, in its first presentation it is 8 bars.  The first two bars are so strongly suggestive of the theme that this fragment alone is all that is needed to be obvious about the source material.  Once this is “programmed” into the listener’s ear, even just a strong rhythm such as that of bar 38 is enough to suggest the main theme.  This is the essence of motivic development.

The piccolo is very evocative — of isolation, peace, youth, simplicity, innocence — and its unique sonic imprint in the low register is easily recognizable.  When it returns much later in the work, the timbral recognition gives clarity to a very long and formally sinuous movement.  The listener knows where they have ended up after being taken on a long journey.

The harmony here is in shifting minor modes – natural, harmonic, and melodic – with the 6th and 7th becoming variable.  The success of this shifting modality is perhaps related to the “classical” difference in the ascending and descending melodic minor.  M 37 is in B minor; view the F natural in the piano as a “blue” note with little harmonic meaning, especially since the root is not present.

Click to View PDF

# 2 M 18 – M 29
Yes, the excerpts are out of order (I thought it best to show the main theme at M 37 first).  One of my favorite techniques is to take a theme and cut it up like a jigsaw puzzle, scatter the pieces over a score, and then assemble them.  These theme fragments can also provide material for general use anywhere else in the piece. This is a technique I commonly use to create intros for arrangements of other composers’ music (especially if the music is fairly modern) – a kind of “deconstruction” or “cubist” look at the subject.  An example of this is the arrangement I wrote for the hr-Bigband with Kurt Rosenwinkel playing his tune “Star of Jupiter,” in which I use fragments of the bridge to form an intro:

Click to View PDF

 

# 3 M 51 – M 52
Here we have the first 2 bars of the theme — the rhythm is the same, but the melody is a slight variation.  The soli voicing is in clusters; the melodic palette is in 3 octaves (flute, trumpet in cup, with trumpet in bucket 8vb, and piano 8va).  The 8va piano makes it “pop,” and there is enough melodic weight to hear the melody clearly through the density of the cluster.

Click to View PDF

# 4 M 57 – M 63
Here we have the first 6 bars of the theme, which is then interrupted by “new” material at M 63.  The line is in 4-part harmony, in large dissonant intervals, but generated from the same modality.  Notice how the instrumentation of this 4-part harmony crosses every section (a note of thanks to Duke Ellington for opening up these possibilities!).   The piccolo part could be viewed as a 5th harmony, but I see it as overtone reinforcement of the melody (a technique directly stolen from Ravel!).  The melodic palette is flute, and piano, and the trombones comp a little.

Click to View PDF

# 5 M 63 – M 69
Here there is a drastic shift in modality to Gb harmonic major.  Note that in M 65 and M 68 the re-use of the motif immediately ties the new harmonic zone to the main theme.  The soloist makes its first entrance as well, laying the sonic/character groundwork for future formal development.

Click to View PDF

# 6 M 69 – M 76
This time, alto and tenor play the main theme in unison octaves — a more “throaty” and “heroic” statement.  This is essentially two saxes in unison, with trombones comping.  Here I use one of my pet techniques:  instead of the trombones all hitting together, or bass trombone offset against 3 tenor trombones, they do a modified or “linear pyramid,” making the attack harp-like, or like finger-style guitar.  Notice that in these “linear pyramids” players rarely attack alone, and all entrances are rhythmically easy.  You can see other uses of this technique at M 81 – M 86, and at M 102.

Click to View PDF

# 7 M 77 – M 81
In this section, the winds and mutes are gone, replaced by saxes and open brass.  The power increases, as the orchestration evolves to the saxes and trumpets in soli with the trombones comping. The range here (as everywhere) is integral to the dramatic evolution of the piece.

Click to View PDF

# 8 M 102 – M 109
Here we have soprano and alto in 3rds (more consonant and tonal), with trombones comping.  A huge shift in mood happens, as functional chord changes add to the momentum.  The music is no longer modal at this point.

Click to View PDF

# 9 M 112 – M 119
Tutti!  We made it!  Real rhythmic unison in M 113 and M 115 – power it up!

[Side note:  The common fear that writing full-ensemble soli is challenging and time consuming is a subject for an endless discussion unto itself.  However, I’ll take this opportunity to point out that from M 37 – M 151 there is only a total of 12 measures where everyone is playing:   M 77 – M 81 and M 112 – M 119.]

After this tutti, it is time to subtly release the tension of the big orchestration and let the solo emerge.  Often after a loud passage like this (or a send-off), I’ll reduce the orchestration gradually to let the next section develop organically, rather than have a sudden shift.  I think of this as “taping the seams” (as in putting up drywall); then spackle with some rhythmically smooth mid-register writing, and sand with a diminuendo!

Here at M 136 it is finally time to hand the compositional process over to Jason Rigby (the tenor soloist for whom “Tear of the Clouds” was written).  Bob Brookmeyer suggests only getting to the solo by composing your way there – developing your information so that the solo occurs as a natural evolution of the composition.  In this case it took me 4 and a half minutes to arrive at the solo – about a third of the way into the work.

Click to View PDF

# 10 M 37 – M 151
For the context of how these nine fragments develop, here is the entire first section of the work in one continuous excerpt, starting from the first appearance of the main theme, and ending a little way into the tenor solo.

If you want to hear more excerpts from Hiding Out (or buy the CD) please visit:  https://www.mikeholober.com/hiding-out-cd-page

Happy listening and stealing!


About the Author:

Mike Holober served as Artistic Director/Conductor of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra (WJO) from 2007-2013, and Associate Guest Conductor of the hr-Bigband (Hessischer Rundfunk – Frankfurt, Germany) from 2011-2015.  With WJO he has written and conducted for Joe Lovano, Kate McGarry, John Scofield, John Patitucci, Randy Brecker, and Paquito D’Rivera.   Projects with the hr-Bigband include writing and conducting for Kurt Rosenwinkel, Billy Cobham, Jane Monheit, Terje Rypdal, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Miguel Zenon, and a concert of the works of Frank Zappa.  With the WDR Big Band (WestDeutsche Rundfunk – Cologne, Germany) he has written and conducted projects for Avishai Cohen/Eli Degibri and for legendary drummer Al Foster.  He has also recently written a project for Eli Degibri with jazz orchestra and strings that was produced at the Israel National Opera House in Tel Aviv, as well as arrangements for WDR with Joshua Redman, a recent Stockholm Jazz Orchestra recording, and OJM (Portugal) with pianist Fred Hersch.

Mike has recently returned to the helm of his own stellar big band with the release of Mike Holober and the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Hiding Out (ZOHO, 2019).  This double CD features two extended form compositions:  Hiding Out, commissioned for The Gotham Jazz Orchestra by The Philadelphia Museum of Art (funded by the Pew Foundation) and Flow, commissioned by The Westchester Jazz Orchestra (funded by a NYSCA Individual Artist’s Grant).  The recording also includes an arrangement of Jobim’s “Caminhos Cruzados,” a WJO commission that was written as a feature for trumpet master Marvin Stamm.  Other featured artists on Hiding Out include Billy Drewes, Jason Rigby, Scott Wendholt, Adam Kolker, Jon Gordon, Steve Cardenas, and Jesse Lewis.

Mike was a 2017-18 recipient of a Chamber Music America New Jazz Works Grant for Don’t Let Go, which was premiered at Symphony Space (the Leonard Nimoy Thalia) in June 2018.  Structured as a song-cycle in the tradition of Robert Schumann, Samuel Barber, and Ralph Vaughn-Williams, Don’t Let Go was written for  Mike’s octet Balancing Act, whose eponymous premiere recording was released in 2015 (Palmetto).  The recording features Mike’s original compositions and lyrics, with Kate McGarry, Dick Oatts, Jason Rigby, Marvin Stamm, Mark Patterson, John Hebert, and Brian Blade.

In 2017 Mike was named the inaugural Stuart Z. Katz Professor in the Humanities and the Arts at The City College of New York for This Rock We’re On:  Imaginary Letters, an extended work in the form of an oratorio for jazz orchestra, voice, cello, and percussion.  The work celebrates explorers, conservationists, writers, and photographers whose lives have been inspired by the natural world.

In addition to his 6 records as a leader, Mike can be heard as a sideman on over 70 recordings.  He has performed with or had his works performed and recorded by numerous ensembles, including  The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, Zagreb JazzOrkestar, The Gotham Wind Symphony (where he is Composer-In-Residence), UMO, RTV Big Band Slovenia, The Airmen of Note, The Army Blues, The Tim Ries Rolling Stones Project, John Patitucci, Jason Rigby, Marvin Stamm, The Prism, American, and NY Saxophone Quartets, and many others.

Mike is a Full Professor at The City College of New York, and is a five-time MacDowell Fellow, Ucross Foundation Fellow and Yaddo Guest.  He also teaches composing and arranging at The Manhattan School of Music.  From 2007 – 2015 he served as Associate Director of the BMI Jazz Composer’s Workshop, (founded by legendary jazz composers Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam), where he taught with Musical Director Jim McNeely.

Artist Blog

Jim McNeely: Pausing at 70

I recently lurched into my 70th year–my eighth decade (sobering words to write!). Yes, “age is just a number,” I know.  But 70 has caused me to pause and reflect on some of my experiences, and more importantly, what I’ve learned from them.  There is one overriding theme: every time my age would hit a “Big X-0 (4-0, 5-0, etc.)” I would get a sense of not only how much I had learned, but also how much more I didn’t know. With each new decade I felt that both the “knowns” and “unknowns” had increased. In reaching the “Big 7-0” I think I’ve learned an incredible amount, yet I’m awestruck by all that’s left to learn.  

Some History

Growing up on the north side of Chicago, I knew little about jazz until I was about 13. I had taken piano lessons since the age of six. My teacher, Bruno Michelotti, also taught me theory, saxophone and clarinet. Being a nice Catholic boy, I was considering two different Catholic high schools.  One Sunday afternoon I saw the “stage band” from Notre Dame High School in Niles on a local television broadcast.  Something in me said “yes!” I entered NDHS as a freshman in 1963. Little did I know where that would take me.

In my sophomore year my father bought me Russ Garcia’s The Professional Arranger Composer. I devoured it; I learned so much about theory, voicings, and melodic writing from this book.  From that I got the idea to write a big band arrangement.  My band director was Rev. George Wiskirchen, who was one of the premier big band educators in the Chicago area.  It was my fortune to be in his school; and he encouraged me to write that arrangement (he was also the first person to tell me to “comp” behind a soloist).  I found an Ernie Wilkins blues head called Blues Go Away. I wrote a five-chorus arrangement: unison sax melody, sax soli melody, solo chorus with background, shout chorus, and out melody.  I’ll never forget the first reading: sax melody, fine; sax soli: when they first burst into 5-part harmony I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever heard.  I thought, “Garcia was right, that’s how you do it!” Solo chorus and background, passable. Shout chorus was an unmitigated disaster.  Out chorus, fine.  I thought, “The stuff that sounds good I’ll keep doing; the stuff that sounds bad, I’ve gotta find a different way.” That process has continued through today.

In spite of the shout chorus disaster, Father George was encouraging.  I went on to write six or seven more big band arrangements while in high school.  I got to study a few scores along the way (including copying parts from a few of Oliver Nelson’s original pencil scores). The learning continued. One time I brought in Freak Out!, the first album by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. I played a couple of cuts for Fr. George.  My adolescent mind thought “This will really bug him, heh-heh.” He looked at me and said, “Why don’t you write something like that for the band?” Completely called my bluff.  And I wrote! He also had me and my friend Nick Talarico write music for the school’s marching band. One show featured a medley of She’s Only a Bird In a Gilded Cage, segueing into Coltrane’s treatment of My Favorite Things (I got those sousaphones pumping!). Along with having to deal with challenges like this, I also got my first invaluable experience writing to a deadline.

In 1966 I heard the University of Illinois Big Band at the Collegiate Jazz Festival at Notre Dame University. Again, something in me said “Yes!” So in 1967 I entered the U. of I. School of Music. There was a student in the graduate program there named Jim Knapp.  He was writing some gorgeous music for big band, both original compositions and arrangements of standards.  I was so intimidated by him I didn’t write a note until he got his degree and left for Seattle (where he still resides, still writing remarkable music). I was encouraged by John Garvey, the director of the U. of I. Jazz Band.  Again, some things worked, some things didn’t.  As a composition major, I was studying with Morgan Powell, a wonderful composer and trombonist who was writing music deep in the cracks between jazz and contemporary classical chamber music.  The music I wrote as part of our lessons was mostly for mixed ensembles.  Along with classes in counterpoint and fugue, I was able to take classes in ancient and medieval music, African music and Persian classical music. I studied Balinese gamelan music and serial composition. So much music in the world!

With both my high school and university experiences, I was lucky: there was no one there to tell me “you can’t do this”; “you’re not supposed to do that.” And I learned that, as with my piano playing, the more I did it, the better it sounded. I made decisions faster.  I developed more options. Took more chances.

The Process 

I recently finished writing the forward to a remarkable book called Bob Brookmeyer in Conversation with Dave Rivello (coming out soon on ArtistShare). In it Bob imparts his general advice for composers: “Write music.” Two words. My early experiences taught me that you learn to write music by writing music. You can glean information from scores, teachers, recordings, and peers. It’s all there, good and important.  But unless you write, you will never grow.

Here is the basic process:

  1. Write some music
  2. Hear your music played
  3. Evaluate your music
  4. Repeat 1, 2, & 3

To flesh this out:

1) Composition; composer. These are loaded words in Western culture.  We are told that composition is difficult. We are told that Bach, Beethoven, etc. were THE GREAT MASTERS. Okay, they actually were, along with a lot of other folks, but that doesn’t take the rest of us out of the picture.  If I tell my non-musician neighbors that I write music, their response is “oh, nice”.  If I tell other neighbors that I am a composer, gasps and “oh-wows” ensue. Forget that nonsense. Composition essentially requires courage, bolstered by confidence.  Confidence in the note I’m putting on the paper.  Confidence that I can follow that note with another one.  Confidence that my musical ideas are valid simply because they are there.  Confidence that my musical ideas are valid on their own terms, not in comparison with anyone else, no matter how much I may admire them. Confidence that I have the tools to shape and develop my ideas. Confidence in my ability to get the piece finished and played. The last four “confidences” might take time to achieve.  But the first–confidence that this one note must go on the paper, and I’ll find another to follow or precede it–is crucial.  And that confidence comes from doing, doing, doing and doing.

2) If you want to write music for human players, you must hear your music played by human players (duh).  Computer playback is simply not good enough. Having your music played live is the only way to develop gut feelings about balance, timbre, density, range, and playability.  Have it played in a reading session; better yet a real rehearsal, or a composition workshop. Ideally, rehearse it to the point where it can be performed. More than once. Your music will start to tell you what it wants and needs.

3) Listen to what you’ve written and evaluate it with absolute, brutal honesty. What sounds the way you thought it would? What sounds different? Why? Sometimes a student will tell me “That’s what I’m hearing.” Is it really? Maybe that’s what you kinda, sorta thought it might sound like. Or maybe you were thinking, but not really hearing anything at all. A defensive attitude will just get in your way.

4) Repeat—as often as you can.

Writing, Learning, Writing, Learning

When I moved to New York City in 1975 I had little thought of pursuing a writing career.  I wanted to play the piano. Meet people. Play with some of the well-known bands at the time.  When I joined Thad Jones/Mel Lewis in 1978 I thought, “I’m playing this great music of Thad’s, and Bob Brookmeyer’s. Who am I to write for this band?” That changed the next year when Thad left to live in Denmark, and Brookmeyer came in as musical director of the newly-titled Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra.  Bob knew I wrote small group music, and I tried to talk a good game about writing for big bands.  He encouraged me to write something for Mel.  So I did. We rehearsed it, and actually attempted to play it on a few Mondays. It was dreadfully overwritten. But Bob heard a few things of value, and said, “Write another one.” That’s one of the greatest things I’d ever heard in my life! So I did. The second one was a little better. Around this time I had one of the greatest arranging lessons ever. Mel had hired a French Horn player and wanted me to write her some horn parts. Kendor Music sent me ten scores of Thad’s (this was the pre-Inside the Score era). I had to really analyze what he did in order to squeeze in another note between the trumpets and the trombones. I felt like a whole world had opened up. I no longer just thought I heard what was in his writing, I actually saw it, and got my hands on the piano to play it. I began to sense that until then I had really been writing piano music, merely transferring it to the score paper. “This C# is in the range of a trumpet, I guess I’ll put it in trumpet 3.” Now I was starting to hear a band when I wrote. The piano became more a medium through which I would hear the ensemble, not simply a piano. This was a gradual process that took many years to mature, but it started with writing those French Horn parts.

I learned other lessons from musicians in Mel’s band.  I’d brought in one piece, and at the rehearsal lead trumpeter Earl Gardner said, ”McNeely, you’ve got to give us some time to rest.” I said, “Well, after the head you guys don’t play for a long time.” Earl said, “No, it’s that when we’re playing, we need to get the horns off our faces some of the time.” My semester of trumpet class at the U. of Ill. hadn’t prepared me for this! In another arrangement I started with flügelhorns going up to a double high F#. After passing out the parts the trumpet players laughed.  Again, Earl: “McNeely, do you really want this?” Not really knowing what I wanted, of course I said “Yes, it is.” “Okay!” We played it. I immediately understood the hilarity and re-wrote the intro.

My time with Mel’s band (’79-’84) afforded me another incredible arranging lesson: to sit at the piano every Monday, playing such great music. Hearing the harmonies; the inner voices (especially first tenor, closest to the piano); Thad’s rhythmic language; Brookmeyer’s cranky harmonies. I loved it all, week after week. It was learning by osmosis. Write—hear—evaluate—repeat.

My working with Brookmeyer led to five years of writing and conducting music for the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany.  I had pretty much carte blanche with them.  I wrote a lot of original music, some for soloists like John Scofield, David Liebman and Phil Woods, and some without a “name” soloist. I was able to try so many new ideas, and get immediate feedback, from the musicians and from my own listening.  For one project I realized that brass mutes were a big mystery to me.  So I threw caution to the wind and just went for it.  Every arrangement had different combinations of mutes, and a lot of woodwinds. Most of it worked, some of it didn’t. And I learned a lot. Write—hear—evaluate—repeat.

Being “of a certain age” I came up writing with pencil and paper.  I’m glad I did.  Pencil, paper and keyboard get my hands on the music. The process is physical and tactile.  One time, years ago, I decided to try composing directly on the computer. I felt like I was looking at the music through a window—like visiting someone in prison.  I decided I wanted to be in touch with the music.  I’ve since learned the value and role of the computer, especially with all the writing I do for European ensembles.  I do the final stages of scoring in Finale.  But the beginning and middle of the process are done with a pencil—I love the feel of the paper and the smell of the eraser.  I love the anticipation of looking at blank pages of a large-format music manuscript book—wow, what’s going to happen here? No bar lines, no systems—plenty of room to let the imagination flow. Before I know it, it’s filled with scribbles. I use some, I don’t use others. But they are all part of the overall process.  A leads to B leads to C leads to D…..leads to R. I might continue on to W, but then decide to stay with R. But R would not exist without A-Q and S-W.

People who’ve studied with me know that I am very big on planning a piece. The shape. The form. The color. The surface sound. But I’ve also learned to be flexible in those regards. In 1993 Jon Faddis asked me to arrange a program of songs from the Benny Goodman repertoire for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. One of tunes was Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing. Goodman’s original version featured a free duet between himself and drummer Gene Krupa.  For the mid-‘30’s this was quite an advanced concept.  Thinking of this, as well as the duos that John Coltrane played with Elvin Jones or Rashied Ali on drums, I wanted to feature David Liebman on soprano sax and Victor Lewis on drums. Using Goodman’s 1938 Carnegie Hall recording as a loose model, I carefully planned my arrangement.  I composed call-and-response figures for the band, with Lewis answering.  Then Liebman would solo, followed by a similar composed call-and-response section with him. I orchestrated the drum solo section and started sketching the section for Lieb.  That’s when the phone rang.

The copyist, rightfully concerned about the approaching deadline, told me, “I need the score tomorrow.” I promised her I would overnight the score that evening.  I hoped the FedEx guy would come at 8.  He showed up at 7.  My wife scrambled to put together the envelope and mailing label.  I quickly scribbled “4 bars Lieb, 4 bars band answers; 2 bars Lieb, 2 bars band” into the score, then “copy mm. 180-195” and tacked a final bar onto the score.  Folded it up, put it in the envelope and sent it off.  I felt that I had really blown it, because I wouldn’t get a chance to show off my carefully crafted section for David.

It turned out that the arrangement as finally written and performed at Carnegie was tremendously exciting. Building off of the orchestrated drum passage, Lieb and the band screamed through the whole final section. Most of the audience went wild, and some walked out. I was thrilled with both reactions. Thanks to the copyist and the FedEx guy, I got my first Grammy nomination with this arrangement.  More importantly, I learned that sometimes it’s possible to over-think, and over-plan.  It’s jazz.  Always consider the balance between the pre-written and the improvised.  The piece isn’t about me. It’s about the music. Write—hear—evaluate—repeat.

Sing, Sing, Sing Excerpts (Carnegie Hall, 1993)

The Takeaway

These experiences, along with countless others, helped shape me as a composer, arranger, and teacher.  I had band directors who made time for student composer/arrangers. Teachers who knew the value of a few encouraging words as opposed to a whole mouthful of discouragement. Feedback from musicians playing my music. Copying parts from other people’s scores. The value of both hearing, and later saying “Write another one.” I was fortunate to be in situations where I could ask “What if?”, instead of “Am I allowed to…?”. Where it was okay to take risks, and at the same time accept and learn from the results. I learned that I didn’t know everything, and that’s okay.  That I needed to listen honestly to my writing, then act on what I heard. That I had to acknowledge my weaknesses, not as failings but as part of being human—it was up to me to strengthen them. That not everyone will love what I do.  And as important as thinking, mulling, stewing, and planning are, action—doing—overrides them all.

Speaking of doing, I’ve got a lot more writing to do; so it’s time to get back to my studio. A deadline is fast approaching, with six arrangements due. Time for more action.


About the Author:

Jim McNeely was born in Chicago, moving to New York City in 1975.  In 1978 he joined the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.  He spent six years as a featured soloist with that band and its successor, Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra (now The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra).  1981 saw the beginning of Jim’s 4-year tenure as pianist/composer with the Stan Getz Quartet.  From 1990 until 1995 he held the piano chair in the Phil Woods Quintet.  At the present time, he leads his own tentet, his own trio, and he appears as soloist at concerts and festivals worldwide.

Jim’s reputation as composer/arranger and conductor for large jazz bands continues to flourish and has earned him ten Grammy nominations. In 1996 he re-joined The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra as pianist and Composer-in Residence.  He is also chief conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. Other recent work includes projects with the Danish Radio Big Band (where he was chief conductor for five years), the Metropole Orchestra (Netherlands), the Swiss Jazz Orchestra, and the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. The New York Times has called his writing “exhilarating”; DownBeat has said that his music is “eloquent enough to be profound”.  And he won a Grammy for his work on the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra’s “Monday Night Live at the Village Vanguard” on Planet Arts Records.

Jim has appeared as sideman on numerous recordings led by major artists such as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz, Bob Brookmeyer, David Liebman, Art Farmer, Robert Watson, and Phil Woods. He has numerous albums under his own name.  The latest is the Grammy-nominated “Barefoot Dances and Other Visions”, with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band on the Planet Arts label (“superb…a feeling for arranging orchestral colors that is magical”—All About Jazz.com)

Teaching is also an important element of Jim’s work. He is on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music. He was involved with the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop for 24 years, including 16 years as musical director. He has appeared at numerous college jazz festivals in the U.S. as performer and clinician. He has also done clinics and major residencies at dozens of institutions in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, and Egypt.

He may be contacted via his website: www.jimmcneely.com

        

Artist Blog

Ryan Keberle: Harnessing the Power of Inspiring Music

Like most avid music listeners, music moves me in deeply visceral ways. Listening to music for me is just as physical an experience as it is intellectual, if not more so. The vibrations of Coltrane’s saxophone, the deep grooves of a Brazilian samba band, the emotional expressiveness of a perfectly delivered lyric, the tension, release and drama of a perfectly developed Maria Schneider arrangement, or the resonance of an expertly crafted Gil Evans orchestration, are just a few examples of how very real and measurable aspects of music making can emotionally and physically alter the music listener. Of course, most serious music listeners and musicians are aware of this kind of visceral musical power, however, it has been my experience that many people avoid making the kind of analytical observations mentioned above, perhaps in fear of ruining the musical “magic”.

As I delve deeper and deeper into the world of music creation which includes composition, improvisation, arranging, orchestration, post-production, and performing, I have found it enormously helpful to try and identify specific traits of the music that has profoundly moved me in an attempt to understand how that musical power operates. Why does Jimmy Cobb’s ride pattern FEEL so good and how does it differ from the ordinary ride pattern of aspiring jazz students? Why does Duke Ellington’s music elicit so much excitement and maintain the focus of the listener? Why does the voice of Milton Nascimento almost bring me to tears? I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I have found this process of musical interrogation to be incredibly inspiring and fruitful in my creative process, and l hope to inspire others to perhaps dig a little deeper and listen more carefully and thoughtfully to the music they love.

To that end, I’ve compiled a short list of songs or albums that have moved me in deep and meaningful ways over the past two years, highlighting some of the traits that I found to be creatively inspiring. The result can be heard on our new full-length album, “The Hope I Hold”, featuring the indie jazz ensemble, Catharsis, just released on Greenleaf Music last week.

https://ffm.to/ryankeberle

Querteto Novo

Every single musician around the world should know this album by heart. It is, in my opinion (and many other Brazilians’) one of the most important genre defining albums of 20th century popular music. On a short list that would include Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Fives and Hot Sevens”, Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, The Beatles’ “White Album”, Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”, Jimi Hendrix’s “Electric Ladyland”, etc… The music is drawn from the rich folkloric tradition of Brazil, and in particular the African and indigenous influenced music of Northern Brazil, and combines it with jazz in the hands of some of the greatest Brazilian musicians of that time. Two of those musicians, Hermeto Pascoal and Airto Moreira, would go on to make huge contributions to both Brazilian and American music. The album is widely regarded to have helped spawn the genre of Musica Popular Brasileira, or MPB, which has completely changed my life after falling in love with the genre in recent years.

Charles Mingus’ “Reincarnation of a Love Bird”

I might be preaching to the choir with this choice but, of all the great Mingus compositions out there to learn from, this composition is, in my mind, in its own special category. Talk about songwriting genius! Every detail of this extended composition (the tune itself is over 60 measures long!) is so uniquely thoughtful that just when you think you’ve figured out where the song is headed it makes an unexpected turn, constantly challenging the listener to follow along and in return provides such a rewarding listen. From a technical standpoint, this composition sets the gold standard for perfect thematic development on every level – melodic, harmonic and rhythmic. The arrangement changes tempos, meters, etc… in typical Mingus fashion but still feels so natural. The original recording features one of the more inspiring introductions I know of. The tune epitomizes the way in which Mingus pushes me to avoid the road most travelled as a composer and to always search for the best possible songwriting decision at each and every turn. Finally, the song is a great example of what the best jazz should be and almost always is – challenging to play yet so rewarding when done so at the highest level. I wish more current jazz music followed these maxims.

Antonio Loureiro’s album Livre

My good friend and colleague, John Ellis, introduced me to Antonio’s music while touring with Catharsis earlier this year. (side note: I’m not sure there is any better place to discover music than while touring with your favorite musicians!!). Some of you might know Antonio from the work he does playing drums in Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Caimi Brazilian project. However, Antonio is also an unbelievable keyboardist, beautiful vocalist, and absolute genius songwriter and producer. I have not listened to a recording more than I’ve listened to Livre in a very long time. He calls his music Brazilian pop, but to me it sounds like all the things great modern jazz can be in 2019 – sophisticated yet rewarding songs played by virtuosic musicians striving to make the most beautiful music possible. The opening track, “Meu Filho Nasceu!”, a song Antonio wrote dedicated to the birth of his child, gives me goose bumps every time I listen (even after months of daily listening!). The harmony is so fresh yet deeply rooted in the songwriting traditions of jazz and Brazilian music a la Milton Nascimento, Toninho Horta, Hermeto Pascoal, etc…  and the arrangement and production of the track is genius-level good.

Milton Nascimento and Lo Borges’ album Clube da Esquina

This is the album that, along with The Beatles and Duke Ellington, completely changed the trajectory of my musical life more than any other. Technically this was a collaborative project between a number of soon-to-be major forces in the 1970’s Brazilian music scene including Lo Borges, Beto Guedes, and Toninho Horta, but the album is, for all practical purposes, a Milton Nascimento record featuring some of his most magical compositions, unbelievably virtuosic singing and guitar playing, glorious arrangements some of which include a full orchestra, and deeply poetic and insightful lyrics. I can’t imagine the minds that were blown when it came out in 1972 because, almost 50 years later, my mind and body was altered forever when I first heard it, and upon the next one thousand lessons I continue to hear new and compelling details.

JJ Johnson’s “Euro Suite #1”

JJ is, of course, known universally as the most important jazz trombonist in history, and I would whole-heartedly agree. However, what many people don’t know, or are just peripherally aware of, is that JJ was a master composer and arranger. In fact, JJ spent much of the late 60’s and 70’s living in LA composing for Hollywood and television shows including regular contributions to The Mod Squad and The Six Million Dollar Man. JJ’s composing reminds me exactly of his improvising (as it should!) – perfectly crafted to tell a compelling musical story, full of drama, yet utterly refined so as to not include any unnecessary excess or gimmickry.  My favorite composition BY FAR, and something I was deeply inspired by while writing the music for our upcoming Catharsis album, “The Hope I Hold”, is his 6-minute magnum opus, “Euro Suite #1”. Actually, I recently adapted the piece for trombone choir to be performed at this year’s International Trombone Festival in Muncie, Indiana in honor of what would have been JJ’s 100th birthday. I’m told JJ”s widow will be in attendance which is SUPER exciting. This facet of JJ’s career is what has inspired me to develop my craft as a composer and arranger, in addition to instrumental performance technique, and something I return to on a regular basis.

Edu Lobo’s “Uma Vez Um Caso” from his album, Limite das Aguas

The Brazilian singer/songwriter, Edu Lobo, released the tune “Uma Vez Um Caso” in 1976, over 40 years ago, but the composition sounds categorically modern and fresh. Besides being an incredible composition (it reminds of me of Brazilian Mozart in that every detail of the recording is in its perfect place) the music also inspired me to do more singing in my own musical projects. I love the rapport he has with his female vocalist, the equally amazing Joyce, which is something that Camila Meza and I strive to do on our tune, “Campinas”.

Sami Joik Norwegian folk song tradition

– as sung by the Norwegian indie singer/songwriter, Marja Mortennson and her trio with Daniel Herskedal and Jakop Janssonn

I heard Marja and her incredible trio, all based in Norway, perform at the Katowice JazzArt Festival in Poland. I was totally oblivious to the Sami Joik folk singing tradition of northern Norway and was utterly captivated by both the tradition and its interpretation in the hands of Marja, Daniel and Jakop. The tradition, like so many folk music traditions, uses music to tell the story of the Sami people and their culture and history. However, what makes this vocal tradition unique is that it is a word-less music, relying on the expressiveness of the human voice and the power of MUSIC (music does not include lyrics in my definition) to capture the essence of important individuals, family members, etc… of the Sami people. Marja pointed out in their set that while music with words are limited to the specific verbal language used and the serious expressive limitations of that language, the Joik tradition can capture the essence and unique qualities of its subject by relying on the power of MUSIC and SOUND bypassing the limitations of verbal language.

ADDENDUM:

As you might have noticed, many of the artists on this list are part of an incredibly rich Brazilian musical tradition from the late 1960’s and 1970’s called Musica Popular Brasileira, or MPB. Below is a playlist featuring my favorite songs from the MPB genre that I discovered while falling down the rabbit hole that is Brazilian music. These songs, albums and artists have completely transformed my musical world over the past two years.


About the Author:

Photo by Amanda Gentile

Hailed in the Downbeat International Critics Poll as #1 Rising Star trombonist, a player “of vision and composure” according to The New York Times, Ryan Keberle has developed a one-of-a-kind voice both on his instrument and as a composer, earning distinction among jazz’s most adventurous new voices. Keberle’s music integrates his wide-ranging experiences into a highly personal vernacular — immersed in jazz tradition, drawing on world music, rock and other influences, seeking fresh and original pathways. His flagship ensemble, Catharsis, has released five albums, three on Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music record label, to worldwide critical acclaim.

In 2017 Catharis turned its attention to political turmoil in the U.S. with the protest album Find the Common, Shine a Light, praised by The Nation as “unpretentiously intelligent and profoundly moving.”

Keberle has also worked in endlessly varied settings with musicians ranging from superstars to up-and-coming innovators, in jazz, indie rock, R&B and classical music. As a featured soloist with the Maria Schneider Orchestra, he collaborated with David Bowie on his 2015 single “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime).” He has performed extensively with the acclaimed songwriter Sufjan Stevens, with Brazilian superstar Ivan Lins, and with the Saturday Night Live house band. He has accompanied soul hit-makers Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake as well as jazz legends Rufus Reid and Wynton Marsalis.

 

Artist Blog

Rich DeRosa: Strategies for string orchestra arrangements in a recording studio setting

Recording technology has provided the arranger/orchestrator with alternative possibilities. The studio environment in contrast to live performance is analogous to making a film versus creating a stage production in a theater. The film maker can use techniques that transcend the normal capabilities of live production which must occur in real time.

There are situations where recording in a studio can be done as if it were a live concert but it can also be quite expensive. Most budgets cannot typically accommodate a full orchestra recording simultaneously in a studio. As an alternative, many productions (especially commercial ones) overdub various groups of musicians who may never see each other while others mix MIDI production with only a few live players.

Jazz projects today often require alternative thinking. This is especially true where strings are employed. The sound of a string quartet and a string orchestra are quite different. (Listen to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings” as performed by a string quartet versus a string orchestra to appreciate the aesthetic difference). When arranging strings for someone, this is an important distinction. Sometimes a client has the sound of a lush string orchestra in mind. It’s important that the person realize the cost that is generated to accommodate the latter choice.

To illustrate these alternative strategies, I will discuss two projects where the featured artist wanted the large orchestral sound and how the use of technology in the recording studio can satisfy the client’s preference while respecting the budget.

The first project is from the CD Lovers, Tales, and Dances which features trumpeter Dominick Farinacci. The selected example from the CD is an aria titled “E Lucevan Le Stelle” from Puccini’s opera, Tosca. Although Dominick had a record company supporting his project, the lion’s share of the budget was allocated to the studio (Avatar, NYC) and multiple jazz guest stars (Kenny Barron, James Genus, Lewis Nash, Jamey Haddad on this track with Joe Lovano and Joe Locke on others). Dominick at the time was a recent graduate of the Juilliard program so it was most economical for him to hire his student friends to cover the orchestral parts which included two quintets (string and WW) along with a harpist.

The WW and harp parts weren’t an issue as these instruments sound wonderful as solo voices. But the strings needed to sound lush so multiple layers would be necessary. This requires overdubbing. The first layer must be as good as possible with respect to intonation and timing. It usually takes three layers with a small group (6-10 players) so this project would require even more. In general, a string quartet or quintet is not ideal because the tonal identity of the individual player is still rather present. With slightly more people in the basic layer it is easier to get a homogeneous sound. But the budget could handle only the smaller size.

If you’ve read my two previous blogs for ISJAC you’ll remember how I used MIDI mock-ups effectively to forecast the sound of the arrangement to be performed live in a concert hall. The mock-up would also be as effective for the recording studio.

First, the product needed to be presented to Dominick. He came to my home studio to hear the MIDI orchestra laid in with his quartet tracks from a previous CD recording. Dominick had created a unique arrangement of Puccini’s aria with his quartet. I used that recording and scored the orchestral arrangement around it.

Here is Dominick’s quartet recording blended with the orchestral MIDI instruments. You’ll notice the MIDI trumpet in the beginning and then Dominick’s entrance at 1:07 where I cut into the quartet recording. On the back end you’ll hear where the MIDI tracks (including the MIDI trumpet) provide the arrangement’s ending (at 3:07). Dominick was thrilled with the result; unbeknownst to me at the time, he decided to share this version with the producer who also became excited about the project because he now knew what to expect at the recording session.

Another aspect of recording projects is that they are often done in fragments. Much like a film production, where scenes are shot not necessarily in chronological order but more in accordance with location (at the beach, in Paris, etc,) or based upon an actor’s availability (a cameo star is available during a certain time when his/her scenes must be shot), the same occurs with music production. The rhythm tracks would be recorded first and those players would be long gone before the orchestral players arrived.

Here is another invaluable advantage with a MIDI mock-up. When the rhythm section players were getting ready to record, I had them come into the control room with their respective parts and follow along as they listened to the MIDI mock-up. This enabled them to hear their (accompaniment) part in context with the orchestra tracks that didn’t exist yet.

Cick to View Full Score

 

In anticipation of the recording production schedule, I needed to record the music sections out of chronological order. We would begin recording with the jazz group at bar 17. But also notice that Dominick finishes Puccini’s melody in bar 16 which sustains into bar 17. As a future marker for the ProTools engineer, I had Dominick record the phrase “wild” which means with no reference to tempo. While Dominick sustained the last note, I conducted (and spoke “3-4”) to bring the rhythm section into bar 17. (The count-off, which would ultimately be erased, functioned as an important aural reference during the overdubbing process for the orchestra to match tempo immediately.) Once the rhythm section entered, the process was relatively straight-forward for this stage of the recording.

When the orchestral players arrived, it was most sensible to start recording at bar 17. The main reason was to get their intonation to match the pre-recorded jazz musicians. With one layer established, we did several more while in this location. As the layers accumulated, one concern would be the skewed balance of the string instruments: the low strings would eventually outbalance the violins. When inquiring with the engineer, he assured me that, during the mixing phase, there would be enough isolation to bolster the violins as necessary without automatically raising the level of the lower strings. I could have asked the lower strings to tacet in subsequent layers but it’s nicer for the players to perform together. Their individual passes would also provide more choices for the engineer and producer.

With the main body of the chart recorded, it was time to record the introduction. The tempo fluctuates dramatically, so entrances were determined by listening to a melodic phrase and then responding. It was more effective to stop conducting (similar to a fermata) and let Dominick or one of the WW players perform a phrase with a full sense of rubato and then bring in the next important down beat for the strings.

Although Dominick had already recorded bar 16 for the rhythm section recording, I asked him to record it once again within the context of the orchestra. The ProTools engineer would now have a more solid marker to unite both segments of the chart and also have two choices to consider for this important melodic phrase.

With Dominick, the WW players, and the harpist recorded, it was time to add the layers of strings. The melodic phrases in the wind parts would help the strings find their entrances and unite with their first layer. You can hear the results of the studio recording directly below.

As a reminder from my previous blogs, the MIDI mock-ups of the arrangements for this CD production also helped the orchestral musicians prepare their parts in context with the jazz group. They would ultimately have to play to a pre-recorded rhythm section so this also helped them get acclimated to that situation.

There were also some unforeseen issues that caused significant delays in the production schedule. As the orchestral overdubs were scheduled late in the series of events, the allotted time became much less than anticipated. Although this was stressful, the players’ previous preparation with the MIDI demo enabled us to get a satisfactory product.

* * * *

The other studio production was for a CD titled When Winter Comes which features guitarist Fred Fried. Fred had heard my work on the Dial and Oatts project, Brassworks, and wanted me to do something similar for his compositions but showcased with strings instead of brass. I knew that Fred had a large string orchestra sound in mind. But his project was self-produced so it would be important to work within Fred’s personal budget.

We agreed that six tracks would feature strings (recording one tune per hour for a double session in one day). I used eleven string players (6 violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos, 1 bass). Fred’s trio consisted of Steve LaSpina on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. They would record first. (Steve would then join the orchestra as the sole double bassist on a subsequent day several weeks later and Fred would add guitar parts where he was alone with the strings).

With the jazz trio tracks recorded, I began to create the string arrangements and MIDI mock-ups for Fred to hear. These recordings would ultimately be used for the string players to practice with. There would be no rehearsal. These players were NYC pros and it would have been quite difficult to assemble a mutual time to rehearse. Besides, there was no room in Fred’s budget to pay for a rehearsal. We would meet in the studio and perform each piece within a designated hour.

The first layer of string parts is always most challenging because of coordinating with the pre-recorded tracks and getting adjusted in general to the studio environment. After the first layer was complete, I added two more layers to create a 33-piece orchestra.

As mentioned previously, it was practical to record the strings primarily where the rhythm section already existed. Then we would deal with any other sections that featured the strings alone.

As with the Joey Alexander project, my strategy for the arrangements was to feature the strings in various ways that would best compliment Fred’s compositions. For the title track, Fred’s tune is set for a fast swing tempo as the melody moves slowly above the groove; it is strong and memorable.

To create a dramatic contrast, I decided to feature the strings in an extended prologue to suggest a programmatic image of the onset of winter in New England (Fred lives in Cape Cod, MA). The jazz trio would represent the arrival of winter’s first snowstorm. The strings would represent the intrinsic intensity of the atmosphere just prior to the storm’s arrival.

The prologue features Fred’s melody but it is re-harmonized in a modern, abstract way. To keep the focus on the “atmosphere” I refrained from using the double basses until bar 26. In general, notes in the bass register usually clarify a harmonic impression and also add significant weight or anchorage to any sound. I wanted the music to “float” and have the harmony be more vague. The rubato tempo was very important as well. The mood of the prologue would be tenuous and unfold one phrase at a time. To control the pacing, you will notice a fermata placed in strategic locations.

Click to View Full Score

You may be wondering how the prologue could be layered. Unlike the arrangement for Dominick where melodic phrases helped the players navigate through the bars, there was no strong aural reference. I would need to rely on a click track to guide my conducting which would then help the string players during the overdubbing process.

With my MIDI strings recorded in Digital Performer (it’s important to stay on the digital grid by first recording to a steady tempo), I recorded a rubato tempo in the Conductor Track (remember to use the Tap Tempo tool). I would use the recorded (rubato) click track in the studio and conduct the strings to it. But the problem remained with the random number and speed of the clicks inside any given fermata. There was a significant chance that I could lose track of beat 1 in any given bar or inside a fermata. I decided to record my voice reciting the beat numbers in each bar and the “extra beats” within each fermata. To prepare the entrance for the first bar, I also needed warning clicks as a count-off to establish adequate precision within each layer.

With headphones to broadcast the click and my vocal beat numbers, I was able to conduct the strings effectively to create a dramatic rubato tempo and also align the subsequent layers to create a lush string orchestra sound.

You can hear the results below:

I hope you enjoy listening to this music.

If you have questions, please contact me at richard.derosa@unt.edu

Featured image credit: Sopon Suwannakit


About the Author:

Richard DeRosa received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition in 2015 for his big band composition “Neil” which is dedicated to Neil Slater: the director of the One O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas from 1981-2008.

Since 2001 Mr. DeRosa has arranged and conducted music for Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to feature Toots Thielemans, Annie Ross, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Roberta Gambarini, and Renée Fleming among several other notable artists. He was a prime arranger for the theater project (A Bed and a Chair) featuring the music of Stephen Sondheim and created an arrangement of Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea for the swing jazz Broadway show After Midnight.  Mr. DeRosa was also a featured arranger for the Wynton with Strings concert celebration in 2005.  His most recent project as a featured conductor and arranger for the LCJO was Bernstein at 100 which premiered in November of 2017.

In October, 2018, Mr. DeRosa was the featured conductor and arranger for the concert productions of Joey Alexander with Strings which also premiered at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 2012 the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, invited Mr. DeRosa to conduct and present his music in concert. After several other engagements with the prestigious ensemble, he served as their chief conductor and musical arranger from 2014-2016. He arranged and conducted the CD/DVD recording My Personal Songbook (released in 2015) which features the music of legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter who is featured with the band. A second CD titled Rediscovered Ellington (released in 2017) features his longtime music partners Garry Dial and Dick Oatts. Together they created unique and modern arrangements of Duke’s rare and unheard tunes. Mr. DeRosa’s newest CD release (2019) is Crossing Borders which features Gregor Huebner (violin) and Richie Beirach (piano) that includes new arrangements of several Beirach compositions. WDR projects with other guest artists include Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Kurt Elling, Patti Austin, the New York Voices, Ola Onabulé, Ute Lemper, Bill Mays & Marvin Stamm, and Warren Vaché.

Other commissioned arrangements have been recorded by the Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, and Glenn Miller big bands, vocalist Susannah McCorkle, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci on his CD Lovers, Tales, and Dances, and acclaimed solo violinist Anne Akiko Meyers on her CD Seasons….Dreams. Mr. DeRosa has also served as co-arranger, orchestrator, and conductor for the critically acclaimed recording projects When Winter Comes featuring guitarist Fred Fried, Dial & Oatts: Brassworks, and a double CD project That Music Always Round Me which Down Beat Magazine selected as one of the top recordings in 2015. Dial & Oatts composed music to fifteen poems by Walt Whitman and brought in DeRosa to create the arrangements for choir to be featured with a jazz chamber group that included Dial on piano, Oatts on saxophones and flute, and guest trumpeter Terell Stafford.

Mr. DeRosa’s arrangements for orchestra have been performed by the Kansas City Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Pops, the Portland Maine Pops, the UNT One O’Clock Lab Band with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra in Holland, the Czech National Symphony, and the Swedish Television and Radio Orchestra in Stockholm. Other European jazz bands, including the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, have commissioned his compositions and arrangements.

Mr. DeRosa’s compositions for television, film, and theater include background music cues for Another World, As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, commercials for Telex, Bristol-Meyers, and Kodak, various documentaries broadcast on PBS, orchestrations for independent films Gray Matters, Falling For Grace, and Standard Time, and more than twenty original music scores for the national touring U.S. theater company ArtsPower as well as orchestrations for Frankenstein, the Musical. He has also composed scores for videos and hundreds of audiobooks for publishing companies including Bantam Doubleday Dell, Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Prentice-Hall.

Earlier in his career as a performer, DeRosa toured and recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Susannah McCorkle, Jackie Cain & Roy Kral, Chuck Wayne, and Marlene VerPlanck. Other employers include Marian McPartland, Gene Bertoncini, Warren Vaché, Larry Elgart, Peter Nero, and vocalist Chris Connor.

Mr. DeRosa is a recipient of UNT’s Presidential Faculty Excellence Award. In celebration of the university’s 125th anniversary, he composed a work for orchestra and jazz quintet titled Suite for an Anniversary. Mr. DeRosa is a full professor and the director of jazz composition and arranging. His former teaching positions were at William Paterson University, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School where he taught advanced jazz arranging for studio orchestra.

He is the author of Concepts for Improvisation: A Comprehensive Guide for Performing and Teaching (Hal Leonard Publications) and Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer (Focal Press) co-authored with Dr. Andrea Pejrolo. The latter book has experienced worldwide success, having been translated into Chinese in a subsequent edition. An expanded 2nd edition was published in November of 2016.

Mr. DeRosa’s publications for public school jazz ensembles are available through Alfred Music (Belwin Jazz), Smart Chart Music, J.W. Pepper, Barnhouse Music, while several of his works for professional-level bands are available through Sierra Music. All of this music is available through e-Jazz Lines. Mr. DeRosa remains active as an adjudicator and clinician for music festivals and is the artistic director for AJV (American Jazz Venues), an organization created by his late father, noted jazz education pioneer, Clem DeRosa.

Artist Blog

Rich DeRosa: Strategies for string orchestra arrangements in a jazz concert setting.

When Jazz at Lincoln Center commissioned me to write seven arrangements for string orchestra to accompany Joey Alexander and his group, these were my primary considerations:

    1. Strike a meaningful balance between featuring the orchestra and Joey’s group.
      • The first set will feature Joey’s group alone so the second set will definitely need to feature the string orchestra in a distinctive limelight.
      • But it will also be important to allow the jazz group to do what it does naturally without being constrained by overly-written orchestrations.
      • The string orchestra will be performing live in a more vigorous jazz environment. Its size will probably be 1/2 to 1/3 the size of a typical orchestral string section. Therefore, it will be important to write in a way that will provide enough strength to balance effectively with the jazz group.
    2. A string orchestra, as beautiful as it may be, essentially offers a monochromatic timbre. I like to find effective ways to instill contrast:
      • Activity vs. space – a constant presence can dull the senses.
      • Full texture vs. thin texture – feature high and low frequencies as well as the more typical tutti sound.
      • Offer a variety of tone and expression – natural or normal, harmonics, tremolo (bowed and fingered), etc.
    3. Find a contrasting concept within each arrangement. Some arrangements feature the strings alone in spots. Others feature the strings mostly in support. Others feature the strings in a highly interactive role with the jazz group.
    4. Appropriate number of string players with regard to the music and the budget.

I decided not to use basses – we couldn’t afford them and I felt that, for this project, they weren’t really needed. I asked J@LC for 22 players (14 violins, 4 violas, and 4 cellos). They were able to give me 20 players so the violin count went down to 12.

  1. Avoid excessive divisi but look for opportunities to use open strings for additional pitches. In general, with significantly fewer players than in a full orchestra, I refrained from creating moments of excessive divisi when the jazz group is playing. Assigning two pitches to my six 1st violins will reduce their power and presence by 50% (three violins on each pitch). Although double-stops (each player plays two pitches) may be possible, they increase the potential of intonation problems and can make the performance more cumbersome. However, an open string can easily provide an extra pitch along with one stopped string (but the two strings must be adjacent). The process is simple for the player and there is no loss of power.

With the basic strategies outlined, I began the creative process. In an effort to set the strings in different ways, I considered each composition’s context to determine how contrast could be achieved from one arrangement to another.

Joey’s composition “Soul Dreamer” is in a fast 3/4 but flows inside a feeling of ‘1’. This is marked primarily through the chord progression (Fmi – Eb – Db – Eb) with each chord inhabiting a bar. The resulting 4-bar “loop” becomes more pronounced as melodic phrases are presented within each loop. This motion can become insidiously aggressive and its presence is readily displayed within the jazz group. The strings will better serve the composition and its mood by offering a distinctive contrast. They capture the programmatic feeling of dreaming, floating, and panorama via three aspects:

  1. high frequencies that are slow and relatively soft;
  2. phrases that mostly avoid the bar line as well as the vortex of the 4-bar loop;
  3. avoid full chords in the violins – use mostly wide intervals – primarily perfect 5ths. This provides a sense of transparency.

Strings are great for creating a long sustain. This will add a sense of calm but it is important to use pitches that are common to any moving harmony. The need to move will cause distraction.

Though I have mentioned a concern for using divisi within the violins when power or presence is needed, you will see that I have chosen to do exactly that; but it is for a different reason. Since the breakdown of the string sections is set at 6644, the divisi is used here to reset the proportion within the three pitches in the violins during the introduction. All of the 1sts play the high Eb. When the Ab emerges in bar 10, one desk of 1sts moves to the Ab to join with the 2nd violins. In bar 12, as the G emerges, one desk of 2nds remains on Ab while the other two desks of 2nds plays the G. This provides an equitable distribution of players (4/4/4) with all three pitches.

A similar purpose exists in bar 54. Although, with a quick glance, it appears that there are five different pitches spread across the orchestra, a closer inspection reveals that the harmony is simply the sound of an open Ab major triad presented, from the top down, as C-Eb-Ab. Although the notes of the triad could have been assigned accordingly to the 1st violins, 2nd violins, and violas, I have the cellos handle the bottom pitch (Ab) to provide more girth and lushness. The 2nd violins are assigned a divisi to reinforce the top pitch – C – in the 1sts and the middle pitch – Eb – in the violas). Since there are three desks of 2nd violins, I assigned one desk to join the 1st violins while the other two desks join the violas. Ultimately, the breakdown for this triad results as follows: C with 8 violins, Eb with 4 violins and 4 violas, Ab with 4 cellos.

Click here to see Soul Dreamer (score excerpt)

You can hear the result via the video recording of the concert.

Joey’s composition “City Lights” is much more energetic. In this context, the strings are placed inside the composition’s rhythmic phrasing to intensify the energy.

During the intro, a long sustain is used but the 1st violins are directed to use bowed tremolo for more energy. This technique is also employed in bars 21-22 as it enables vigor and crescendo.

Strength in numbers is important in vigorous jazz contexts. For adequate presence and a bold, dynamic statement, strings sound most powerful when playing the same idea in octaves as you can see in bars 20-22.

Pads are very effective as a soothing contrast to the energy of the jazz group. But the texture can become more interesting when switching registers. In bar 25, the 2nd violins and lower strings establish a darker pad in contrast to the high 1st violins that emerge in bar 32. The friendly key of D minor provides a good opportunity for them to use natural harmonics; this creates a more ethereal but still resonant sound. In addition, since both pitches are on open strings, each player can easily perform these two harmonics simultaneously. With no need to divide the 1st violin section, 100% power is retained. In contrast to the ethereal quality of the violins, the lower strings return with a fuller pad that builds into a break to prepare the melody.

When the melody enters, the listener is pleasantly distracted with something new so the withdrawal of the strings will not be disappointing. The phrasing of the melody is designed as a clear 4-bar statement with an equal amount of space following the phrase. This provides an excellent opportunity for the strings to respond melodically in an antiphonal manner. Separate bows are used for vigor with the sustained note occurring during an up bow. This facilitates the crescendo which is dramatically important. (In bar 47, you will notice that two of the 8th notes have what we would typically think of as a slur. This marking indicates that the notes within the slur are to be played within one bow stroke. My choice here will result in an “up bow” on the following sustained pitch.) Another benefit in this key is that the quick vacillation within the “melodic answer” (bar 46) is handled easily because the Ds at the bottom of the phrase are found on an open string. The cellos do not have an open string in that range so the phrase is harder physically and more challenging with regard to intonation. To be inclusive but cautious, I simply cued the phrase as an option. By the way, notice that the cello part is written in tenor clef. With pitches above middle C on the piano, unlike when writing for trombone in a jazz context, the classical trombonist, bassoonist, and cellist normally read in tenor clef to avoid multiple leger lines.

Click here to see City Lights (score excerpt)

While listening to the entire arrangement, you’ll hear how the aforementioned concepts are utilized. As a reminder from my previous blog, here is the MIDI demo version with Joey’s original studio trio tracks. When creating a MIDI version of an arrangement that is to be used for live performance, it’s important to write the music within the confines of the instrumentalist’s practical performance ability.

“Peace” is a beautiful ballad that is also composed by Joey.  This seemed like a perfect opportunity to feature the strings alone and have them set the mood. (Joey’s subsequent entrance with the melody has greater stature as a result.)

With the strings unobstructed, it’s possible to indulge in divisi to create thicker harmony without concern for losing presence. But I wanted this piece to unfold gradually so I still opted for presenting only one note at a time. For a subtle entrance that emerges gradually, the “up bow” indication is important (typically, a string player will start with a “down bow” on beat 1). The request for no vibrato is also important as it creates a sense of stillness.

Each pitch sustains to create a fuller texture that evolves gradually. You’ll see in bar 2 where I indicate divisi for the same purpose as before: to create an equity of 4/4/4 while using three pitches in the violins. The 4 violas enter in the latter part of bar 2. In bar 3 of the viola part, the first set of double pitches (Ab, C) is to be performed as a double stop to preserve a 4/4/4/4 continuity (violins and violas) within the chord texture. The Ab is established previously in bar 2 so the additional C in bar 3 occurs in a staggered fashion. This helps the player with intonation since both pitches aren’t played simultaneously.  As the music thickens harmonically, and to avoid more abundant intonation concerns, the viola section (and the cello section) divides to perform the subsequent sets of double-pitches. Although the violas and cellos at this point are designated to have only two instruments assigned to each pitch, they are larger and naturally stronger and fuller than the violins. As a result, there is less concern with the numerical imbalance.

Though breathing is not required to perform on a string instrument, it can be quite dramatic to create a sense of “breath”. The breath mark in bar 3 is placed deliberately for effect. It signals a saturation point for the opening pyramid while the brief moment of space also allows the players to reset, find their next pitch, and change into a slightly more relaxed character.

The intro culminates with its fullest harmonic texture as it is heard in bar 5. But, with only 12 violins, I still choose to use only 3 pitches within both sections to maintain a 4/4/4 equity. Actually, there is another option that I could have considered: The E in the 2nd violin part is playable on the highest open string. The B below is playable on the adjacent A string. This means that a double-stop could have been performed with all six of the 2nd violins easily performing both pitches. But the open string (E) makes the use of vibrato impossible. To cultivate more warmth at this point, I chose to have the 2nd violins divide in favor of using vibrato by playing the E on the A string.

The chord in bar 5 is a Bb7 with both lowered and raised 5ths and lowered and raised 9ths. Of the seven chord tones only six are employed; from the bottom moving upward they are: D – Ab – Db – Gb – B – E – Ab (the melody note is doubled two octaves lower in the cello section). The root (Bb) is omitted purposely. First, the sound of Bb is already present in the cello part in the beginning of bar 4 and the tonality of the intro centers on Bb (note the opening pitch – high Bb – in the violins). But, more importantly, I want the chord in bar 5 to have a sense of floating. The strings are assigned as follows: 4 violins on each of the top three pitches. The lower four pitches are split evenly with 2 violas and 2 cellos assigned to each pitch.

The strings cadence and subside as Joey presents the melody. They become even more still and gradually withdraw. Common harmonic tones are crucial here. Notice how thin the texture is in bar 6. If too many chord tones remain, they will become “trapped” by the harmonic progression and will need to move which will prevent a sense of stillness.

Click here to see Peace (score excerpt 1)

Bars 34-49 show how various register placement and texture (monophonic, polyphonic, homophonic) can provide welcome contrast within a ballad.

Click here to see Peace (score excerpt 2)

“Freedom Jazz Dance” provides another stark contrast with an opportunity to explore different colors from the strings. Joey’s soulful ostinato chord progression sets the mood for this version of FJD. It feels more introspective while still offering elements of blues and passion. The cellos are tethered to the ostinato to flesh out the texture and provide more bottom. Simultaneously, this allows Joey a bit more freedom with his left hand so he isn’t necessarily nailed to the ostinato. The violins create a lofty “ceiling” that floats above the groove and ostinato. Although their function is similar to “Soul Dreamer”, careful inspection will reveal that the interval of choice is the sweeter and fuller 6th in contrast to the hollow perfect 5th that is abundant in “Soul Dreamer”. 

As with “City Lights”, the nature of melodic phrases followed by space naturally invites a melodic response from the strings. The rhythms here are intricate so bowing is once again important to naturally aid the string player in capturing the right phrasing. It’s more natural to have heavier accents in the down bow position. Consecutive bows (whether up or down) can also prevent the string players from rushing.

Click here to see Freedom Jazz Dance (score excerpt)

During the solos, the strings are used similarly to a big band format: riffs are cued as the improvised solo reaches its first saturation point. Subsequent cues are used as the solo intensifies and climaxes.

Although there are a total of seven arrangements for this program, I’ll stop with these four as I believe there is enough here to demonstrate the strategies.

I hope you enjoy listening to this music.

My third and final blog in this series will delve into specific arranging, conducting, and recording strategies when writing for strings in the recording studio. Topics include MIDI demo preparation, click tracks, conducting, layering to create a larger string orchestra sound. The examples are from other projects that were recorded for CD productions.

If you have questions, please contact me at richard.derosa@unt.edu

 


About the Author:

Richard DeRosa received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition in 2015 for his big band composition “Neil” which is dedicated to Neil Slater: the director of the One O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas from 1981-2008.

Since 2001 Mr. DeRosa has arranged and conducted music for Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to feature Toots Thielemans, Annie Ross, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Roberta Gambarini, and Renée Fleming among several other notable artists. He was a prime arranger for the theater project (A Bed and a Chair) featuring the music of Stephen Sondheim and created an arrangement of Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea for the swing jazz Broadway show After Midnight.  Mr. DeRosa was also a featured arranger for the Wynton with Strings concert celebration in 2005.  His most recent project as a featured conductor and arranger for the LCJO was Bernstein at 100 which premiered in November of 2017.

In October, 2018, Mr. DeRosa was the featured conductor and arranger for the concert productions of Joey Alexander with Strings which also premiered at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 2012 the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, invited Mr. DeRosa to conduct and present his music in concert. After several other engagements with the prestigious ensemble, he served as their chief conductor and musical arranger from 2014-2016. He arranged and conducted the CD/DVD recording My Personal Songbook (released in 2015) which features the music of legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter who is featured with the band. A second CD titled Rediscovered Ellington (released in 2017) features his longtime music partners Garry Dial and Dick Oatts. Together they created unique and modern arrangements of Duke’s rare and unheard tunes. Mr. DeRosa’s newest CD release (2019) is Crossing Borders which features Gregor Huebner (violin) and Richie Beirach (piano) that includes new arrangements of several Beirach compositions. WDR projects with other guest artists include Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Kurt Elling, Patti Austin, the New York Voices, Ola Onabulé, Ute Lemper, Bill Mays & Marvin Stamm, and Warren Vaché.

Other commissioned arrangements have been recorded by the Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, and Glenn Miller big bands, vocalist Susannah McCorkle, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci on his CD Lovers, Tales, and Dances, and acclaimed solo violinist Anne Akiko Meyers on her CD Seasons….Dreams. Mr. DeRosa has also served as co-arranger, orchestrator, and conductor for the critically acclaimed recording projects When Winter Comes featuring guitarist Fred Fried, Dial & Oatts: Brassworks, and a double CD project That Music Always Round Me which Down Beat Magazine selected as one of the top recordings in 2015. Dial & Oatts composed music to fifteen poems by Walt Whitman and brought in DeRosa to create the arrangements for choir to be featured with a jazz chamber group that included Dial on piano, Oatts on saxophones and flute, and guest trumpeter Terell Stafford.

Mr. DeRosa’s arrangements for orchestra have been performed by the Kansas City Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Pops, the Portland Maine Pops, the UNT One O’Clock Lab Band with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra in Holland, the Czech National Symphony, and the Swedish Television and Radio Orchestra in Stockholm. Other European jazz bands, including the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, have commissioned his compositions and arrangements.

Mr. DeRosa’s compositions for television, film, and theater include background music cues for Another World, As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, commercials for Telex, Bristol-Meyers, and Kodak, various documentaries broadcast on PBS, orchestrations for independent films Gray Matters, Falling For Grace, and Standard Time, and more than twenty original music scores for the national touring U.S. theater company ArtsPower as well as orchestrations for Frankenstein, the Musical. He has also composed scores for videos and hundreds of audiobooks for publishing companies including Bantam Doubleday Dell, Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Prentice-Hall.

Earlier in his career as a performer, DeRosa toured and recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Susannah McCorkle, Jackie Cain & Roy Kral, Chuck Wayne, and Marlene VerPlanck. Other employers include Marian McPartland, Gene Bertoncini, Warren Vaché, Larry Elgart, Peter Nero, and vocalist Chris Connor.

Mr. DeRosa is a recipient of UNT’s Presidential Faculty Excellence Award. In celebration of the university’s 125th anniversary, he composed a work for orchestra and jazz quintet titled Suite for an Anniversary. Mr. DeRosa is a full professor and the director of jazz composition and arranging. His former teaching positions were at William Paterson University, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School where he taught advanced jazz arranging for studio orchestra.

He is the author of Concepts for Improvisation: A Comprehensive Guide for Performing and Teaching (Hal Leonard Publications) and Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer (Focal Press) co-authored with Dr. Andrea Pejrolo. The latter book has experienced worldwide success, having been translated into Chinese in a subsequent edition. An expanded 2nd edition was published in November of 2016.

Mr. DeRosa’s publications for public school jazz ensembles are available through Alfred Music (Belwin Jazz), Smart Chart Music, J.W. Pepper, Barnhouse Music, while several of his works for professional-level bands are available through Sierra Music. All of this music is available through e-Jazz Lines. Mr. DeRosa remains active as an adjudicator and clinician for music festivals and is the artistic director for AJV (American Jazz Venues), an organization created by his late father, noted jazz education pioneer, Clem DeRosa.

Header Image Credit: Alex Chilowicz.

Artist Blog

Rich DeRosa: MIDI mock-ups – their effective use in jazz.

When I was hired by Jazz at Lincoln Center to create seven arrangements for string orchestra to accompany Joey Alexander and his trio, I decided to use MIDI mock-ups as an effective tool and presentation for this context.

Here is a list of my strategies:

1) I wanted to make sure that Joey would be most comfortable in his natural playing situation. Although Joey is a tremendous talent, he is still only 15 years old. To my knowledge, this would be the first time he would need to interact with a large ensemble and in the context of formalized arrangements.

2) I asked Joey to send accurate renditions of his current trio arrangements. It would be important to capture the arrangements that the trio was doing at this point in time. Some were tracks from his CDs while others were from live gigs. For each arrangement, I imported the trio recording into Digital Performer and then used the Tap Tempo feature within DP to get the digital grid (bars and beats) to align with the recording. This takes time – you must first choose “slave to sync” (with the Tap Tempo option) and then begin tapping along with the music without stopping. (The key controller is usually middle C on the MIDI keyboard which then triggers DP to begin tracking the tempo of the live recording). Once all of the beats have been recorded, it is essential to “Save” this information in the DP file. The next step is to have the sequence move within the Conductor Track so the computer moves in tempo with the live recording. If DP remains in the basic Tempo Slider mode, it will not read the Tap Tempo data. If the latter occurs, you will hear and see that the computer sequence will quickly be out of sync with the trio recording. (IMPORTANT: because this step requires a large amount of computer processing, I find that DP’s recording of each beat – Tap Tempo – works better before you import the live recording. So you’ll need to play the recording from another source and tap along within DP.) When all of the beats in the Conductor Track are recorded, you can then import the live recording. Everything should then align in accordance with the bars, beats, and meter.

3) With the trio tracks imported and the conductor track aligned with the recording, I was now ready to begin my creative process. In particular with a pianist, it is important for the arranger to stay out of the jazz pianist’s way harmonically. Scoring around a pianist’s performance helps with this aspect. Additionally, the arrangement will not interfere with what the trio does most naturally. The goal is to enable Joey and his band mates to play organically without having to learn new things or work around the string orchestra. 

4) On the business side, I would need to get Joey’s (and his father’s) approval before committing to any writing choices. So I recorded the MIDI strings into DP without writing anything. I mixed the tracks to an mp3 file and sent it to Joey and his dad (who is Joey’s manager). They were able to hear what the arrangement would sound like as they listened to Joey’s familiar trio recordings which were now enhanced with the string parts. 

5) Once approved, I then had to get the ensemble parts into Finale for the typical preparation of the score and parts.

6) Even with a high-profile venue like JALC, budget is still a concern. To prepare all of the musicians in anticipation of our rehearsals, I now used the demo recordings along with PDFs of the individual parts to establish a clear context. I sent the digital files via a file transfer service to all of the performers. As a result, Joey and his bandmates knew what to expect from the strings and the string players could practice their parts with the trio and with the MIDI strings. This helped guide the string players with phrasing, intonation, and expression. The preliminary preparation enabled us to make the most out of our budgeted rehearsal time. In fact, though we were granted four 3-hour rehearsals over two days, I was able to cancel the last one – everyone was very happy to have the extra free time while also feeling extremely confident about the music. 

You can hear the results via the following link:

This video features Joey’s composition “Soul Dreamer”. The trio arrangement is basically the same as his CD recording so my string arrangement was created around that version. The string orchestra arrangement works equally well in concert.

The next example features another of Joey’s compositions: “City Lights”.  In this example you’ll hear my MIDI mock-up of the arrangement as mixed with the trio’s recording.

My next blog will delve into specific arranging strategies when writing for strings in this context: concert performance with a small string orchestra (20 players) in the more rough-and-tumble jazz context. The arrangements from the Joey Alexander with Strings concert will highlight and demonstrate these concepts and strategies that will include ensemble size and breakdown (vlns, vlas, vcs), maintaining adequate presence within a vigorous jazz environment, providing textural contrast, bowing, harmonics, divisi, etc.

If you have questions, please contact me at richard.derosa@unt.edu

Featured image credit: Sopon Suwannakit


About the Author:

Richard DeRosa received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition in 2015 for his big band composition “Neil” which is dedicated to Neil Slater: the director of the One O’Clock Lab Band at the University of North Texas from 1981-2008.

Since 2001 Mr. DeRosa has arranged and conducted music for Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to feature Toots Thielemans, Annie Ross, Willie Nelson, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Roberta Gambarini, and Renée Fleming among several other notable artists. He was a prime arranger for the theater project (A Bed and a Chair) featuring the music of Stephen Sondheim and created an arrangement of Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea for the swing jazz Broadway show After Midnight.  Mr. DeRosa was also a featured arranger for the Wynton with Strings concert celebration in 2005.  His most recent project as a featured conductor and arranger for the LCJO was Bernstein at 100 which premiered in November of 2017.

In October, 2018, Mr. DeRosa was the featured conductor and arranger for the concert productions of Joey Alexander with Strings which also premiered at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

In 2012 the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, invited Mr. DeRosa to conduct and present his music in concert. After several other engagements with the prestigious ensemble, he served as their chief conductor and musical arranger from 2014-2016. He arranged and conducted the CD/DVD recording My Personal Songbook (released in 2015) which features the music of legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter who is featured with the band. A second CD titled Rediscovered Ellington (released in 2017) features his longtime music partners Garry Dial and Dick Oatts. Together they created unique and modern arrangements of Duke’s rare and unheard tunes. Mr. DeRosa’s newest CD release (2019) is Crossing Borders which features Gregor Huebner (violin) and Richie Beirach (piano) that includes new arrangements of several Beirach compositions. WDR projects with other guest artists include Joshua Redman, Stefon Harris, Kurt Elling, Patti Austin, the New York Voices, Ola Onabulé, Ute Lemper, Bill Mays & Marvin Stamm, and Warren Vaché.

Other commissioned arrangements have been recorded by the Mel Lewis, Gerry Mulligan, and Glenn Miller big bands, vocalist Susannah McCorkle, trumpeter Dominick Farinacci on his CD Lovers, Tales, and Dances, and acclaimed solo violinist Anne Akiko Meyers on her CD Seasons….Dreams. Mr. DeRosa has also served as co-arranger, orchestrator, and conductor for the critically acclaimed recording projects When Winter Comes featuring guitarist Fred Fried, Dial & Oatts: Brassworks, and a double CD project That Music Always Round Me which Down Beat Magazine selected as one of the top recordings in 2015. Dial & Oatts composed music to fifteen poems by Walt Whitman and brought in DeRosa to create the arrangements for choir to be featured with a jazz chamber group that included Dial on piano, Oatts on saxophones and flute, and guest trumpeter Terell Stafford.

Mr. DeRosa’s arrangements for orchestra have been performed by the Kansas City Symphony, the Cleveland Orchestra, the New York Pops, the Portland Maine Pops, the UNT One O’Clock Lab Band with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the Metropole Orchestra in Holland, the Czech National Symphony, and the Swedish Television and Radio Orchestra in Stockholm. Other European jazz bands, including the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra, have commissioned his compositions and arrangements.

Mr. DeRosa’s compositions for television, film, and theater include background music cues for Another World, As the World Turns, The Guiding Light, commercials for Telex, Bristol-Meyers, and Kodak, various documentaries broadcast on PBS, orchestrations for independent films Gray Matters, Falling For Grace, and Standard Time, and more than twenty original music scores for the national touring U.S. theater company ArtsPower as well as orchestrations for Frankenstein, the Musical. He has also composed scores for videos and hundreds of audiobooks for publishing companies including Bantam Doubleday Dell, Random House, Scholastic, Simon & Schuster, and Prentice-Hall.

Earlier in his career as a performer, DeRosa toured and recorded with Gerry Mulligan, Bob Brookmeyer, Susannah McCorkle, Jackie Cain & Roy Kral, Chuck Wayne, and Marlene VerPlanck. Other employers include Marian McPartland, Gene Bertoncini, Warren Vaché, Larry Elgart, Peter Nero, and vocalist Chris Connor.

Mr. DeRosa is a recipient of UNT’s Presidential Faculty Excellence Award. In celebration of the university’s 125th anniversary, he composed a work for orchestra and jazz quintet titled Suite for an Anniversary. Mr. DeRosa is a full professor and the director of jazz composition and arranging. His former teaching positions were at William Paterson University, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School where he taught advanced jazz arranging for studio orchestra.

He is the author of Concepts for Improvisation: A Comprehensive Guide for Performing and Teaching (Hal Leonard Publications) and Acoustic and MIDI Orchestration for the Contemporary Composer (Focal Press) co-authored with Dr. Andrea Pejrolo. The latter book has experienced worldwide success, having been translated into Chinese in a subsequent edition. An expanded 2nd edition was published in November of 2016.

Mr. DeRosa’s publications for public school jazz ensembles are available through Alfred Music (Belwin Jazz), Smart Chart Music, J.W. Pepper, Barnhouse Music, while several of his works for professional-level bands are available through Sierra Music. All of this music is available through e-Jazz Lines. Mr. DeRosa remains active as an adjudicator and clinician for music festivals and is the artistic director for AJV (American Jazz Venues), an organization created by his late father, noted jazz education pioneer, Clem DeRosa.

Artist Blog

Gary Lindsay: The Voic[ing]

A BRIEF HISTORY

My fascination with harmony started around age 8. I was shown basic chord structures (major, minor, dominant, augmented and diminished in root position) by my brother David. On a toy organ, I explored the structures of harmony in songbooks (Sinatra was one). By age 11, I was playing saxophone in a big band with mostly high school students. Exposed to the sounds of eight brass and five saxophones, this rich harmony increased my curiosity, and I continued exploration at the piano by harmonizing (by ear) simple tunes and nursery rhymes. Playing in a small jazz ensemble throughout high school provided the opportunity to write for three horns. This experience expanded to writing for big band in college. I was fortunate to study jazz harmony and arranging with a graduate of Berkelee College of Music, Hal Crook, a well know jazz trombonist and jazz composer/arranger. Hal opened my ears and knowledge of jazz harmony through the study of chord scales, line writing, Duke Writing and other techniques he had mastered while in Boston. In 1976 my wife and I moved to Miami for graduate study at the Frost School of Music, University of Miami. As a TA (teaching assistant) I was assigned to teach jazz arranging. Contemplating a method for teaching writing for jazz ensemble, a step-by-step approach seemed the most logical. Elements included rhythm section notation, instrument ranges, registers and transposition, “voicing chords” and much more. After graduating I became a full time faculty member with responsibilities in jazz writing and technology, leading to the creation of the Studio Jazz Writing masters program. Through teaching graduate and undergraduate students my approach to jazz harmony continued to evolve. In 2005 I published a textbook, Jazz Arranging Techniques from Quartet to Big Band.

To show the evolution of my harmonic vocabulary I will first summarize the method I use to teach basic voicing technique (detailed in my textbook), and continue with more advanced techniques based on intervals and chord scales.

Four Note Voicing

The method starts with a 4 way close voicing that is derived by combining one note from each of 4 categories: Root, 7th, 5th, 3rd

Stacked like a chord:

  • Root
  • 7th
  • 5th
  • 3rd

For each of these categories there are many possible substitutions, expanding the number of voicing possibilities with just 4 notes (one from each category)

Substitutions are based on the chord type and category. All chord symbols are derived from the applicable chord scale. For example: Dmi9 is derived from the D melodic minor scale, G7(b13b9) is derived from the auxiliary diminished scale.


Using the same 4 categories a voicing can be modified by moving some notes (categories) an octave lower, using drop techniques.This Available Tension Chart shows that on a minor 7
th chord, a 9th can substitute for the root and an 11th for the 5th. No substitutions are listed for the 7th or 3rd because those notes are necessary to define this chord type.

Five Note Voicing

The next step to enhance voicing structures is to add an additional note so that each voicing contains 5 different pitches (5 part density). Since there are only 4 categories to choose from, it is necessary to duplicate one of the categories with a substitution to create the 5-note voicing. This technique is common when writing for a saxophone section (examine Thad Jones saxophone solis).

The Available Tension Chart (based on the Chord Scales for each symbol) shows that most of the substitutions fall under two categories: Root and 5th.

Using the Root category:

  • On a maj. 7th chord we could combine a root plus a 9th for a 5 note voicing.
  • On a dom. 7th chord we could combine a root plus a #9 or #9 plus b9.

Using the 5th category:

  • On a min. 7th chord we could combine a 5th and 11th for a 5-note voicing.
  • On a min. 7th b5 chord we could combine an 11 and b5 or root and 9.

What defines the character of each voicing: mellow, aggressive, regal, angular or strident, etc.? The sound’s character is a result of one very important element: the intervals created between all the notes in the voicing.

Classifications of Intervals

  1. Mellow: major and minor 3rds and 6ths
  2. Open: perfect 4th, 5th and octave
  3. Dissonant: major 2nds and minor 7ths
  4. Very Dissonant: minor 2nds, major 7ths and augmented 4ths
  5. Most Dissonant: minor 9th (a minor 2nd separated by an octave)

A voicing can be a mixture of many different intervals or a stack of all the same interval resulting in a wide array of sounds from very mellow to very aggressive.

Intervals provide the spices for a (voicing) recipe

  • Spice #1: stacked major and minor 3rd intervals (root position 7th chords)
  • Spice #2: major 7th intervals, mixed with other intervals
  • Spice #3: minor 2nd intervals., mixed with other intervals
  • Spice #4: perfect 4th intervals. (3 or 4 stacked)
  • Spice #5: perfect 4th intervals mixed with 2nds and 3rds
  • Spice #6: perfect 5th (2 stacked)
  • Spice #7: perfect 5th (stacked with other intervals)
  • Spice #8: mix of minor 2nds, perfect 4ths and augmented 4ths
  • Spice #9: mix of intervals that include one or more minor 9ths

The order of the pitches determines intervals throughout the voicing. A Gmi11 chord can sound rather mellow if placed in root position (mostly intervals of a 3rd). Example #7 above is quite different, combining open 5th intervals and a minor 2nd.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

A series of voiced lead notes (melody) does not necessarily create great music. Music combines vertical structures (voicing) with horizontal lines (melody and harmony) to create phrases in some mixture of rhythms. The movement from one voiced melody note to the next, i.e. voice leading, is just as important as the voicing structures. Movement from one voicing to the next does not guarantee great inner lines so often “other harmonic structures” are employed to improve awkward linear movement.

These “other harmonic structures” are referred to in my book as “approach techniques.” The technique can provide alternate ways of harmonizing melody that creates improved voice leading. This method also provides alternative harmonizations of notes in the melody that are not chord tones or available tensions of the chord of the moment (referred to as non-chord tones.)

Sketch for 5 saxophones employing all these techniques:

Voicing by Interval

To build voicings beyond 4 or 5 notes it is helpful to start with the Chord Scale so that all the available tensions are on display. For example: the Aeolian scale shows the basic chord tones and all the tensions diatonic to the Dmi7b6 chord symbol. You can now construct a voicing based on extending the 4 or 5-note technique or build a voicing by combining intervals to create the desired sound. Keep in mind that if an interval between adjacent notes is larger than a major 6th the separation between notes can create a less coherent sound. Larger intervals within a voicing become more coherent as overlapping intervals, non-adjacent.

The following examples were created based on chord scales and placement of various intervals within each voicing. Examine the adjacent and non-adjacent intervals within each voicing and listen to their effect. Remember the major 7th and minor 2nd intervals are commonly used to add dissonance and contrasting color.

Although voicing techniques are only a single component of the jazz writing landscape, they contribute to the overall style, mood and character of the music. There does not seem to be an end to discovering new harmonies!

ENJOY EXPLORING

Gary Lindsay

Website: www.lindsayjazz.com


About the Author:

Gary Lindsay is Professor of Music and Director of the Studio/Jazz Writing program and DMA program in Jazz Composition at the highly acclaimed Frost School of Music, University of Miami. He has been teaching at the University for 38 years. He is a recipient of an NEA grant in jazz composition and a University of Miami Technology grant. Gary has served as a clinician at the International Association of Jazz Educators and JEN national conventions, and various high schools and universities. He has served on the Board of Governors for the Florida branch of NARAS and is a member of ASCAP, JEN, ISJAC, AF of M and Pi Kappa Lambda. In 2005 Gary published “Jazz Arranging Techniques from Quartet to Big Band.”

In addition to composing and performing with the Miami Saxophone Quartet, Gary has played with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Henry Mancini, Stevie Wonder, Johnny Mathis, Mike and Randy Brecker, Arturo Sandoval, Jaco Pastorius and others. He has performed as a featured jazz soloist with the Florida Philharmonic and the Naples Philharmonic and performed in pit orchestras for numerous shows including: West Side Story, The Music Man, Porgy and Bess, Hello Dolly, Man of La Mancha, The Fiddler on the Roof and many more.

As an arranger, Gary’s pop music credits in South Florida studios include Jose Feliciano, Gloria Estefan, Jaci Velasquez, Julio Iglesias, Christina Aguilera, Michael Bolton and others. Jazz writing credits include the Maynard Ferguson Band, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, Arturo Sandoval, the Atlantean Driftwood Band, the University of Miami Concert Jazz Band and Studio Orchestra, the South Florida Jazz Orchestra, as well as commissions for the US Air Force “Airmen of Note.” The Arturo Sandoval album “I Remember Clifford” garnered Gary a Grammy nomination in jazz arranging. Gary’s extensive writing for the Miami Saxophone Quartet includes original compositions and arrangements on the CDs “Take Four Giant Steps,” “The Miami Saxophone Quartet Live,” “Midnight Rumba,” and “Four of A Kind.” Gary’s newest CD was released in July on the Summit Label featuring his arrangements and compositions. The CD is titled The South Florida Jazz Orchestra presents the music of Gary Lindsay “Are We Still Dreaming” and includes performances by many guest soloists.

Artist Blog

John La Barbera: Basic Tools For Better Arranging

I recently revisited a magazine article I did on arranging over 30 years ago to see how germane it is to today’s world of scoring.   Surprisingly, except for the fact that musical styles and industry practices have changed drastically (in the commercial advertising world we got paid to do demos and we recorded with live musicians), the basic tenants of presenting the fundamentals of arranging haven’t changed.   Here’s an abridged and slightly updated version of that article.

BASIC TOOLS FOR BETTER ARRANGING

As a young arranger, I was always searching for some work that actually described the process involved in making orchestral arrangements.“- Glenn Miller, 1943

Well, Glenn, we’re still looking for that one text that gives us the secrets and lays it all out for us.  Unfortunately, that book will never exist, because arranging is an art that evolves hand-in-hand with music composition and technology; it is changing constantly.  And, since it is an art, one can’t effectively break it down into hard rules and regulations.  We can, however, list and explore the various musical techniques that one might use to get a working knowledge of the field.  It doesn’t matter if you use a pencil and score paper or a mouse and a notation program, the principles and techniques still apply.  Okay, La Barbera, quit talking and show us some hip voicings.  Sorry Glenn, no voicings yet.  So often, the novice assumes that the secrets of arranging lie in the chord voicings used by the various greats of the art.   Nothing could be further from the truth.   We have to learn what arranging is before we get to any of that.   Here’s my definition of arranging:

Arranging, in music, is the art of giving an existing melody musical variety for a listening audience.

The composer gives us the melody and we, as arrangers, strive to give it variety.   Henry Mancini has said, “The song is the thing, and the arranger’s function is to make it memorable, regardless of one’s personal feelings.”  And variety, musical variety – is what makes the song memorable.   This musical variety comes from our knowledge of the tools of arranging and how to use them.   An arranger is very much like a magician.  After presenting a melody to an audience we try musical sleight-of-hand to keep their attention, because if the audience can predict what’s going to happen next, we lose their attention and therefore are not as successful as arrangers.  We’ll list some of those tools in a little while, but first I want to explain the last part of my definition – the audience.

As arrangers (or composers or performers for that matter) we are always dealing with an audience, whether real or imaginary.   If we wrote or played music just for ourselves, it would not truly be a creative art.   To be successful in the musical arts, one must always acknowledge the existence of a listener and create accordingly.  It’s somewhat like the old riddle of “if a tree falls on your Pro Tools Rig in the woods and there is no one around to hear it fall, does it make a sound?  Suffice it to say that with even one set of ears around, the whole event has an impact.  It becomes memorable.  I believe that the success of our great arrangers is partially due to their conscious or subconscious acknowledgement of a listening audience.  So, if you think about it, the arranger’s job is to take a melody/song and play it for an audience for a certain length of time without boring them.  If we played the same melody over and over with the same instruments for six minutes, with the same chord changes, they’d be searching for the rotten egg emoji.  We have to give it variety and make it memorable so as to keep the audience’s attention.  It’s just that simple.  How we keep their attention shows our talent as arrangers.  If we wanted to break down my definition into rules or commandments of arranging, we’d arrive at something like the following.

Rule 1: Thou Shalt Not Bore

Strive to give the song or melody as much variety as necessary to capture and please an audience, while at the same time keeping the integrity of the composer’s musical idea.  This is such a fine line – balancing one’s arranging techniques against the intent of the composer while maintaining a stamp of individuality – that it can take a lifetime to learn to do it consistently.

Rule 2: Know Thy Place

We must always remember that, as arrangers, we’re subservient to the melody and must write accordingly.  Unlike composers, we arrangers are not allowed the luxury of personal likes and dislikes when it comes to the melody or the musical style we have to work in.  Disdain for a certain style or song shows through in your musical arrangement.  (The hardest job I ever had was when Count Basie asked me to arrange Rubenstein’s “Melody In F”  for his band.  I didn’t care for the song as a Basie-style tune, and I stared at blank score pages for weeks.) We have to divorce ourselves from our musical prejudices, listen to all kinds of music, and be prepared to cover any style with sincerity.  Remember what Hank Mancini said – “regardless of one’s personal feelings.”

Rule 3: Know Thy Boss

Remember that we are ultimately working for someone else.  When we take the job of arranger, we are not working for ourselves but for an audience with a composer or producer in between.  We must strive to please both but fight like hell for the audience when confronted with a choice.  I tell students that if I can get five percent of John La Barbera (a creative uniqueness or stamp of identity) in a chart, I’m more than pleased.  The hardest pill to swallow is when you bring your finished masterpiece to a bandleader or producer and he/she immediately cuts out the hippest interlude you’ve ever written.  All of us, no matter how famous we become, must be prepared to give up our most prized musical child at the whim of the client.  The best advice I ever received from any arranging book was from Mancini’s Sounds And Scores [Cherry Lane].  I underlined the last paragraph on page 1 in my copy:  ” …  Finally, don’t fall in love with every note you write … Be prepared to eliminate anything that tends to clutter up your score, painful as it may be to do so.”  Even if you are the composer /producer and it’s your record label featuring you as the artist, the audience is still the boss.  Keep that in mind and you’ll find arranging decisions much easier to make.  Now then, if you’re still with me, we’ll move on.

Rule 4: Know Thy Styles

We must be familiar with the idiom in which we intend to place the melody.  In simpler terms, if you have never listened to current pop styles like R&B, or Country Blues groove, etc., then you can’t successfully arrange a melody in those styles.  Or, if you’ve never heard second line, you’ll be spinning your wheels when it comes time to cover that style.  So, it’s obvious that if you aren’t familiar with a style of music, you can’t competently arrange in it.  That seems pretty obvious, but I’ve seen students try to arrange a big band jazz chart who have never heard of Basie or listened to Stan, Woody or Duke.  So, before we can become arrangers, we have to know our musical styles and learn what instruments, rhythms, and harmonies are basic to each idiom. 

Now, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of arranging by listing some of our tools and putting them in an arranging road case.  These are what I call the five basic variations used in arranging, and we’ll get our roadie to pull them out one at a time and illustrate how each of them works.  The devices in each category are just a starting point.  I’m sure you’ll have your own ideas so add those as necessary.

RHYTHMIC VARIATION

1.  Change the rhythm of the melody.  Of course, no brainer.

2.  Change the rhythmic feel; double time, half time etc.

3.  Gradually speed up or slow down the tempo.

4 .Refrain from using one rhythm for any length of time. 

5.  Displace the melody relative to the bar line by a uniform value.

6.  Change the meter 4/4 to 3/4.  (My arrangement of “So What”  is a good illustration)

Slightly varying the rhythm gives new life to the melody however, this is effective ONLY after you’ve stated the original.

The audience needs a reference before it recognizes a variation.  I believe this is true for all of the variations we incorporate.   

It’s been a common practice for years to go to double time for the blowing on a ballad and then back to the original tempo to take it out.  Gradually speeding up and slowing down is a great device (Brad Mehldau and other groups have used this very effectively) but it takes some rehearsing.   

Changing the meter is a great way to add variety.  My arrangement of “So What”  is a good illustration.

Then imply 4/4  and eventually get there.

The next tool in our road case is

HARMONIC VARIATION

1.  Substitute chord changes (reharmonization).

2.  Change melodic modes (major to minor).

3.  Use counterpoint to imply new harmonies.

4.  Modulate to new keys, either subtly or drastically.

Every melody comes with its own harmony or set of chord changes, whether given or implied.  If we change the harmony after our audience has heard and absorbed the original chord changes, we automatically create variety.  So, the use of substitute chord changes, or reharmonization, is one device in the harmonic category.   Another secret that seasoned writers share is that a new device introduced into the chart has effect, but the more devices or variations you add to a chart at the same time, the less impact each will have (i.e.  modulating and using a substitute change for the new target key down beat…softens the impact).  Keep this in mind when you are  tempted to empty the whole road case of tools into the same section of a melody.  As with all devices in arranging, we must remember that we are working for the song.  Anything we add has to support the melody and not overpower it.  I find that harmonic variation is the one tool that’s most overused by arrangers and is an area where we can get into the most trouble.  Hip changes, used for the sake of being hip, rarely fit comfortably into a well-balanced chart.

Now that we have two arranging tools at our disposal.  Let’s go on to another.  I call the next device:

PERFORMANCE VARIATION

1.  Vary the articulations of the melody. 

2.  Vary the dynamics of a phrase or section. 

3 .Use ornaments, such as trills, turns, and grace notes. 

4.  Use pitch-bend or modulation.

5.  Take advantage of the basic instrument mutes (plungers, straight mutes, hats, etc.) and combinations thereof (plunger wa-wa over straight mute, bucket over straight, cup in bucket, etc.).

6.  Use effects that are unique to individual instruments, such as half valves, squeaks, flutter tongue, sub tone, etc. 

Performance variations encompass quite a few items that we don’t always think of when doing an arrangement and, to me, is one of the most important tools we can use.  I believe it’s what’s above & below the notes that make music and the uniqueness of an arrangement. 

These are the performance techniques are the one uses when playing music – articulations (long, short, etc.), ornaments (turns, trills, shakes, flips, pitch-bend, vibrato, etc.), and dynamics (crescendo, decrescendo, subito p, sforzando, etc.).  Using any of these performance devices in your arrangement is a sign of a seasoned writer.   Just as an orchestra conductor studies all of the nuances of string bowing techniques, we must be familiar with all of the unique sounds and variances of each instrument in the band.

Mixtures of muted and open instruments is a wonderful way to add variety to an already stated melody…it adds color and the repetition of the melody is acceptable to an audience.   The hat or derby is probably one of the most versatile mutes for brass but it has fallen out of favor these days.  Muted brass in buckets produce wonderful colors.  Look how a bone deep in the hat coupled with alto and trumpet creates a life like French horn sound at the end of the shout chorus.

Also, like Basie, using cresendi, subito p, and back and forth adds so much variety to the passage.

Here’s a link to the entire chart in case you want to check it out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZIA_zYlF_0

“What about chord voicings , aren’t you ever going to get to chord voicings like clarinet lead over two altos and two tenors?”

Sorry, Glenn, not yet.  But that brings up an interesting point.  People tend to interchange orchestration and voicing.  They use the term voicing when they really mean orchestration and vice-versa.  It’s very important to understand the difference.

When beginning students come to me with questions about arranging, the first thing they usually say is something like, “I’ve been working on this chart and I want to use this sax voicing but I’m not sure if it will sound.”  Or, “Will this half step between the cellos and violas work?”  This aspect of arranging, the voicing and orchestrating of chords , is just another tool in the art, but it always seems to attract the most attention.  I guess it’s like a slick paint job on a Porsche – the most important parts are under the hood, but the paint job gets the attention, So, let’s clear this up right now.  Voicing is the putting together of chords in a certain way, with the notes stacked in a certain order.  Orchestration is simply what instruments are assigned to play the notes you included in the voicing.

VOICING

1.  Close.

2.  Open.

3.  Cluster.

4.  Unisons & Octaves.

Let’s talk about voicings.  We all should know the difference between a closed voicing and an open voicing, a cluster and an octave unison.  Voicing techniques, especially in jazz, are usually the individuality stamp of the arranger.  I would voice and orchestrate a certain passage differently from my colleagues.  If we’ve listened enough to any idiom we can probably pick out the individual arrangers by their style and voicing techniques.  Traditionally, a composer/arranger would give a sketch of his or her work to an orchestrator, who, in turn, would use standard rules for assigning the different musical lines and chords to conventional bodies of instruments.  In today’s music, there are so many new instruments, recording techniques, and consolidations of music styles that there are fewer and fewer standard rules of orchestration.  So what was once a separate trade has now become an additional, necessary skill of the arranger. 

To recap, the voicing is the type of chord structure (unison, close, open, octave, unison, cluster, etc.) and the orchestration is the body of instruments assigned to play the voicing.  Orchestration and voicing allow us to create unique sounds or musical colors by combining different instruments.  If we think of voicing and orchestration as two separate entities, it will be much easier to understand our job as arrangers.

On top of the endless possibilities and permutations of traditional acoustic instruments, we now have to contend with the modern instruments (world instruments, synths, samples, etc.).  These new instruments are a challenge in themselves, and the combining of acoustic and electronic instruments gives us further combinations with which to achieve unique musical colors.  We can truly spend a lifetime experimenting with voicing and orchestration, but it shouldn’t take the beginning arranger that long to find those combinations that fit and seem comfortable with his or her writing techniques.  These combinations go toward making up an arranger’s style.  For example, Nelson Riddle’s harmonic variation use of Lydian motifs identifies his work just as Gil Evans’ and Duke Ellington’s unique orchestration of their voicings identify their work.

Simply changing a line from unison to octaves gives it an entirely new character and an audience will accept the same backgrounds and chord changes.  Here’s an example using my arrangement of “Esperanza.”

Here’s a link to full video of the chart in case you want to check it out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHN0FEgQRRY

There is one more device – melodic variation.

“Hey, that’s the composer’s job!”

Yes Glenn, sort of.  Melodic variation, this last piece of essential equipment, is composition.  The composer rarely gives us intros or endings.  The arranger is usually expected to furnish those.  We arrangers are also required to compose counterlines, interludes, and background melodies as well, in order to give existing material variety.  Here are some thoughts worth pondering:

Arranging, after all, is a euphemism,” according to Alex Wilder, “For it includes composition as well as orchestration. The introductions, countermelodies, transitions, and reharmonizing are all more than just orchestration.  But by using the word arrangement, they get two skills for the price of one.” 

“The true art of orchestration,” Walter Piston declared ,”is inseparable from the creative act of composing music.” 

And from Nelson Riddle: “An arranger occupies, in music, that shifting, almost indefinable ground between an orchestrator and composer.”

MELODIC VARIATION

1.  Creating and using countermelodies against melody.

2.  Variation of melody or fragment of melody used for interludes between sections.

3.  Introductions and endings based on newly created material.

It’s undeniable that arrangers must wear many hats in today’s music industry and must function sometimes as composers and orchestrators.  That’s why arranging is not a hack trade but an art that takes years to perfect.  So if you get discouraged because it doesn’t come to you right away, or, if after years of arranging, you still seem to get stuck, don’t worry;  join the club.


About the Author:

Cropped-Square-300x300

John P. La Barbera is a Grammy® nominated composer/arranger whose writing spans many styles and genres. His works have been recorded and performed by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme, Chaka Khan, Harry James, Bill Watrous, and Phil Woods just to name a few. Though his major output has been in jazz, he has had works performed and recorded for symphony orchestra, string chamber orchestra, brass quintet, and other diverse ensembles. Most recently, Mr. La Barbera was chosen from among dozens of applicants to participate in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute at UCLA. As a result, John was one of sixteen composers commissioned by the JCOI to compose new works that meld jazz and symphonic music. “Morro da Babilonia” was the resulting work and was presented by the American Composers Orchestra in New York City at Columbia University’s Miller Hall. His “Drover Trilogy” for string orchestra and corno da caccia was recorded by the late Dr. Michael Tunnell and has recently been released on Centaur Records. John’s Grammy® nominated big band CD “On The Wild Side along with “Fantazm and his latest “Caravanon the Jazz Compass® label, have been met with tremendous artistic and commercial success and are on the way to becoming a jazz big band standards. As co-producer and arranger for The Glenn Miller Orchestra Christmas recordings (In The Christmas Mood I & II) John has received Gold & Platinum Records and his arrangement of “Jingle Bells” from those recordings can be heard in the Academy Award winning film “La La Land.” Mr. La Barbera is a Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Louisville’s School of Music and an international clinician/lecturer whose topics range from composing/arranging to intellectual property and copyright. Among his numerous organizational affiliations are Jazz Education Network, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, NARAS, American Composers Forum, Chamber Music America, and a writer/publisher member of ASCAP since 1971.

John’s Sunday morning big band jazz radio show, “Best Coast Jazz” on WFPK has been a mainstay on public radio for over twenty years and is streamed worldwide. He is a two-time recipient of The National Endowment for The Arts award for Jazz Composition and has served as a panelist for the NEA in the music category. His career has recently been profiled in “Bebop, Swing and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian American Experience” and in dozens of publications and encyclopedias. John’s published works are considered standards in the field of jazz education.

 

Artist Blog

David Caffey: The Jazz Soli: The Arranger’s Solo

“The jazz soli is the arranger’s solo!” I can’t remember who it was that I first heard say that, but I believe it is absolutely true. I’ve always been intrigued by jazz solis, saxophone solis especially, but also brass solis and trombone solis.

A soli is the spot in a jazz arrangement where you as the arranger have the opportunity to write something that represents what you would play at that moment if you were the soloist. Of course, since you are writing it down, you can work with it until it says exactly what you want it to say, which is very different than improvising the solo. The composer whose soli writing I found to be most compelling early on in my studies was Thad Jones. Who can forget the saxophone solis on Groove Merchant, Don’t Git Sassy, and Fingers? And Little Pixie, in which even the opening melody sounds like a soli? Little Pixie is really soli writing from the beginning to the piano solo. It is two different “soloists” (brass and saxophones) playing and then trading 16s, 8s, 4s, and 2s. This is really exciting music that builds at an amazing pace!

In recent years I have written a number of jazz arrangements and compositions that include solis by saxophone sections, brass sections, trombones, and mixed instruments. I’m happy to share some of the ways I go about writing a soli and a few of the techniques I use.

The most important aspect of a jazz soli is the melody. It seems obvious, but I’m sometimes surprised how often I hear solis that don’t have interesting melodies. It’s important! When I began writing a saxophone soli for an arrangement of Freddie Hubbard’s Birdlike, I knew that I needed to come up with a melody that was “Freddie-like.” I studied Freddie’s solo on his recording of the tune and discovered that it was a perfect example of the “Bebop Scale approach” to improvisation. I decided to write a melody that sounded like what Freddie Hubbard might have played, without using any quotes from his solo. The written soli follows and there is a link to the recording of the arrangement.

The first eight measures of the melodic line include very clear usage of a downward moving F bebop scale that begins with an enclosure of the root, which is a typical element of bebop language. The downward, mostly stepwise, bebop scale of measures 1 and 2 are followed by an embellished arpeggio of F9 beginning with the 7th moving to the 9th, 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th. It’s a classic looking (and sounding) bebop phrase consisting of “down by step” and “up by arpeggio.”   It’s interesting how the line in m. 176 on beat 3 moves chromatically down to the 7th on the Bb9th at m. 177. That Ab is drawn out in a bluesy fashion, appropriate for a blues tune and it is something that a bebop player might do. At the end of m. 179 there is an enclosure surrounding the F# (3rd of D7) followed by a chromatic enclosure of the A (9th of Gmi9) and a diatonic enclosure of the G. Use of the diminished whole-tone scale for the line in m. 182 is also idiomatic. These are melodic elements that Freddie Hubbard uses in his playing, so it fits very well in an arrangement of his tune.

Example 1) Birdlike by Freddie Hubbard, arranged by David Caffey; mm 173–225

Click to See the Full Example

(The soli begins at 3:51 of the recording.)

I often use guitar melodically with the saxophones on a sax soli. I have done this fairly consistently over the last seven or eight years. The guitar adds a sonic quality that somehow focuses the saxophone section sound in a way that I really like. This allows me to write the saxophones in 5-part voicings without doubling the melody an octave lower. The guitar plays the melody an octave lower than the lead soprano sax. In this arrangement there is a trumpet used on the melody in unison with the soprano saxophone. Using the trumpet seemed appropriate since it is a soli on a Hubbard tune in which I’m trying to be consistent with his solo style. This combination provides a beautiful color and allows for voicings with more density than the more typical voicings used in sax solis. The denser chord voicings do not obscure the melody because there are three players on different instruments playing the melody. The melody comes through clearly.

One of the first questions that comes up when writing a soli is “how do I begin.” In Shades of Blue I decided to use the melodic figure that appears in the highest point of the melody (m.20) of the A sections as the source for the opening statement of the soli (m. 120). The rhythm shows up again in m. 127 and there is an extended version of the first motive in m. 131. If you have a good idea that works, use it more than once (but perhaps not more than three times).

Example 2) Shades Of Blue by David Caffey; mm 120 – 148

Click to See the Full Example

(The soli begins at 3:47 of the recording.)

The opening measures of the soli demonstrate ways to use very thick 5-part voicings that work well. The voicings in m. 120 use the four pitches of the B diminished 7th with one added pitch drawn from the B diminished scaled. The fifth  pitch chosen in each of the voicings is in the 2nd tenor part and is a half-step below the pitch in the first tenor part. This creates a distinctive dissonance that colors a diminished sound, making it interesting rather than bland. This can be used on altered dominant seventh chord voicings, as well. I learned this technique from studying Thad Jones’ scores. In his scores, you can find brass voicings with eight different pitches, all derived from a single diminished scale.

The five-part voicings in m. 120 are cluster voicings. These work because there is a third between the top two voices. Cluster voicings are also used in mm. 121 and 122. The voicing for the F7(#9) in m. 121 uses, from bottom to top, the 7th, #9th, 3rd, #11th, and 13th.  The first voicing of the following chord in m. 122 consists of the 3rd, b5th, #5th, 7th, and #9th. And it moves on in a similar fashion. This makes for a meaty saxophone section sound. You can open up the voicings with Drop 2, etc, and get the same kind of sound.  The two voicings beginning on beat three of m. 125 are good examples of this.

I try to create balance by separating passages that are technically difficult with passages that are relatively easy. The music needs to breathe, and so do the players! In the Shades Of Blue soli, you will see that there are three spots that have sixteenth note lines. Before and in between those technically challenging spots, there are measures of melody with relatively easy and straightforward rhythms.

I sometimes use a single scale to harmonize a melodic line in a soli like this. In m. 140, for example, the melodic line in the soprano sax is a diminished scale for an octave followed by three chromatic notes moving downward to the concert C on beat two of m. 141. Beginning with the C, there is another diminished scale moving upward. Using the process I described above to voice a diminished chord for five voices, I found a voicing to begin on and then ran all of the voices in exact parallel motion with the soprano. It was quick and easy, and it sounds good! This technique can work well using diminished-whole tone, whole tone, blues, pentatonic, and bebop scales. I recommend not over-using it, though.   

The saxophone soli in Blue 16 is another example that uses the guitar with the saxophones an octave below the soprano sax. The baritone sax is often an octave below the soprano sax, as well, in contrast to the approach used on the previous two solis. 

Example 3) Blue 16 by David Caffey; mm. 132 -179

Click to See the Full Example

(The soli begins at 5:21 of the recording.)

An example of the technique of using a single scale to harmonize a melodic line can be found in measure 174 of Blue 16. In this case a pentatonic scale is being used. The soprano sax line was written first. The first voicing for the saxophones was created after testing the line that it could be followed throughout before running out of the range. Then each part has the pentatonic scale line from their starting pitch. Another example of this technique can be found in m. 156.

Measure 175 includes another version of the diminished scale being used to create the voicings throughout the line. In this case, when the line moves upward, the chord tones are approached from a half-step below. When the line moves downward, the chord tones are approach from a half-step above. In this context I think of the scale as being a “melodic diminished scale.” When moving upward the connecting notes of the scale are ½ step below the chord tones; when moving downward the connecting pitches are ½ step above the chord tones. The concept is similar to a melodic minor scale in which scale degree 6 and 7 are raised going up and lowered going down. Another good example of usage of this can be found in mm. 158-159.

Finally, just remember that it’s all about the melody…


About the Author:

David Caffey has appeared as a clinician, adjudicator, and guest conductor at music festivals, conferences, universities and schools throughout the United States, in Canada, and in Europe. He was inducted into the California Jazz Education Hall of Fame in 2011. His compositions and arrangements have been performed in concerts and festivals in Europe, Asia, Australia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Canada and throughout the United States. He has won awards for musical composition from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and the National Association of Jazz Educators (NAJE).  He served as President of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) from 2004 to 2006 and is a Founding Member of the Jazz Education Network (JEN). He also serves on the Board of Directors of the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers (ISJAC). Most of his published compositions and arrangements are available from UNC Jazz Press. His most recent CD, ALL IN ONE by the David Caffey Jazz Orchestra, was released in October 2018 by Artist Alliance Records and is available at Amazon, CD Baby, and iTunes. The band’s first release, ENTER AUTUMN, was released in October 2015.

Mr. Caffey recently retired from a career in Higher Education and is Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Northern Colorado, where he served as Director of the School of Music from 2005 to 2013.  His work as a college professor and arts administrator spans 44 years and includes previous appointments in Jazz Studies at California State University – Los Angeles, Sam Houston State University, and the University of Denver. He relocated to Southern California in August 2018 and is working full-time as a composer, arranger and music producer.

Artist Blog

Ellen Rowe: Composing and Arranging for Young Jazz Ensembles

Most of us spend our time studying the art of composition and arranging with the ultimate goal of writing for professional bands, either our own groups, top level university groups, military jazz ensembles and the like.  Writing for groups likes these allows us to write challenging music, replete with woodwind doubles, all kinds of mutes, odd meters, no seriously limiting range constraints or technical considerations and the possibility of highly complex changes to improvise over.  While these pieces can be published and sold off of our own websites or possibly through existing publishers, if they are willing to take on pro level material, there is also a world out there of elementary, junior high and high school jazz bands who also desperately need to be exposed to good literature. There are certainly many age-appropriate well-written pieces out there already, but I’m writing this in the hopes of encouraging more professional composers, especially younger ones, to think about taking on the challenge of writing unique and compelling music for developing players that may provide them inspiration to continue on in this music.

I have been fortunate to get opportunities to write for younger groups and can attest to the fact that it is extremely difficult to do well.  I can write a bad arrangement of a video game tune  with the best of them but to expose students to jazz standards or interesting original compositions that they will enjoy playing and that are written in an appropriate manner for them is a whole ‘nother ball game.  When I speak at education conferences on the subject of the selection of good primary or secondary school jazz ensemble material I cite these following considerations: 

  • Appropriate Ranges (see sheet below)
  • Well-written for technical aptitudes of players’ ages (avoidance of large leaps in brass, fast legato trombone passages, etc.)
  • Appropriate dynamic and phrase markings
  • Does each section of the band get interesting material to play?
  • Is the composer aware of idiosyncracies of individual instruments? (Held c#s on sax or trumpets apt to be out of tune, going from first position to seventh position on trombone quickly is very difficult, younger students needing shorter phrases so they don’t run out of air, etc.)
  • Are rhythm section parts notated well and age appropriate (voicings and bass lines written out but chord symbols included for educational purposes)
  • Do sections sound good unto themselves?
  • Is the piece charismatic and/or memorable? Is it well-structured with regards to form?
  • Are improvised sections well-thought out with information provided about chord/scale relationships or idiomatic rhythmic ideas?

While many of these categories also apply to professional level writing, the consequences of not adhering to these limitations for younger players will render the chart unplayable, not merely unsatisfying or disappointing.

So the trick then becomes to maintain as high a level of harmonic and rhythmic sophistication possible  while still keeping it playable. I firmly believe that you can still add alterations to your voicings or have an interesting progression; you just have to create individual lines for the players that are technically manageable, range-appropriate and that voice lead well.

One of the composers that I most admire for his ability to write interesting and fun music that never sounds “dumbed down” is the late, great Fred Sturm. I have used two of his pieces in presentations to show how the goals mentioned above can be achieved:“Song of The Rainforest” and   “Another Step Towards The Blues”.

I’m including the front page of the Rainforest score here as it includes background on the derivation of the piece as well as important information to help beginning students start improvising on the piece, with relevant scales and rhythmic ideas. The use of pentatonic scales here is brilliant as it is appropriate for the genre and gives the beginning improvisers less notes to contend with:

I am also including a score page that shows the instrumental writing as well as a concert reduction of the section – the parts are simple to play but when put together sound beautiful. Figures repeat so that the students can lock into the basic rhythmic patterns but he doesn’t shy away from having an occasional second between voices in order to have interesting voicings, especially when it provides some good tension and release.

He also has included auxiliary percussion parts which allows directors to involve more students.

This piece is playable by an advanced elementary group or middle school band but could be played by a developing high school group without sounding inappropriate, which is a mark of a really well-crafted composition and arrangement.

Looking at a slightly more difficult piece, and taking a page from “Car Talk’s” Shameless Commerce Division, I’ll include one of my own pieces here, “Point, Counterpoint” (commissioned by the Minnesota Band Director’s Association) and published by Doug Beach Music:

My goal was to write a swinging chart that had good lines for each section that were often contrapuntal in nature, in an effort to engage the students’ ears in a slightly different way than the vertical orchestrations that typically get used for younger players. The sax line is established over the swing ride pattern (the implied progression is a minor blues but no bass to start) and then repeats itself with a few trumpets added as the trombone counterpoint comes in. In the third chorus the top trumpets come in playing a paraphrase of the sax melody with the saxes and trombones answering in the spaces. The rhythm section is in at this point and I wrote out all the bass lines taking care to have half notes mixed in for younger hands that tire more easily and chord symbols above so that the pianists, bassists and guitarists understand how what they are playing reflects the progression and so that at some point when they are confronted with just chord symbols and slashes they may be able to recall some of the types of chords and voicings they played before.

There is a short ensemble shout that acts as  a send-off to the solos and scales are included on the parts in addition to written out solos that the publisher asked to have.  To show an example of 8 bars where the individual parts are very playable but the complete sound involves quartal harmony, altered dominant chords and poly chords I have included a score page from part of the ensemble choruses about ¾ of the way through the chart as well as a concert reduction. Each section sounds good unto itself (a lesson I learned from my teacher and mentor Rayburn Wright, among many others!) and the whole ensemble sounds pretty hip (if I do say so myself) once the players have mastered the individual notes.

While pieces for younger bands generally need to be shorter than the magnus opi we generally write when given the license to do so (think 4 or 5 minutes max for junior high, maybe 6 for high school) that is part of the challenge. I frequently find that I have to edit myself, chopping out that 2nd or 3rd chorus of shout, for example, or that extended intro with all the cool extra bars in the phrases, but that the piece is always stronger in so doing. (Note to self – perhaps I should be doing that more in my other writing as well…). I think we are all guilty of being self-indulgent with our composing and arranging from time to time and writing for younger groups is a great cure for that!

You never know how a piece you write may light a fire under a budding jazz player OR budding jazz composer. Holding ourselves to the highest standards possible when writing for younger groups can help their ears develop, provide them with a better understanding of jazz harmony, improve their improvisation skills and hopefully even inspire them to start writing themselves.

I encourage everyone to take a crack at this if you haven’t already – reach out to a local school and ask if you can write something for them. This can even develop into a commissioning situation, which, as we all know, is all to the good! I am certainly grateful to the Illinois Music Educators, Minnesota Band Directors and the various schools that have asked me for charts and have learned more every time I have taken one on.

Sensible Ranges:



About the Author:

Ellen Rowe, jazz pianist and composer, is currently Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation at the University of Michigan. She is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music, where she studied with Rayburn Wright and Bill Dobbins.  Prior to her appointment in Michigan, she served as Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut.

Ms. Rowe has performed at jazz clubs and on concert series throughout the U.S., as well as touring in Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland, South Africa and Australia. CDs out under her own name include “Sylvan Way”, “Wishing Well”, “Denali Pass” and “Courage Music.”  Her latest project, “Momentum – Portraits of Women In Motion”, featuring Ingrid Jensen, Tia Fuller, Marion Hayden and Allison Miller will be released in the winter of 2018. Also active as a clinician, she has given workshops and master classes at the Melbourne Conservatory, Hochshule fur Musik in Cologne, Grieg Academy in Bergen and the Royal Academy of Music in London, in addition to many appearances as a guest artist at festivals and Universities around the country.

When not leading her own trio, quartet or quintet, she is in demand as a sideman, having performed with a wide variety of jazz artists including Kenny Wheeler, Tim Ries, Tom Harrell, John Clayton, Ingrid Jensen and Steve Turre.  She was also a guest on two installments of Marian McPartland’s  “Piano Jazz” on National Public Radio.

Ms. Rowe’s compositions and arrangements have been performed and recorded by jazz ensembles and orchestras around the world, including the Village Vanguard Orchestra, BBC Jazz Orchestra, U.S. Navy Commodores, Berlin and NDR Radio Jazz Orchestras, London Symphony, DIVA and the Perth Jazz Orchestra.  Many of these works can be heard on recordings including “Leave It To DIVA”, “The Perth Jazz Orchestra”, “Bingo” (The Bird of Paradise Orchestra) and “I Believe In You” (DIVA). She has recently been a composer-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  A recipient of jazz ensemble commissions from the Minnesota Band Directors Association, Belleville (MI) High School,  Illinois Music Educators and Lawrence University’s Fred Sturm Jazz Festival, her big band compositions are currently published by Sierra Music Publications, Doug Beach Music and Kendor Music.

Having been selected to conduct the NAfME All-Eastern and All-Northwest Jazz Ensembles as well as All-State jazz ensembles throughout the country, she has also been an invited clinician at the National Association for Music Education Eastern Division Convention, International Society for Jazz Composition and Arranging Symposium and Jazz Education Network conferences.  She is on the Board of the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers and also serves as the Coordinator for the JEN Sisters In Jazz Collegiate Combo Competition. Her quintet has performed at the San Jose Jazz Festival, Jazz Education Network Conference, Michigan Jazz Festival, Detroit International Jazz Festival and in jazz clubs around the country. Other activities include serving as an adjudicator and mentor for the JEN Young Composers Showcase, adjudicating the 2019 Kimmel Center Jazz Residencies and Lincoln Center Ertegun Hall of Fame. She also serves on the faculty of the NJPAC All-Female Jazz Residency in Newark, NJ. In 2017 she was named a UCROSS Composer Fellow and awarded a residency at the Leighton Artist Colony at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

Artist Blog

Chuck Owen: The problem with approaching composition from an improvisational perspective

When I first started composing & arranging seriously for jazz ensembles as an undergrad at the Univ. of North Texas (then NTSU), my interest was focused primarily on exploring the rich harmonic world jazz embraces – studying and experimenting with voicings and orchestration to create colorful and evocative settings.  Odd meters and complex, disjunct (particularly funk) rhythmic figures?  Loved them too!!  But as to melody??  Well, I largely viewed that as something that I could extract quickly, simply, and intuitively from the harmonic structure.  I mean, that’s what we do as improvisers, right?    And, form?   Frankly, there just didn’t appear to be much to wrestle with; as the strophic use of song form was (and is) ingrained throughout the jazz tradition.  So, most formal considerations seemed pretty codified; with variations limited largely to whether to employ an intro or coda and when/where to use background figures or a sax soli.

As you might expect, my vision of what jazz composition is  . . or can be . . . .has changed a bit since that time . . . . as has my compositional approach.  For the last 25 years, at least; my energy, focus, and struggles (and I have a LOT of these!), seem to have coalesced precisely around those 2 areas – melody and form – that I tended to toss off early on.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love orchestrating and creating evocative voicings as I believe anyone who listens to my work will readily recognize; but I see these now existing in service to advancing the melodic and formal development of the composition. 

Why the change? 

I use analogies to the other arts a great deal in my teaching – particularly literature, film, and architecture.   While comparing a melodic idea to that of a character in a book/movie is certainly not a novel concept, it is an apt one.  If the reader or movie-goer isn’t able to develop a relationship with the main character. . . .and the more personal, the better . . . . they’re typically not invested in the story.  There simply HAS to be at least one character (if not more) that is unique, relatable, intriguing, and evolving.  Stop for a minute – read that list again!!  Unique . . . relatable . . . . intriguing. .  . . . and evolving!  Wow – what a challenge to create a melody in that vein!! 

Likewise, form can be seen as essentially the plot or narrative structure.  If it’s too predictable (or too convoluted for all that matters) we tune out!  I’m guessing we’ve all read books or watched movies in which every scene seems telegraphed from the outset (often just a rehash of another plot) and no matter how many buildings/cars/politicians are blown up, or how stunning the cinematography or prose is, we leave with little we (want to) remember.  It’s not much of a stretch to imagine our listeners would be most intrigued by a formal structure that involved both a logical progression/evolution of ideas as well as a few unexpected twists or turns along the way.

While many of the students I work with seem to greatly admire composers/works which I feel embrace the values just set forth; I’ve often been struck by their resistance to really wanting to spend time (or possess the patience) to fashion the strongest possible melody or work on formal and melodic development beyond largely formulaic practices.  While it’s all too easy to dismiss this as mere laziness on their parts (and sometimes it is!); for the most part, I think that assumption misses the mark.

Actually, I think it’s our background as jazz musicians/performers that often leads us astray!

Oh, that will probably raise some eyebrows . . . and, admittedly, I’m being somewhat purposefully provocative.  However, while I don’t necessarily disagree with the oft-heard adage “improvisation is spontaneous composition”, I’d like to clearly and unequivocally state that “jazz composition is not and should not be confused with improvisation”.   

Composers are endowed with two things the improviser (by definition) does not possess – time and reflection!  Our ability to improvise can (and should!) prove extremely advantageous in coming up with melodic ideas; but the jazz composer must resist the desire to accept the very first phrase that comes to her/him as if its manna from heaven.  Challenge it!  Seek competing ideas.   Evaluate its characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses.  Is it open to being transformed over time and, if so, how?  Tweak it, live with it . . . how does it sit two days later??  These are all luxuries the composer has that the improviser does not.  Take advantage of them!! 

It’s equally important for the composer to recognize that many of the formal structures and devices used to this day on the bandstand are historical constructs of convenience and necessity – devised explicitly to facilitate gigs, impromptu performances, and improvisational settings where musicians are not only working without any notated music, they may never have even met each other before.  Here, there is a clear and compelling NEED to rely on conventional structures . . . to simply call the tune, count it off, and play!  There’s not enough time before each tune to discuss how an expansion of the form during the second solo might build intensity better or how a 13-bar restatement of the 2nd half of the bridge might be the perfect, elegant intro needed.  Strophic repetition of the song form for solos is not only tradition, it’s an absolute necessity . . . . . as are stock intros and codas.

The composer, however, is not constrained by such pragmatism.  We get to dream bigger!  In dealing with form (ultimately, a much, much longer conversation!), recognize how it can be used, effectively, to help the listener understand the context of the musical ideas.  Repetition, in and of itself, is not problematic.  It can be highly effective in giving the listener a sense of grounding and in reinforcing important ideas.  But it should not be employed simply for the lack of anything better to do  . . . .or because of convention.  Even more critically, it is through careful and imaginative use of form that the composer has the opportunity to profoundly influence the flow, contour, and proportions of the piece – creating an actual story rather than merely staging an event.  (I’ll briefly draw your attention to the use of the word “influence” rather than “control”.  While an appropriate subject for another blog, I believe strongly that good jazz composition embraces an improvisational sensibility and seeks to provide those performing the music with creative input and opportunities even in the most highly scored works.) 

So, having read to this point, you might be surprised to learn that I continue to use song form as the basis for almost all of my composition.  It’s the jazz tradition I grew up with – and a jumping off point I still find very fertile compositionally.  If viewed not as a rigid pre-fab structure but as a foundation that can support an infinite variety of expandable/collapsible walls, windows, doors, and a few cozy nooks – you’ll understand my comfort level with it. 

I’m attaching a formal outline to “Warped Cowboy” from my last CD “Whispers on the Wind”.  You’ll note both its expansiveness (the piece is over 14:00 long and is comprised of two major themes – each of which employs song form) and, hopefully, its economy.  The solo sections’ chord progressions are based on the prior song forms (primarily the “Cowboy” theme) but have been altered to create not only a better solo environment but to allow for the story to breathe and evolve in a manner that is both logical and continually fresh.  You’ll also notice they differ not only from their original iteration – but from each other as well.  As Stephan King likes to say, “The world moves on.”   You’ll also note the absence of any section marked “Transition”.  In my mind, every moment is a transition of some sort.  By understanding where we are headed we can fashion these moments so that the final arrival or climax feels inevitable, even if not completely expected.   

If you’re interested in delving a bit deeper, study scores for “Warped Cowboy” as well as a number of my other recorded works with the Jazz Surge are available on my website store:  www.chuckowen.com along with the CDs and full charts. 

Listen to Warped Cowboy:

Click here to download the Formal Analysis for “Warped Cowboy”
Click here to download the Motive Sheet for “Warped Cowboy”


About the Author:

Chuck Owen is Distinguished University Professor of Jazz Studies at the University of South Florida.  A nationally respected educator, having established USF’s acclaimed jazz program, he is recognized equally for his unique compositional voice; one steeped thoroughly in the jazz tradition but drawing on a diverse array of additional influences from contemporary classical and American folk/roots music to Latin styles, funk, hip-hop, . . . even country!  The result is an evocative, thoughtful, and frequently quite playful/joyous body of work.

The recipient of a 2009 Guggenheim Fellowship and five GRAMMY nominations, Owen has written for or had his compositions performed by the: Netherlands’ Metropole Orch., Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orch., Tonight Show Orchestra, Brussels Jazz Orch., Aarhus Jazz Orch. (Denmark), Scottish National Jazz Orch., Cincinnati Symphony, US Army Jazz Ambassadors and numerous others. 

Owen’s primary creative outlet, however, is his own 20-piece Jazz Surge.  Founding the ensemble in 1995, Owen serves as conductor, primary composer/arranger, and producer of its six highly-feted CDs, including:  River Runs (2013), a stunning 5 movement genre-bending work Rufus Reid described as, “.  .   . . .a tour de force of contemporary orchestral composition” and the Huffington Post called, “a masterpiece of aural sounds”, and  The Comet’s Tail (2009), critically acclaimed as “riotous and joyous” (JazzTimes), “muscular” (Downbeat), and “deserving of universal attention” (All Music Guide).  Both recordings garnered Grammy nominations with Chuck individually honored in 2014 with Grammy nominations for both Best Instrumental Composition & Best Instrumental Arrangement.

The Jazz Surge’s most recent project, Whispers On the Wind, expands on the American folk and roots leanings of River Runs enlisting the evocative violin of Sara Caswell, the luminescent harmonica of Gregoire Maret, and an array of acoustic guitars deftly played by Corey Christiansen.  In it, Owen has created a sound that is drenched in atmosphere – at times buoyant, playful, and triumphant . . . .  at others, melancholy, mysterious, and intimate – but always coming straight out of the American heartland.  Feted with four 2018 GRAMMY nominations (for Best Large Jazz Ensemble recording, Best Instrumental Composition, Best Instrumental Arrangement, and Best Jazz Solo – Sara Caswell) the reviews have been similarly glowing: 
“creative, poetic . . . . wildly personal” – Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
“ an impressive melding of Montana and 52
nd St.” – George Harris, Jazz Weekly
“ episodic, dramatic, and picturesque.” – Scott Yanow, NY City Jazz Record
“. . . an impossibly winsome combination of slow burn with spontaneous combustion. 
                    Reality on a sizzling hot silver platter.” – Carol Bank Weber, Medium.com

Owen presently serves as the founding President of ISJAC (International Society of Jazz Arrangers & Composers).  Previously he has served as President of the International Association for Jazz Education, as a “governor” for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and as a panelist (Chair) for the Pulitzer Prize in Music, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Grammy Awards, and numerous regional arts associations.  The Director of the USF Jazz Ensemble for 30 years, he has led the group in performances at international jazz festivals as well as with renowned guest artists. He is the recipient of the USF President’s Award for Faculty Excellence as well as both the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award and Outstanding Research Award.

Chuck’s most recent compositions for jazz ensemble are available on his website:  www.chuckowen.com   Other publications are available through UNC Jazz Press as well as EJazzLines. 

Artist Blog

Jorge Calandrelli: Reflections on “Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra”

When asked by Paul Read if I would write an article from any subject I would like,  I decided it should be about my “Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra” as it has been a success story for me and one that has opened many doors in my music career.

I will start with the piece being commissioned by Jack Elliott in Los Angeles in 1982 at a lunch meeting – at that meeting Jack told me that he had really liked my arrangement of “Forget The Woman”, written for Eddie Daniels, so much that he had voted for me when it was nominated for a Grammy (my first nomination) in 1981.  It was then that he told me he wanted to commission me to write a serious piece for Eddie and the New American Orchestra – from the time of the signing of the commission I had one year to compose and orchestrate the piece before its premiere in Los Angeles.

I have been asked by several people in the past what I did during the composing period so thought I would address that – I started the process by meeting with Eddie Daniels with my first sketches at a piano several times and recording what we did as a reference for the orchestration, at that time of course there was no midi and everything was recorded live.

Also, I made a point not to study any clarinet concertos while composing my own, what I did instead was to meet with my friend and fellow composer John Corigliano in New York a few times as he had written his clarinet concerto not to long before. 

During these meetings we discussed the orchestration of the piece such as how to make the clarinet cut through the density of the orchestra in terms of range and other technical aspects as well.  They were wonderful meetings and very inspiring to me as John is such a great composer!

One of the most important goals I had in writing my concerto  was to be very honest in what I wrote and to pour all of my loves, passions and influences, from Classical to Jazz, which I had enjoyed and accumulated through my life into my writing – some of the biggest influences for me have been Ravel, Stravinsky, Bartok, William Walton, Gil Evans and Clare Fischer but there have been others as well – in Michael Roeder’s book “A History of The Concerto”  where he included my concerto in his book, he states that he found “Latin American influences” in my music; this was a surprise to me but I found it to be interesting and I have come to believe over time that he is absolutely right.  My dear friend and mentor Astor Piazzolla told me one time as well that the first movement of my concerto was a “Tango” and the third movement a “Chacarera” (a 6/8 folklore dance rhythm from Argentina!) – only the second movement was a “Jazz ballad”.   

Being that I am originally from Argentina and having grown up there exposed me at a very early age to Argentine Folkore, Tango and Brazilian music as well as Jazz and Classical music which were my truest loves.  My much loved mother played Debussy, Fauré and Chopin on piano beautifully as far back as my memory reaches – so much to my surprise these were also influences which appeared in my clarinet concerto!

Even more importantly I wrote what I had always wanted to hear in a crossover piece of that sort but never had.

The concertos I had heard from other composers attempting the crossover genre (Classical and Jazz) were not entirely successful from my point of view because they were either too Contemporary, too Classical or they didn’t “swing”!…  That became the main reason I chose to write the first movement in “even 16th notes” which a classical symphony orchestra can play accurately, and the third movement in a “12/8 groove” in even 8th notes, which can also be played without any problem by a classical orchestra.  For the second movement which is “Jazz Ballad” inspired, I chose to add a jazz trio to support the clarinet improvisations in the jazz section.  On the score I wrote all the clarinet solos throughout, but I also wanted to add the Jazz chord symbols on the clarinet and piano parts as a way of giving a clarinetist or pianist who understands the style the creative freedom of improvisation – I felt that by having both options it gave a chance to classical musicians to play the piece as well by using the written solos and not having to improvise in modern jazz style if that was not their specialty.

I was very fortunate to have had the great Eddie Daniels as a soloist, as he is absolutely one of the best crossover players if not the best in the world.  I took that into account when writing which I believe added to the success of the piece with other virtuoso clarinetists.  I was also fortunate that Dave Grusin attended the premiere of the piece in Los Angeles and decided he wanted to record the concerto on Eddie’s GRP “Breakthrough” album.  We recorded the “Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra” in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Olympic Studios with Keith Grant, engineer, Ettore Stratta, conductor, Produced by Eddie, Ettore and myself  – and the rest is history! 

I have been thrilled with the way the piece has been received and that it has had a life of it’s own so to speak having been played several times since it’s premiere, in the US, Europe, South East Asia and South America.  The last performance in Argentina took place at the re-opening of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires during the bi-centennial celebrations where Eddie was invited to play the concerto with the

“Orquesta Filarmónica de Buenos Aires”. 

I am on to my next project which is a concerto for piano and orchestra written as a classical piece without any jazz elements.  I have been working on it for quite a long time and I believe that when it is it is finished it will possibly be the best piece I’ve written to date.

Thank you Paul for asking me to write this article for ISJAC and to everyone who has read it!   It has been a pleasure to have spent some time sharing this musical experience of mine with you!

Yours truly,

Jorge Calandrelli [Bear Valley Springs, CA 2018]

 

Listen to the Concerto (Excerpts)

 


About the Author:

JORGE CALANDRELLI  began his career in Argentina and Europe as Pianist, Arranger and Conductor. Calandrelli moved to the United States in 1978, he is one of today’s most prolific arrangers and has worked in the Pop, Jazz, Latin, and Classical fields.

Jorge, the youngest of six, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Matias Calandrelli, his father, was a medical doctor, an eminent chess player, president of the Argentine Chess Club and a lieutenant colonel physician in the Argentine Army. His mother, Nieves Solá Calandrelli played classical piano, was fluent in French and was the daughter of Juan E. Solá, a prominent politician and an early member of the Jockey Club of Argentina.

Calandrelli toured Europe for three years with his Quintet and then returned to Buenos Aires to perform as a professional pianist with his Jazz Trio while arranging and conducting for major recording artists and record companies.

His formative private studies included Piano with Guillermo Iscla, Harmony and Counterpoint with the renowned composer Carlos Guastavino, Composition with composer Roberto Garcia Morillo, Altered Harmony with Jacobo Fischer and Master Classes in Contemporary Composition with composer Gerardo Gandini.

OF NOTE   ASMAC honored Jorge Calandrelli with the 2014 Golden Score Award for Arranging, the highest award that could be given to an arranger in the USA.

Most recent is Jorge’s involvement on the new album  “Cheek to Cheek”  with  Tony Bennett  and  Lady Gaga  where he arranged and conducted all orchestral arrangements, as well as the “Great Performances” live show conducted for  PBS  at the Lincoln Center in New York just aired on the heels of the album release. He also conducted on the Tour at the Wiltern Theatre in LA, the Hollywood Bowl in LA, and at the Royal Albert Hall in London. With the completion of the  Duets II  album Jorge Calandrelli reaches a milestone celebrating a 30-year association with  Tony Bennett  with  13  albums recorded,  6  Grammy nominations and  2  Grammy Awards won.​

As both composer and orchestrator, Jorge Calandrelli, has been involved in films and television. His most recent TV score “The Rain” (Director: Nazomu Amemiya) co-composed with Kuni Murai, a four hour docudrama, premiered in  2010 for  Japan  Television.  “Crouching  Tiger / Hidden Dragon”  (Director Ang Lee); “The Color Purple” (Director Steven Spielberg); “The Billionaire Boys Club” (Director: Marvin Chomsky); “Tron” (Director: Steven Lisberger); “The Shining” (Director Stanley Kubrik); “Sola” (Director: Raul De La Torre); “The Great Mouse Detective” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas”.

“Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra” Calandrelli’s concert works have been performed worldwide, this composition has been premiered in several countries and singled out in Michael Roeder’s book “A History of the Concerto”Calandrelli also received the nomination for, “All Music Composer of the Year” the London Wavendon Award, for the Concerto. The latest performance of the “Concerto for Jazz Clarinet and Orchestra” was in Buenos Aires at the Teatro Colon by the Orquesta Filarmónica of Buenos Aires and in Cordoba, Argentina, by the Orquesta Sinfónica of Córdoba for the Bicentenialcelebration of Argentina.

“Escapade in D minor” (2003) commissioned and premiered by The Henry Mancini Orchestra for Arturo Sandoval, conducted by Calandrelli.

“Fantasy for Piano and Orchestra” commissioned for pianist Tian Jiang and premiered by Tian and the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra during their 2003 US Tour.

Mr. Calandrelli is currently finishing his work on a collection of “Piano Pieces”, to be premiered by Sonya Belousova, as well as working on a piano concerto, “Diptych for Piano and Orchestra”.

Jorge Calandrelli has worked as Executive Musical Director for The Concord Music Group for three years.

Mr. Calandrelli continues to work independently with a diversity of artists and projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC), as well as having served on the Board of Governors of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS).

Artist Blog

John Beasley: Composing and Arranging from my head to my iPhone

When I compose, I usually start someplace away from the piano or the computer. I start by hearing a tune in my head, and I’ve found the best way for me to get it out of my head is not to sit down at the piano – because at the piano, my muscle memory can get in the way, and I’ll sometimes end up playing what I already know, instead of trying to write down what I’m actually hearing. For me, it’s especially important to get the groove, and the tempo, and the form of the tune down first. That’s the architecture. I hear it in my head, and then I’ll try to sing it into my iPhone especially if I’m walking about a city, which I do often. I’ll sing bass lines, melodies, I’ll beat-box the rhythms; I’ve been known to sketch out the whole form of a five-to-six-minute song like that. Then I’ll go home and transcribe it. At this point, I’m not looking for particular voicings; I’ll do that at the piano for sure. But before that, it’s important for me to capture the essence of the composition – what I’m trying to say – without the filter of the piano.

After I do that, I’ll start working at the computer, getting the form into shape. Once you start to slowly transcribe your ideas, I find that just referring back to that first iPhone version will inspire new material. It activates that same initial feeling that you had when the ideas first came into your head. It’s not like I can sing that accurately, but hearing it will remind me of what I was going for. Then, at the piano (or the computer), I can figure out the right notes, and the right spacings, and all the rest. You often hear about jazz musicians wanting to play what’s in their head, right? Well, that’s what’s in my head – but now I’ve got technology to record and help me remember it.

In a lot of ways, it’s like transcribing an improvisation, as opposed to just staring at the computer and saying, ‘OK, what’s next?’ For a while, I would sit down at the piano and struggle with every note, like everybody does at some point, because at the piano, you’ve got too many options: ‘Oh, I could do this, or maybe this.’ But then it’s not straight from the heart, or from my muse.

It works pretty much the same way when I’m writing a big arrangement. I’ll sing the parts into my phone; of course, I can’t sing counterpoint with myself, but I can get the essence of it. I’m trying to get down the creativity, the spark of the moment, before I dive into the details. Also, I might have two or three different versions of the same tune, all recorded on my phone, each with different ideas. So then I’ll try to pick out which one I like best at that moment, when I’m actually ready to sit down and transcribe. Or maybe I’ll pick one section from each version.

I go through something like that with the voicings, too, in terms of getting down the basics and then cleaning it up later. At the piano, I’ll just let my hands go and follow my instincts, and put down whatever comes out. It might be too many voices – it might be 10-finger voicings, using pedal, whatever – but I’ll get it down, and then later go in and make it right from an orchestration standpoint. That way, at least I’ve got the sound I want, the harmonic concept, without struggling over the fine points right off the bat. It just goes much faster if you’re doing it in the moment; again, for me it’s like improvising.

If I’m arranging a work for hire, maybe orchestrating for a singer and it’s his or her song, that’s more like a meat-and-potatoes thing. If it’s already been recorded, I’ll make a take-down of the record: I’ll transcribe the original arrangement, especially what I hear on the rhythm track, so I can keep listening back to it in the computer. And then I’ll frequently refer to the original, because a lot of times, if you’re doing a ‘sweetening’ date – putting strings or a horn section over an existing track – there’ll be these nice little lines already in there, on the guitar or the piano. Keeping those in mind, I might double or continue the line, or support that line in some other way. (I learned this from Tommy Lipuma, my friend and great record producer who worked with everyone from Miles, Al Jarreau, Diana Krall, Paul McCartney). There’s already a lot of information in the original, and by using some of what’s already there, I can keep things from getting too crowded. Typically I’ll first do that, and then depending on who the artist is, and how many chances I think I can take, I’ll decide how much of myself I can put in there.

A good example is an arrangement I recently finished for Dianne Reeves, for her Carnegie Hall Youth Jazz Orchestra tour with Sean Jones. She wanted to do this George Duke tune, “Someday,” which is a really great tune with lots of interesting chord changes. But his version is only two and a half minutes long, and that’s not going to work for this big live-tour performance. The way the tune is laid out, though, it’s almost like three tunes in one. The A and B sections are like separate songs, and the real hook chorus is actually in the intro, which he doesn’t get back to until the very end. Also, this tune goes through a lot of modulations. I had to figure out a way to extend it, and then, at the end, when he gets back to that hook chorus, to let that really grow. So I had to come up with three different climaxes, in a way, in order to hit all those marks – including a joyful, gospel-type chorus to close it out, sort of like Earth, Wind & Fire. And then I had to come up with an ending that’s not corny.

But again, since this is kind of a hybrid, I took the information from George’s rhythm tracks, and then I worked to expand on that. I sort of went backwards. First I worked out the form from his record, and then I sat back, went for a walk, and waited till I could figure out how I wanted to start this thing. I waited till I heard it in my head. And then I sang it into my iPhone.


About the Author:

In the course of three decades, Mack Avenue recording artist John Beasley has carved an enviable reputation – or actually, two reputations. First and foremost, he is an uncommonly versatile, unerringly exciting pianist who has worked with such music icons as Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard – playing in the bands of both these trumpet legends while still in his 20s – as well as with Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, and Christian McBride (and even, for one night, with James Brown). But Beasley is also an accomplished composer, and a distinctive arranger who works regularly in film and television, earning five GRAMMY nominations and an Emmy nod along the way. And he has worked extensively on soundtracks, primarily those of famed film scorer Thomas Newman, including the James Bond hits Spectre and Skyfall.

Beasley’s arranging skills find no better showcase than on the albums MONK’estra (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2), each of which received two GRAMMY nominations. MONK’estra is a smashing 15-piece big band that captures the spirit of Thelonious Monk’s singular music in fresh arrangements flavored with contemporary sounds that range from Afro-Cuban rhythms to hip-hop. Critics have called it “some of the most mesmerizing big band music of recent memory.”

Beasley continues to balance a multi-faceted career that includes co-producing albums with former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine; legendary guitarist Lee Ritenour; and oft-awarded vocalist Dianne Reeves. Every year, Beasley resumes his role as Music Director for the Thelonious Monk Institute’s globally heard International Jazz Day concerts, collaborating with the Institute’s Chairman Herbie Hancock. In 2017, this all-star concert was held in Cuba and broadcast throughout the world and on BET-TV in America. The 2016 event was hosted by President Obama at the White House and was broadcast on ABC-TV, gaining Beasley an Emmy nomination for Best Musical Direction.

More information can be found at www.JohnBeasleyMusic.com and www.MackAvenueRecords.com

 

Artist Blog

Christine Jensen: Character Development in Composition

I grew up in a house full of love of melody. My mother was an accomplished pianist, performing everything from Chopin to cowboy tunes, and I was pushed through piano lessons that were full of the works of classical composing masters. My sister Ingrid was always interpreting melodies on the trumpet, and my oldest sister Janet was consistently keeping us in check of the current Top 40 hits on the radio, all full of melody. These are all scenes that added to my character development as a musician. Once I switched to saxophone I started playing in the school big band, where I aspired to play like Phil Woods and Cannonball Adderley as a soloist. They really knew how to project their gorgeous sounds through phrases full of melody.

Through my university studies, I was pushed to be the best player possible, and was given the tools to improvise by understanding concepts of jazz harmony. The lights went on once I really applied myself to voice leading between each vertical harmonic movement. It was so exciting to hear rich harmony connect through close relationships in jazz, and a bonus seeing it move on the piano. My ears opened up, shooting me into the world of composition. If I were to sum up my life as a musician, I am constantly intertwining the act of composition and improvisation, with composition being improvisation slowed down, and improvisation being composition sped up at lightning speed. Masters of improvisation always humble and inspire me for this reason.

All jazz composers that I have really researched have developed their own process. I hope I can share a bit of mine here. I am only scratching the surface on elements that I try to apply in my process of creating a new story.

Some starting notes about character development in my approach to composition:

  • I love creating melodic statements in the way that they become leading characters in a story. Once I have created a character statement, I look toward my harmonic and rhythmic palette in terms of support. However, melody, rhythm and harmony are all interchangeable in terms of the conception of my character. For example, I may first come up with a harmonic movement or a rhythmic idea that is the basis in creating the piece. I credit my lessons with Jim McNeely, both privately and with BMI, where he encouraged me to be aware of character entrances (and possible exits).
  • As an eternal student in the study of composition, I am constantly trying to expand my palette of colour through harmony and rhythm. I want each character to take a voyage that is full of interesting twists and turns in its development. In my journey as a jazz composer and improviser, I continue to research harmonic and rhythmic approaches that are beyond my comfort zone. This includes ear training through transcribing sounds that interest me. For example, I might try to challenge myself with tempos that I have not explored enough, rhythmic feels that are deceptive to the ear, and harmony that I am not comfortable soloing over. I have some technique to rely on, but I really enjoy combining it with the risk-taking of attempting the creation of something new. At times I must remind myself that even if it is a total failure, I can take satisfaction in the fact that I tried.
  • Applying orchestration techniques add technicolor to my story. The more I learn about orchestration, the more colourful the journey for my character development.  Balance and weight are two things that I focus on in large ensemble especially. How much density can occur and what is the weight between various instruments? For example, the drums can overtake any sort of light woodwind and muted passages if not balanced properly. This means studying the various techniques that the percussionist can apply to highlight the delicate passage you may have orchestrated. Understanding instrument range and timbre can also support the journey of the piece. This is where score analysis is essential.
  • Some of my favourite music contains the strong element of counterpoint. This is when the characters really get into two or three-part conversation that flows because of phrasing ideas (please see excerpt of Red Cedar that is included). This is also where I might apply more atonal concepts, with focus on rhythm and melody over harmony.
  • Most important, FORM is always at the top of my mind. How will my form evolve?  My character or characters will navigate through an introduction, a large body of the piece and a conclusion. There are countless variables in navigating form.  Where do I balance the structured composition with the important act of improvisation within the form? I do not always pre-conceive the form, but I do create a wish list of what should happen in my story in terms of development. Repetition, variation and new material being introduced is always being questioned as I work through my form.

I have included an excerpt of Red Cedar, from my recording Treelines. This is an example of my melody in full character development, with 2-part counterpoint at letter B (melody and bass line), and Three-part counterpoint at letter C (melody, supporting melody line, and bass line).

Here are my top three composition book desert island picks that I love to go to because of their content that contains insight into the process of the jazz composer:

  1. Inside the Score – Rayburn Wright
  2. The Jazz Composers Companion – Gil Goldstein
  3. Modal Composition I & II – Ron Miller

(Excerpt: 1:18-2:23)

Score: Click here to see the score

 


About the Author:

Montreal-based saxophonist, composer and conductor Christine Jensen has been described as an original voice on the international jazz scene, while being regarded as one of Canada’s most compelling composers. She is a recent winner of the Downbeat Critic’s Poll for Rising Star Big Band, Arranger, and Soprano Saxophonist, as well as being a recipient of the Montreal International Jazz Festival’s 2017 Oscar Peterson Prize. She currently leads her own jazz orchestra as well as other diverse ensemble projects featuring her saxophone playing. “Jensen writes in three dimensions, with a quiet kind of authority that makes the many elements cohere. Wayne Shorter, Maria Schneider and Kenny Wheeler come to mind.” –Downbeat.

Jensen has won two Canadian Juno Awards for her recordings with her jazz orchestra, including Habitat (2014) and Treelines (2011). Four of her albums have been nominated for jazz album of the year with Quebec’s ADISQ awards. Habitat received five stars in Downbeat, along with being included at the top of several international critic’s polls, including Jazz Album of the Year in 2014. She was also profiled on NPR’s All Things Considered for her work with Habitat. She has topped 2014 critic’s polls for Album of the Year with CBC, Downbeat, NPR, Ottawa Citizen, and JazzTimes. A two-time recipient of the Hagood Hardy Prize for jazz from SOCAN, she has also received two Quebec Opus Awards for her big band recordings and concerts. Her recent collaborations as conductor and composer with Orchestre National Jazz Montreal have included conducting Terence Blanchard, Oliver Jones, the music of Carla Bley, as well as recording her suite Under the Influence, which won the 2017 Prix Opus for jazz recording of the year.

As a leader, Jensen has released three small ensemble recordings between 2000 and 2006. Along with her sister, trumpeter Ingrid Jensen, she has co-led Nordic Connect, where they released two recordings, as well as touring Canada, US, and Scandinavia numerous times. Over the past two years, they have toured Canada, US and Europe extensively with Infinitude, featuring NY guitarist Ben Monder.

Jensen’s music has taken her all over the world, where she has received numerous commissions and conducting opportunities with jazz orchestras in Canada, the US and Europe. Recent residencies include Frost School of Music, The New School, Dartmouth College and MacEwan University. She works extensively with her sister Ingrid, and her partner saxophonist Joel Miller on projects of varying sizes. Collaborators have included Phil Dwyer, Ben Monder, Gary Smuylan, Geoffrey Keezer, Lenny Pickett, Gary Versace, George Colligan, and Donny McCaslin. She has studied with Kenny Werner, Jim McNeely, Dick Oatts, Remi Bolduc and John Hollenbeck.

Jensen has released three recordings for jazz orchestra on Justin Time Records:

Jensen’s published works for jazz orchestra are available at Whitewater Music Publications: https://whitewatermusic.ca/

Artist Blog

Bill Mays: The Delaware River Suite

When Paul Read asked me to contribute something to this blog I asked what my focus should be: my arranging, my composing or performing? He said, “Whatever you’re interested in, whatever you want to share.”

I’m very interested in, and quite in love with, a place in Northeastern Pennsylvania where I spend several months of the year. I’ve had a house there for 30 years and in 2007 wrote a suite dedicated to the Delaware River, several places that border it, and my small local town, Shohola (“place of quiet waters,” according to the native Lenape people). I’m a real water person: born an Aquarian, a Navy guy, an avid swimmer and sailor. In fact, I got the concept for the piece while soaking in the Jacuzzi (which is where I am now writing these introductory notes)!

Basically I have a couple of ways that I start compositions. My usual approach is sitting at the piano, noodling some ideas that turn into motifs, that turn into phrases, that end up part of the final result. Another favorite way is sitting in a chair with my eyes closed, imagining a concert stage with the ensemble I’m writing for on that stage and just start jotting down the first things I hear coming from this imaginary band; that gets the ball rolling for me. For this piece I knew I would be writing for piano, trumpet and cello.

The river suite is probably the closest thing to a “theater piece” I’ve ever written. Preceding page one of the score is a map of the Delaware River Basin. Then there’s an opening prologue with pre-recorded river sounds over which my voice sings the praises (think Garrison Keillor) of the Delaware and other bodies of water I’ve spent time on. There is even spoken, countrified dialogue from the trio, based on local lore, in one movement. Even before I wrote a note of the music I knew I would write a multi-movement suite that would start with a fanfare, conjure up the excitement of white-water rafting, the serenity of the “float,” address Shohola’s history, reference the Delaware Water Gap and Philadelphia, and a finale that would salute the Atlantic, where the Delaware empties its waters. So, unlike my other compositions, I had a programmatic shape and the general flow already on paper before starting to compose. Secondly, it was a great treat to write for specific people: me on piano, trumpeter Marvin Stamm and cellist Alisa Horn, known as the Inventions Trio. I had a broad palate with Marvin’s improvisational talents, his ability to wear the hat of an orchestral player, and flugelhorn doubler. In Alisa I had a cellist with a big sound and a singing tone, as well as excellent rhythm and some beginning improv skills. And both of them were wonderful ensemble players. The end result (commissioned by Drs. Frank Osborn and Howard Horn) was the Delaware River Suite.

I. Prologue: Narrowsburg Deep
II. Rapid Ride at Skinner’s Falls
III. Float
IV. Shohola Hoedown & Campfire
V. Rollin’ Down the Water Gap
VI. Philadelphia
VII. Toward the Ocean

I’ve pointed out some salient features of each movement with sound and score samples below, with the complete score and recording of the piece at the end.


Prologue: Narrowsburg Deep: I suppose Aaron Copland was over my shoulder when I decided the fanfare that opens the piece should primarily consist of the interval of a fifth, should be short and to the point, and majestic.

Rapid Ride at Skinner’s Falls: Fifths occur often throughout the piece, as in the piano accompaniment figure and in the  melody of Rapid Ride:

   Following the theme each instrumentalist improvises over a four-chord, four-bar pedal, with accompanying figures that echo the movement’s introduction:

Float: If you’ve ever been in an eddy of a river and heard and seen the pops and plops of bugs and fish you know how fascinating a sound it can be. I wanted to convey that random, plopping sound, so I chose a twelve-tone row to start the journey. I tried many rows, finally settling on one simply because it sounded pleasing to me; it happened to contain several half-steps.

Seven iterations of the row occur, passing the row between instruments and using rhythmic and octave displacement. Later in the movement the three instruments, in rhythmic unison, choose their  own notes in an atonal free-for-all.

   

Shohola Hoedown & Campfire:  Here’s my Garrison Keillor moment! The Hoedown kind of wrote itself, it just fell out of me. A typical “fiddler’s-fifths” opens the tune, then Alisa has the melody, after which she provides bass “slaps” under Marvin’s melody. Country meets jazz for some choruses of trumpet and piano improv. Meant to be fun and humorous there’s even a horse’s (trumpet) “whinny” and a “Yee-haw” from the group.   

For the Campfire section I became film-scorer for a moment and wrote a plaintive (think harmonica) melody to kick off the first spoken story.

Rollin’ Down The Water Gap: I thought about cascading water with its forward motion and downward movement, and that gave me the idea of constructing the melody in descending half steps. The right hand of the piano doubles the trumpet/cello melody, with chords that include half steps and crunchy voicings, and this is set against an ongoing boogie-woogie pattern in the left hand (this was  lots of fun but my left hand almost fell off by the end of the movement!) The 24-bar melody is built on just four chords, and improvised solos are on a 24-bar blues

I was thinking like a big-band arranger when I gave trumpet and cello punchy rhythmic background figures behind the piano solo.    

 A “shout chorus” follows where I have cello, trumpet and piano playing in rhythmic unison. I wanted a crazy, fun effect so I have the right hand of the piano playing clusters with the palm of the hand, the cello playing “scratchily” with the bow and Marvin tooting on his mouthpiece, kazoo-style!   

Philadelphia: The city of Philadelphia, located along the Delaware, has always fascinated me. I kept intoning the word “Philadelphia, Philadelphia” over and over again and that gave rise to the rhythm of the melody (primarily based, again, on fifths), and probably suggested the jazz waltz feel. After a  short opening piano statement (which hints at the melody to come) the cello and trumpet each play the theme, followed by improv solos.     

Sometimes you realize, after the fact, the internal logic of a motif. I wasn’t sure where this little recurring background melodic segment had come from, but realized after recording it that it was based on the descending minor seconds in the preceding movement. Funny how the mind works…

Towards The Sea: Before the main theme, the piano (and cello) have a rhapsodic, rubato duet that sets the mood. Again, the interval of a fifth plays a prominent part, and the underlying harmonic scheme is a series of ii-V-I progressions. 

When the tempo starts it’s an undulating 12/8 groove, suggesting the feeling of being in a boat and  rocking gently. The melody (Ravel on my mind) consists of long, held tones over cello and piano 12/8 figures.

Throughout the movement several small snippets of previous themes briefly reappear. And I didn’t realize it till after I’d finished writing the movement, but I actually quote seven notes from God Bless America (in bars 69-71— “from the mountains to the oc-”), so thank you, Irving Berlin.

This composition was the centerpiece of the album, Delaware River Suite, and I was thrilled that Inventions got to perform it at some of the referenced locations: Narrowsburg, NY, Philadelphia and Delaware Water Gap, PA.

 


About the Author:

Pianist Bill Mays’ career as a professional musician spans the last 55 years and includes a multitude of musical endeavors. Following four years as a bandsman in the U.S. Navy Bill spent 15 years as a session player in the Hollywood studios. In 1984 he re-located to New York City, firmly establishing himself as an in-demand sideman and leader of his own ensembles. He has worked with jazz legends Benny Golson, Shelly Manne, Red Mitchell, Gerry Mulligan, Bud Shank, Frank Sinatra, Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Sarah Vaughan, and Phil Woods. His many recordings as a leader (solo, duo, trio and sextet) are well-documented on the Chiaroscuro, Concord, DMP, Palmetto, and Steeplechase record labels.

A prolific composer and arranger, Mays has written many extended suites for bass, flute, woodwind septet, and pieces for big band and orchestra (New York Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, Turtle Creek Chorale, WDR Big Band, U.S. Air Force Airmen Of Note). His latest recordings include Phil & Bill (with saxophonist Phil Woods), Side By Side: Sondheim Duos (with bassist Tommy Cecil), Life’s A Movie (with cellist Alisa Horn and trumpeter Marvin Stamm), and Front Row Seat (solo piano). Mays’ songs have been used in the movies Anamorph, Burn After Reading, Hamlet, Looker, and The Fifth Estate. His keyboard work has been heard on hundreds of film soundtracks, among them Fargo, Fur, Godfather 2, Hail, Caesar!, Jaws 2, Julie & Julia, Rocky 2, Superman, The Big Lebowski,  and The Spanish Prisoner.

Last year Mays received rave reviews with the publication of his first book, Stories Of The Road, The Studios, Sidemen & Singers: 55 Years In The Music Biz.

Awards and Honors:

  • Arranger, pianist and producer on Grammy-nominated Bop For Kerouac (Mark Murphy/Muse)
  • Pianist on Gold Album Paradise Cafe (Barry Manilow/Arista Records)
  • “Talent Deserving Of Wider Recognition” in the piano category, Downbeat Magazine
  • Nominated for “Most Valuable Player” Award, Los Angeles
  • International Society of Bassists: “Friend Of The Bass”
  • Performance grants from Meet The Composer, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, N.E.A., PennPAT

Website: www.billmays.net

 

Artist Blog, Composer Interviews

Paul Read: Spotlight on Phil Nimmons

Photo credit: Don Vickery

This article offers a glimpse of Phil Nimmons, 95-year-old iconic Canadian musician (composer/arranger/educator/clarinettist/band leader). 

Of course, no blog can offer what Phil deserves – and, to my knowledge, does not yet exist – a comprehensive authorized biography. But I hope this article may lead you to further investigation of his life and work. At the very least, I wish to add some well-deserved recognition to a great musician.

Further down this post, you will find a link to a video interview dating from December, 2006 when he was ‘just’ 83 years old.1It’s a good thing I hardly ever throw anything away, I guess, because I serendipitously discovered this just recently while trying to find something else.

A Brief Introduction: The Canadian Governor General’s Awards are awarded annually by the Governor General of Canada, recognizing distinction in numerous academic, artistic, and social fields. They are the highest awards given to Canadian artists. Phil was presented with this award in 2002 (details are here). In January 2001, I wrote a letter nominating him for a Governor General’s Award:

Phil has made a significant contribution to the cultural life of Canada throughout a brilliant career spanning five decades [as of 2001]. Perhaps best known as a jazz clarinettist and bandleader and composer in the first half of his career, he has also been a tireless advocate of jazz as a significant North American art form and has been a key figure in Canadian music education. He was co-founder (with Oscar Peterson) of the Advanced School of Contemporary Music in 1960 in Toronto, one of the first schools of its kind, and since then has been involved in the development of many jazz educational projects including the addition of a Jazz Performance program at the University of Toronto in 1991. He has always been generous with his time and expertise and has always been willing to help and encourage other musicians, particularly those just beginning their studies and careers.

The following is taken from a letter written by Walter Pitman, Executive Director of the Ontario Arts Council:

“Perhaps most of all, I place before you a truly unique human being whose generosity of spirit is recognized by the artistic community he has served so long. His reputation goes beyond the restrained pages of his curriculum vitae. As Executive Director of the Ontario Arts Council, I discovered to what extent he was an incomparable confidante and inspiration to countless students of music who are now building a reputation for Ontario as a centre of cultural activities.”

Phil’s music has touched many Canadians. His performances on his own CBC Radio show with Nimmons ‘N’ Nine and Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six beginning in 1953, were enjoyed by a wide audience and served as an inspiration to many young Canadian musicians. But while the Nimmons name has long been associated with jazz, Phil has always seen music as music, without stylistic borders, and has written many contemporary ‘classical’ works including a recently completed commission for the Esprit Orchestra here in Toronto.

Phil’s work is renowned and recognized internationally. He was a 2001 recipient of the International Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame Award. It is significant that he was the first non-American to receive this prestigious honour, which was presented in New York City in January of this year.”

Another paragraph I think is a propos. These from the liner notes for Verve after Hours Verve Records ‎– 769 748 005-2 (1997) written by Ross Porter, JAZZ.FM radio.

Phil Nimmons – We’ll Be Together Again
from the Verve LP The Canadian Scene Via Phil Nimmons (MG V-8025). Previously unavailable on CD

“Of all the musicians selected for this CD, no one is closer to my heart than Phil Nimmons. As a child, I remember lying in bed listening to him play on CBC Radio. Phil was a member of the Canadian jazz scene before there was a scene to be part of. His groups have been finishing schools for musicians. He played a key role in having the Canada Council recognize jazz as an art form worthy of assistance. As an educator, he brings students over fifty years of experience both on and off the bandstand. I’m proud to call him a friend. We’ll Be Together Again first appeared on his 1956 album The Canadian Scene and has never been on CD before.”

Ross Porter’s recollection (above) of lying in bed listening to Phil’s CBC broadcasts every other Friday night will have a ring of nostalgia for many Canadians as well as others who were able to receive CBC radio in other parts of the world.  He had his own nationally broadcast radio show on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation featuring his band, “Nimmons ‘N’ Nine” – which later became “Nimmons ‘N’ Nine Plus Six”. (The unusual punctuation in the band name is intentional). He has written incidental music for radio plays, chamber music, orchestral scores, music for film, jazz tunes performed by his own quartet and his large groups. And I should mention his longevity. He has been an active writer, performer, and teacher for almost 80 years!


A Short Musical Excerpt:

The following is the intro to “The Torch” (1988). I think this presents a hint of Phil’s indomitable spirit, his sense of humour as well as his prodigious orchestration skills. You can hear the complete work at, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlgpq-hk40M performed by the Dave McMurdo Jazz Orchestra. Phil would call that a “glandular” beginning. How perfect is that?  As this might indicate, he has a unique way with words, as well as music.  His family refers to his linguistic ‘gymnastics’ as “Nimmonese”.

Audio clip included with the permission of the Canadian Music Centre and Phil Nimmons.

As you can hear, Phil takes an idea and runs with it….and then runs with it….and I mean, runs with it! This quality exists time and again in his music, and also with the way he interacts with those around him. He is the master of the ‘running gag’, the protraction of any and all ideas. He is constantly improvising and composing, while playing and writing, or teaching, or just living day to day.


Indomitable Spirit

As of this posting he is just 2 days shy of 95 years young and still teaches one composition course at the University of Toronto and performs on clarinet in a duo setting with the stunning and remarkable pianist/composer, 41 year-old David Braid. Their most recent concert was November 29, 2017.  He and David play totally ‘free’ concerts. They never discuss what they are going to do or make plans of any kind whatsoever. Here is a brief sample:

Audio clip included with the permission of David Braid and Phil Nimmons.

 

David Braid (piano) and Phil Nimmons (clarinet) performing in Montreal June 3, 2011 at McGill University. Phil is in full academic regalia as he had just received an honorary doctorate and this performance was part of his acceptance speech. As usual, there was no plan, no discussion of possible keys, or style, or anything else.

A personal anecdote: Around the time Phil started to play ‘without plans’, I had an opportunity to perform as pianist with him in that context at the Montreal Bistro in Toronto. Beforehand, I asked him if we could talk for a moment about a general approach or plan as I thought it would be helpful for me if I had SOME idea of what he wanted to do. He absolutely refused.  The performance was wonderfully fun, and at the same time hair-raising.  As a result I have a special appreciation for what David Braid accomplishes on a regular basis with Phil. Just amazing. David’s website deserves a visit: http://www.davidbraid.com and I hope you will check out his music as well.


NOTE: Many of Canada’s jazz musicians are well known. Kenny Wheeler, Ingrid Jensen, Christine Jensen, Darcy James Argue, Maynard Ferguson, Oscar Peterson, Gil Evans, Ralph Bowen, Rob McConnell, Ed Bickert, Rick Wilkins, Terry Clarke, Diana Krall, Kirk MacDonald, Oliver Jones, Michael Buble, Moe Koffman, Dave Young, Terry Promane, Joni Mitchell, Phil Dwyer, Holly Cole, Don Thompson, Robi Botos, Ranee Lee, Renee Rosnes, Guido Basso, Paul Bley, P.J. Perry, Mike Murley, Carol Welsman and on and on. Of course, this is a representative list only. Sincere apologies to the thousands who I’ve not included.  In any list of Canadian musicians (jazz or otherwise), Phil Nimmons is always mentioned and frequently listed as one of the most significant.

Interview with Phil Nimmons


For further investigation:


About the Author:

PAUL READ (pianist, composer, arranger) lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Currently he curates the blog for the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers. He was a member of the Humber College Music Faculty in Toronto from 1979 to 1991, Program Coordinator there from 1982 to 1987, and Director of Music from 1987 to 1991. In 1991, he founded degree programs in jazz studies at the University of Toronto (Mus. Bac., M. Mus. and DMA) where he was Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies and following that, Director of Graduate Jazz Studies. He was Canada’s Representative on the Board of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) from 2002-2008, and was the founding Director of the National Music Camp (NMC) Jazz Camp (1987 to 2006). He has also taught in the summers at the Ken Kistner Jazz Camp (Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan) and the jazz faculty of the Prairielands Jazz Camp (Regina, Saskatchewan). He is now retired from education.

Selected Recordings:

The Dance Never Ends – with Trish Colter (1998,  At Long Last Love  Trish Colter (2002), The Heart of Summer – Paul Read Quartet featuring Scott Robinson. (2004) Now available on CD Baby, and Arc-en-ciel  Addo Records  – Paul Read Orchestra (2013) Now available on CD Baby.

Awards:

2015 Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Music (Toronto Arts Foundation), 2008 Paul Read Orchestra (PRO) nominated for a Canadian National Jazz Award, 2007-2008 Awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Recording Grant, 1993 Awarded the University of Toronto Senior Alumni Award for Innovation in Teaching and finally, 1972 Winner of the Rob McConnell/Gordon Delamont Arranging & Composition Award.

Paul’s Website: www.paulread.ca

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. It’s a good thing I hardly ever throw anything away, I guess, because I serendipitously discovered this just recently while trying to find something else.
Artist Blog

Florian Ross: Quo Vadis Jazz Composition?

It was probably roughly 25 years ago, when I fell in love with the sound of the big band for the first time. At that time, at the age of just under 18, I was one of the a pianists rehearsing with the Youth Jazz Orchestra of Baden-Württemberg (German province/state) and simply enjoyed bathing in that sound… even in the sound of a youth orchestra! And I still love it.

Over the years I have struggled through many ups and downs, learned to deal with the high pressure of being a bandleader, and learned to endure and positively redirect the blunt (and mostly justified) criticism of the orchestra musicians. I have internalized that musicians lend me their talent, bring my music to life – and for that I am always grateful when I’m standing in front of a band.

I have learned the trade. I know how and for whom I have to write so that it sounds like I want it to sound. I write fast and hardly ever out of context. There are little if any surprises when rehearsals begin. Alterations in the pieces are seldom necessary. The notation is legible and playable (although I am still eager to learn), and reality matches my imagination.  In other words, I am happy to have arrived here after many hard lessons and efforts: The Big Band has become a reliable tool for me to awaken my music.

What do you do next when your craft has reached a certain level? One should take care of what was most important even before climbing the base camp of the Ability Mountain: the music! But what is that, exactly? Skills are only tools that help to materialize creativity.

I find music should include aesthetics, surprise, fun, drama, (and architecture, but that’s just me). Music that inspires me contains these ingredients. When I listen to music nowadays (any style), it’s neither clever time signatures nor interesting voicings or instrumentations that touch me. It’s the things that are not so easy to grasp.

As in any art form, I believe, the goal should be to create something that is more than the sum of its parts. I am afraid that the effort to learn and understand any art form can lead to losing oneself in the eagerness of this (craftsmanship) battle. It can happen that you divert your focus from the music to the technicalities of it without even noticing. Losing oneself can happen especially if you have worked your way through academia, which can ultimately lead to a loss of awareness of aesthetics and tensions of the ‘whole’ – however, in my opinion this is really the core and definition of good music.

Nowadays, a good part of my everyday life consists of passing on this message to the younger generation, be it as a piano teacher or in the field of composition. Especially through the regular encounters with young instrumentalists and composers, it is becoming increasingly clear to me what is all too often forgotten: The return to the core of music creating and music making!

The “skill first, then creativity” approach is just as wrong as the “creativity first, skill not

needed” approach. However, much of young composers’ works sound as if they are following either of these two polar positions. Of course, just as it took me decades to understand this, you can’t blame the youngsters – but you can blame the old guys!

It should be our task to ask the next generation of Big Band composers’ questions continually:

  • Do you know what you want to achieve with your piece?
  • Which story do you want to tell?
  • Is it the words that interest you or is it the story?
  • When and why do you want to surprise?
  • Are you writing a poem, or just a collection of beautiful words?
  • What’s more important? The construct or the content?

These are just a few of the questions that, in my opinion, often fall far short of the mark. As a result, many young composers paint with an abundance of colours, but don’t know whether they’re painting a portrait or a landscape. I hear many interesting words, sometimes sentences, but few stories – especially not those that are personal and different from other stories. I hear music so overloaded with tension that it becomes boring and superfluous. Yes, even a 10/8 beat and quartertones can be dull.

There’s also a lot of stealing going on, which I usually approve of and even encourage my students to do. However, there is nothing worse than cheap stealing – or just stealing gestures instead of story telling.

On the other hand, I also come across stories in which the definitions of words are not clear, grammar is erroneous and punctuation is incorrect – although, this seems to happen less often, nowadays.

One needs both: tools to build and a plan what you’d like to build, and why – only then will one be lucky enough to create something meaningful. It would be a mistake to concentrate on either or the other, especially at a young age. One should always look at the ground and at the sky.

Especially now, when I had assumed that I could relax a bit after many years of struggle with the acquisition of skills, I have to realize that a new mountain appears on the horizon: the recollection of the beauty, the ugliness, love, aggression and drama of music – all that I had always loved. A new, old task that is worth mastering.


About the Author:

Florian Ross Pianist, Composer www.florianross.de

Florian Ross likes travelling unusual paths. Born in 1972, he studied piano and composition in Cologne, London and New York with John Taylor, Joachim Ullrich, Bill Dobbins, Don Friedman and Jim McNeely.

The first of Ross’s numerous albums was released in 1998 under his own name. Ross’s recordings look closely at both the multifaceted jazz tradition and his extraordinary handling of contemporary material. In all formations, from trio to quintet, from string orchestra to brass ensemble, Ross succeeds in reconciling two seemingly different musical forms: improvised and composed. While many of his European colleagues consider it a virtue to distance themselves from the mainstream, another camp makes an effort to continue the American jazz tradition in Europe as authentically as possible.

Florian Ross’s music is a refreshing break from this often embarrassing programmatic context. Ross not only ignores the demarcation line but translates traditional aspects into a language of the present. His lack of interest in the idea of “higher, further, faster“ corresponds to his fondness for deeper sound regions and warmer timbres, as sounds oscillate between blue, orange and terracotta.

This foundation invites inspiration: the architecture is occasionally daring but never cool. Intellect and feeling do not exclude each other; the head listens to the stomach and vice versa. The music radiates balance, something that is often propagated but seldom achieved. The stark and songful does not trigger disquietude within Ross; on no account edgy actionism. He knows that it´s not what you say but how you say it, and that less is (sometimes) more.

It is impossible to simply reduce Florian Ross to a pianist or improviser, or even an arranger and composer, as his work cannot be limited to a single genre or category. He is much too much the pianist to abandon himself solely to the compositional architecture, and much too much the composer to succumb to a mere fascination of the piano. He is a musician who thinks, hears, writes and plays musically.

Artist Blog

Maria Schneider: Important Information about the Music Modernization Act (MMA)

As many of you know, I’ve been trying to shed some light on the Music Modernization Act, legislation being drafted to ensure that music creators will be properly paid by companies like Spotify and Apple Music.  But the MMA, as drafted, would make independent creators and small publishers give up their Constitutional right to protect their work from infringement on digital services like Spotify.  Balancing the weight of that enormous “loss of rights” with the kind of transparency, balance, fairness, and simple consideration that independent creators and small publishers should expect is the challenge.  As of the dates of the following articles, this challenge clearly has not been met, setting up small creators to be krill for the whales (the biggest publishers, like Sony, Warner and Universal).

 

Here are some articles I recommend:

How the Music Modernization Act Takes Royalties from DIY Songwriters and Gives Them to the Major Publishers, by Henry Gradstein: March 2, 2018

The Music Modernization Act – The Devil is In the Details, by Maria Schneider  Feb. 8, 2018

The Music Modernization Act: We Can & Must Do Better, by Phil Galdston and David Wolfert: Feb, 21, 2018

An Open Letter to David Israelite and Anyone Interested in the MMA, by Maria Schneider: March 1, 2018

Many of Schneider’s other letters regarding YouTube and like can be read here.


About The Author:

Maria Schneider’s music has been hailed by critics as “evocative, majestic, magical, heart-stoppingly gorgeous, and beyond categorization.” She and her orchestra became widely known starting in 1994 when they released their first recording, Evanescence. There, Schneider began to develop her personal way of writing for what would become her 18-member collective, made up of many of the finest musicians in jazz today, tailoring her compositions to distinctly highlight the uniquely creative voices of the group. The Maria Schneider Orchestra has performed at festivals and concert halls worldwide. She herself has received numerous commissions and guest-conducting invites, working with over 85 groups from over 30 countries.

Schneider’s music blurs the lines between genres, making her long list of commissioners quite varied, stretching from Jazz at Lincoln Center, to The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, to collaborating with David Bowie. She is among a small few to have received GRAMMYS in multiple genres, have received the award in both jazz and classical categories, as well as for her work with David Bowie.

Schneider and her orchestra have a distinguished recording career with twelve GRAMMY nominations and five GRAMMY awards. Unique funding of projects has become a hallmark for Schneider through the trend-setting company, ArtistShare. Her album,  Concert in the Garden (2004) became historic as the first recording to win a GRAMMY with Internet-only sales, even more significantly, it blazed the “crowd-funding” trail as ArtistShare’s first release. She’s been awarded many honors by the Jazz Journalists Association and DOWNBEAT and JAZZTIMES Critics and Readers Polls. In 2012, her alma mater, the University of Minnesota, presented Schneider with an honorary doctorate, and in 2014, ASCAP awarded her their esteemed Concert Music Award.

Schneider has become a strong voice for music advocacy and in 2014, testified before the US Congressional Subcommittee on Intellectual Property about digital rights. She has also appeared in CNN, participated in round-tables for the United States Copyright Office, and has been quoted in numerous publications for her views on Spotify, Pandora, YouTube, Google, digital rights, and music piracy. Most recently, she and concerned colleagues in New York have launched a widespread campaign on behalf of music-makers, MusicAnswers.org.

Her recent collaboration with her orchestra and David Bowie resulted in his single called, “Sue (Or In A Season of Crime),” and brought her a 2016 GRAMMY (Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals).  Schneider and her orchestra also received a 2016 GRAMMY for their latest work, The Thompson Fields (Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album).

 

Artist Blog

Kim Richmond: The Process

There are many different processes for writing music. There is no right one or wrong one, it just depends on what works for the individual, and that is something that each writer must determine for himself. The fledgling writer can try different ones, or change up on each piece.

For myself, I have found something that works consistently for me. When I was much younger, I tried many different processes and finally determined the “routine” with which I was most productive and organized. When I started out, in high school and college, I was able to find and purchase miniature score pads, where I could start by doing a sketch that would itself turn into a score. This worked for awhile, but I found I would eventually have to copy it all over again because the miniature score was too small to be legible by anyone else. This was before computer notation.

I believe it was when I was writing a commission for the Buddy Rich band that I finally decided on my process. I tried starting with the score itself, but that didn’t work for me. What I ended up with was the following and I have used it every since. Now mind you, I have used many variations of this since, especially in the beginning stages (research) for writing and composition or arrangement.

Process:

  • Lead sheet
  • Sketch (templates)- 4 staves, 6 staves, 3 staves
  • loose
  • semi-detailed
  • complete detailed
  • digital score (Finale or Sibelius)
  • edit parts

Now let’s pick apart and detail these process points.

LEAD SHEET

This is the melody and chord symbols (if any) only. On my classical pieces, this is more like an “ideas” sheet, with main 

themes and some ideas for variation/development, with key centers sometimes but rarely indicated. Usually with pencil and paper, one or two staves.

SKETCH

I have various sketch templates that have been devised in Finale.

  • 4 staves for for large jazz ensemble
  • 6 staves for orchestra with strings
  • 3 stave for smaller ensemble

Let’s take for example the large jazz ensemble. 

LOOSE SKETCH

(4 staves -treble & bass, treble & bass. The upper two saxes/woodwinds, the lower two brass) (diagram 1).

Diagram 1

If it is an arrangement for a vocalist or featured soloist, I add another single staff above. I write on this with pencil.

Placed are melody lines, chord changes, rhythmic slashes when actual melodic lines not decided, rhythmic slashes and notation (below staff) indicating what rhythm section will be doing (swing, even 8ths, Latin, tutti rhythms etc.). This includes devising an intro and ending, transitions, modulations, development areas. This is essentially the creative part, establishing the form, where you spell out your ideas (diagram 2).

Number the bars.

Diagram 2

SEMI-DETAILED SKETCH

Fill in existing loose sketch with counter lines, accompanying ensemble rhythms and lead lines (diagram 3). Label (with words).

Diagram 3

COMPLETE DETAILED SKETCH

Fill in existing sketch with all harmonies and voicing (diagram 4).

This means going through the piece from beginning to end three times.

Diagram 4

DIGITAL SCORE

I use Finale or Sibelius (and perhaps Dorico soon). Transfer all notes onto the computer using keyboard input or manually. I usually start with the woodwinds, then trumpets, trombones, bass, piano, guitar, tuba, French horns, mallet percussion, drums, and hand percussion, in that order. I write and print my scores in concert (diagram 5).

Diagram 5

PARTS

This is often ignored by many arrangers, and this is crucial. And this is a pet peeve of mine. Instead of just printing out the parts, they must be examined in detail and formatted to make sure they are spaced legibly, have any instructional notation in the right places (ie, “2nd X only,” or “Play 4 Xs”), make sure the D.S. and coda (if any) are separated and indented properly (see Diagram 6A & 6B).

Diagram 6A

Diagram 6B

It is important to make sure that all melodic lines read in the simplest enharmonic way possible (see diagram 7A-wrong way, and diagram 7B-correct way). 

Diagram 7A

Diagram 7B

It is best that all rehearsal letters are on the far left of a system. It is best if the coda mark is on the far right of a system (diagram 8).

Diagram 8

 

Make sure that slash marks with chords above appear correctly.

Make sure that all headers or footers (page number, song title, part name) appear in the proper places on every page.

I believe it is best to have bar numbers below the start of every bar, multi-rest bar numbers centered below rests (diagram 9).

Diagram 9

On the score I like bar numbers to be large enough to be readily readable centered above bars on top stave, and enclosed in a box (diagram 10).

Diagram 10

That’s my process, and I don’t intend to say that mine is for everyone. In a masterclass by Bob Mintzer, which I helped organize a few years ago, he said that once, by necessity, he started arranging right onto the score. It was during an airplane flight where he needed to have the arrangement done at the end of the flight, and that has been his process ever since. I’ve known a few arrangers who have simply started writing parts, no score.

The point and goal is be suitably and comfortably organized in order to best support your creative efforts.

Artist Blog

An Interview with John Clayton

NOTE: Interview conducted by Paul Read on Jan 10, 2018 at 2:30 PST.

ISJAC: Hey, John. Thanks for doing this.

JC: Happy to do it

ISJAC: Where are you at the moment, Los Angeles?

JC: Yes, I am in Los Angeles. I actually was born and raised here and finished school at Indiana University… hit the road for four years and then moved to Holland to be with my, then, girlfriend, now my wife, and played in a symphony orchestra for five years.1The Amsterdam Philharmonic.

ISJAC: You were with the Basie band before you went to Amsterdam?

JC: Yes. After I finished school I went on the road with Monty Alexander and Jeff Hamilton for two years. And I missed out on my dream to play with Duke Ellington – he died while I was still in college – and one of my other dreams was to play with Count Basie. I was studying with Ray Brown and I knew that Ray knew Count Basie very well. So I asked him if he could look into helping me get in touch with him. He said, “Sure” and the next day I was talking to Count Basie [laughter]. He called me and said, “Young man, I hear you would like to play in my orchestra.” and I said, “Yes, sir, Mr. Basie”. And he said, “Well, I’ll have my manager call you.” and it just so happened that his bass player was leaving in two weeks, so I let Monty Alexander know I had this opportunity and he gave me his blessing. I went with Count Basie and that’s where I really got bit by the writing bug. I’d never studied composition or arranging but I fell in love with that music being able to hear it every night there in real time. I knew how to transpose for instruments and I had some fantasies. So, I asked Mr. Basie if I could write some music, and he said, “sure”. I wrote something that was embarrassingly bad.  [Laughter] I was frustrated, certainly, but I wasn’t put off and I wasn’t discouraged. That’s the best way to put it.  So on one of my breaks I took the recording that Basie had done years before with Neal Hefti of a song called “Splanky.”2Recorded on The Atomic Mr. Basie. (YouTube video posted by Warner Bros.) “Which is “the 6th most critically acclaimed album of 1958, the 25th most acclaimed of the 1950s, and the 837th most acclaimed of all time, based on an aggregation of hundreds of critics’ lists from around the world”. Wikipedia.

ISJAC: Right.

JC: “Splanky” has an amazing shout chorus,3See the Appendix at the end of the article for an score excerpt showing the ‘triple lead’ approach. and I got goose bumps every time we played it, so I wrote a sketch of everything that was happening in that arrangement. The intro, I wrote it in words…you know: piano – Ab pedal in the left hand, drums plays with sticks, bass playing the pedal. Roman numeral two: melody played in unison by the brass with mutes (and I didn’t know which so I wrote cups, buckets, question mark). Sort of walked through it in words like that, and then I went back and I transcribed as many of the notes that I could hear. From that, I noticed that when we got to the shout chorus I could hear on the recording that the lead trumpet note happened to be the same note that the lead trombone player was playing and the same note that the lead alto was playing so I had discovered this ‘triple lead’ concept of writing…

ISJAC: Yeah, I hear that from time to time in your writing…

JC: Yeah, and the thing that it provides is a lot of clarity for the melody.  So I learned that whenever I want that kind of clarity I could use ‘triple lead’ or even ‘double lead’.  Anyway, that was the beginning.

ISJAC: How much music did you write while you were with Basie? Were you producing an arrangement or composition once a week, once a month?

JC: It went from once a month or every three weeks or so…it was never once a week.

ISJAC: Yeah, that’s a lot!! [Laughter]

JC: I also acknowledged that I did not have the chops to write that fast. And, by the way, they paid me for the arrangements.

ISJAC: That’s great of course.

JC: It was kind of shocking that I wrote my first endeavour and I got paid for it. So that was great.  And they not only paid for the chart, they paid for the copying too.

ISJAC: What a tremendous learning experience. To be inside a band like that, to be playing with the band, and hearing all those colours, and the orchestration. Everything is right there for you. As opposed to learning about those things from a purely theoretical standpoint.

JC: I absolutely agree.

ISJAC: Whenever I played saxophone in a big band, I would particularly notice what the trumpets and trombones were doing…. I mean I couldn’t avoid it…they were sitting right behind me [laughs].  But it is a truly amazing story that you started writing while you were in the Basie band!

JC: And, of course, the guys were very helpful. They had excellent writers in the band: Bobby Plater, Eric Dixon, and Dennis Wilson. Dennis was my homey because he was my age. He was a schooled writer because he studied at Berklee, and he would show me things about writing technically. And the other guys in the band would say things to me off the cuff that turned out to be invaluable – things that I think too many writers don’t know or don’t do. For instance, they’d see me working on a score, and that I was frustrated because we just played it and I’d be making some edits and corrections and they’d say, “Hey, what are you doing?” and I’d say, “Oh, this didn’t sound very good and I just want to change this or that”, and they’d say, “Well don’t change that! Just write another one! And the stuff you didn’t like in this one, don’t put it in the new one.”

ISJAC: Great advice.

JC: And that was so spontaneous on their part, but so deep for me and I followed their advice. With their encouragement, I kept writing and writing and writing. Another time, earlier on, one of the writers in the band was looking at a score of mine and he asked, “You write a ‘C’ score?” I replied [hesitating] “Yeah”, and asked me, “Well why?” and I said, “I don’t know” and then he said, “Don’t do that! Write a transposed score.” So I said, “OK” and that was that.

ISJAC: And is that what you do now?

JC: Yes. I write my sketches in C but then I always write transposed scores. Honestly, I’m at the point now where I have an assistant, so I usually write detailed sketches and use shorthand that she understands and can decipher. I’m in a lot of situations now where I have to write very quickly and so having an assistant is very helpful.

Incidentally, when I write a score, I don’t use notation software. I have Sibelius because I thought I should have it but I really don’t use it. I had Finale before that because I thought I might use it, but I have so many shortcuts that the software slows me down. It’s just the way I write.

ISJAC: I totally get that. It’s so much easier to write something on paper rather than have to look on page 135 of the manual to find out how to put something or other on the score for the first time.

JC: Yeah, and also, let’s say I’m writing a more extended piece. I sit at my piano and to my left is my desk and to the left of my desk, are two music stands. Now, I may need to refer to page 12, or 23 and 35 and, if I have to scroll on a computer, and have a couple of screens open, it really slows me down. But I do understand the importance of that technology and all my charts are computer-generated now and it is great to have those files. I do recognize the value of it. Its just that writing-wise, it’s just not the way I work.

ISJAC: And your assistant puts it into the software? Is that what happens?

JC: Yes. She copies them into the software. I’m not the kind of person who writes one line and says, “Here, make this sound like Thad Jones.” [Laughter].  I mean all the notes on the score are my notes.

ISJAC: You mentioned Thad Jones. He was in the Basie band long before you, right?

JC: Yes, long before.

ISJAC: Was he an influence on your writing?

JC: Huge. Yeah, Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Quincy Jones, Billy Byers, Oliver Nelson and Henry Mancini.  I got to work with him [Mancini] in my early days, so I really got to hear his treatment of orchestra and big band and big band with strings and all that. And – I’m sure I’m leaving somebody out – those are some of the people that really had an influence.

ISJAC: That’s a pretty heavy list. I read a story recently about Thad writing on the band bus. I think the story was in that book that came out last year, “50 Years at the Village Vanguard.”4“50 Years at the Village Vanguard (Thad Jones and Mel Lewis at the Village Vanguard) ” by Dave Lisik and Eric Allen available at www.skydeckmusic.com. Do you know that book?

JC: Yes, I know about that. I don’t have that yet.

ISJAC: I haven’t read all of it yet, it’s pretty comprehensive, but at one point one of the members of the band noted that Thad would be writing a score while riding the band bus and that he was able to shut out everything. Just completely absorbed in what he was doing. Apparently the music was for whatever event they were heading to – a recording session or whatever it was. It takes such great concentration to be able to do that with so much going on around you.  Really amazing.

JC: I think that’s something you learn to do, I mean, if you desire to do it, you figure it out. In fact, I got my chops together doing the exact same thing on the Basie bus. I would sit in the back of the bus and write my scores and then, when we got to the concert hall, or wherever we were going, I’d go to the piano to check things. You know, you do write a little differently when you write away from the piano. It’s not that you write more safely, it’s just that you write things that are a little more familiar to you. And so, yeah, I still write that way. At one point, I had a lesson with Johnny Mandel and he encouraged me to write that way because I played him one of the songs I had composed, and he said, “Mmm, did you write that at the piano?” And I thought about it for a moment, and I said, “Yes I did”, and he said, “Yup, sounds like it. You know people don’t sing chord changes, they sing melodies.” And so, whenever possible I try to write away from the piano. That was a major lesson for me. So to this day I write away from the piano and use the piano it to check what I’ve written.

ISJAC: Do you find yourself singing while you write?

JC: Yes. You know, the musicians have to have a chance to breathe when they play or sing what I’m writing.

ISJAC: I’m curious about something that I think every writer faces as they evolve, and that is developing good judgement or taste. You know, how much you decide to put here or put there. Or when there is enough of a particular idea and its time to move on. I guess I’m referring to the intuitive side of things. Finding rhythmic ideas that feel good, sound good and swing. Do you have any thoughts that would be helpful to students or up and coming composer/arrangers that you might want to share?

JC: I’m big on models. I find training wheels are a really good thing because we’ve all got ideas. We’ve all got fantasies. But if you are in the beginning stages of it, there’s a lot that you don’t know. And if you write from rules, it sounds like you are writing from rules.  To free yourself from that you need to put your feet in the shoes of the masters – the people you are interested in and that have influenced you. When you put your feet in their shoes, you go well beyond the analytical level.  You develop a feel for what they are doing. You develop a feel for the phrases and textures and for the apex of the phrase or the piece – and, of course, that’s really what you want. You don’t merely want to write from an analytical, left brain, point of view. You want to naturally flow the way that the music you enjoy listening to does.

I haven’t had that many composition/arranging students but sometimes I believe sincerely that they kind of don’t want to do what I say. And that’s fine…that’s cool…but if someone was studying with me, I’d would have them work on a three-tiered project. The first part would be to find a piece that they like, that’s close to their level. Don’t focus on a ‘level 25’ piece right now. Focus on something with an  ‘11’ or ‘12’ level of complexity. They are going to have to work hard to get it right,  but because it is close to their level it will be an attainable goal. So, for someone who is just starting out writing, I’m not going to send them to a later Thad chart or later Brookmeyer work. I’m going to send them instead to explore a piece they love. It might be Neal Hefti or early Quincy Jones or something like that where the textures are more at their level.

They would start by describing the piece in some detail using words – including describing the moods. Is it an exciting piece? Is it a romantic piece? What does the mood of this music say to you? Because that’s what we are ultimately doing as writers: we’re expressing ourselves and taking those moods that we want to express and attaching sounds to them.  And they would have to describe the structure of the piece. For example, they would describe the intro, where the melody is, who is playing it, what the textures are…just in words. And then they would have to go back and, as best they can, transcribe the notes of the entire piece. There are some options here if the task is too difficult.  It could be that they don’t transcribe the bass line, or only transcribe a sample of the piano voicings, or not transcribe exactly what the drummer is doing with all of his or her limbs. Then the work is not as daunting as it might seem at first.

So that’s the first tier or part of the project, and then the second tier would be that they would have to write their own piece based on what they just analyzed and transcribed.  Of course they can change things, but they should respect the model they’ve just analyzed. So, instead of an 8 bar intro, they might write a 12 bar intro instead for the new piece. They should note things that were particularly noticeable in the piece they transcribed. For example, they might hear that the trumpets were in a certain register and so, in their piece they would write the trumpets in a similar register. It could be that the composer stuck to tensions like 13s and 9s and maybe just occasional alterations to a certain harmonic structure. Well, they should do the same thing. In other words, if you are going to write something in the style of Mozart, you probably shouldn’t use Ravel-like harmony.

And then, the third part of the project would be to write something that has nothing to do with the first two.  You know, whatever you’re feeling – wherever your fantasies take you. So you don’t feel like you’re becoming a carbon copy of that other music.

And then I would have them go through that whole process three or four times. Then they would have a good 12 pieces that they have have really put their heart and soul into. Some of this is analysis based, and some of it is putting your feet in the shoes of another composer and imitating certain aspects of their writing.  And then finally they do whatever they want to do.

Along with that advice I would address three things that I define as gaps in the skills composers or arrangers that I see today. Number one would be transposing. Become comfortable with writing transposed scores. I can’t tell you how many times, having been instructed by writers in the Basie band to do this has saved my bacon.  I’ve been in so many recording situations or rehearsals when I’m standing in front of an orchestra and a hand goes up, the red light is on, and someone says, “John, can you tell me what my note is in the first bar of letter C?” I look and I see that they are playing French horn, and then I have to do an immediate vertical analysis of the score and figure out what that person’s note has to be changed to. Well, someone else could say that they never write a transposed score and still would be able to answer the French horn player’s question, but then, you don’t know what kind of situations you are going to be in and you may have to conduct someone else’s score and that score might be transposed.

Also, I think that the tendency nowadays in education is to allow students to prepare just enough to get through the gig; just enough to get through the recital; just enough to make it through the lesson; just enough to get through the concert and then move on to the next thing. And that’s kind of the nature of what happens in a lot of schools. But if you look at all the things that you feel good about having done, they reflect, I think, over-learning. You’ve done it so many times you don’t have to think about it. It feels really comfortable. But I think that it is too easy in some instances to be satisfied with doing an adequate job –accepting that that was your best effort and then moving on.

Luckily in my life I’ve had enough people who wouldn’t let me do that. You know, Ray Brown told me, (I can’t tell you how many times – maybe hundreds) – he would say to me, “Here’s what you got to do.” And then he would tell me whatever that was and I’d do it! I trusted him. And if I questioned his advice, I’d kind of put those questions aside for the time being. Often, it would take me a certain amount of time – sometimes years – to look back and say, “Oh, that’s why he had me do that!”

ISJAC: Ha! [Both laugh]

JC:  So Ray Brown, and like I said, the guys in the Basie band would give me that kind of advice. Even Basie. At one time, I was really writing a lot and the band was playing more and more of my stuff, and I said to him, “Chief,”  – we used to call him Chief, “ – would you ever consider allowing me to write an album for the band? It would be an honour for me and I would love to do it.” And he kind of looked at the ceiling and looked around and you know, like he wasn’t quite hearing me. So I sort of slithered out of the room and never brought it up again. Well, years later – because I know he heard me – I’d already left the band and I was living in Holland and I found some cassette tapes of some rehearsals and some things I’d done with band, and I’m listening to them and the light bulb went on. And I thought, oh my god, I wasn’t ready. He knew that I wasn’t ready and he allowed me to discover, at some point in life, that I wasn’t ready. He didn’t say ‘no’ to me and he didn’t say ‘yes’ either. He left it alone and that is one example of those lessons that Basie allowed me to learn.

ISJAC: What a wonderful lesson.  I wanted to mention that I had occasion to play some of your charts many years ago while playing piano in a big band, I think in Vancouver, and there were several guest artists – one of them being Diana Krall. I expected her to play piano for her part of the concert and I started to get up and she said, “No, you play,” so I was in the, what I think was the unusual position of playing piano behind her.  I think some of the charts might have been on the From this Moment On recording that you arranged for her. I can’t remember exactly. But one of the things I noticed while I was playing your music was the economy, that’s the word that comes to mind…there wasn’t a note out of place, and there wasn’t too much of anything. It was just right. Everything was clear and beautiful. And I haven’t forgotten that experience. It was a great lesson for me about writing music to accompany a singer, or any other writing for that matter.

JC: Wow, thank you!

ISJAC: It’s so easy to overwrite (I do it all the time!).

JC: Yes, it truly is. [Laughs]. You’re absolutely right and we learn that by…overwriting! There are no shortcuts, you know. Again, I’ve been so lucky that I’ve been around people that have encouraged me and been patient with me as I developed my writing skills. They saw how eager I was and how much I wanted to do it. Nobody said, “You’re going to have to figure this out on your own.” Or, “I don’t have time for you.” It was never that. And that helped me understand the familial relationship that we musicians have with each other, with this community that we are a part of. But the ‘economy’ thing… the older I get, the simpler I want to write. And the reason I want to write simpler is because I am striving for clarity. Even if I’m writing a piece that has a lot of information in it, and has a lot going on, I want there to be a lot of clarity in the textures and the complexities I’m involving myself in.

Here’s an example: I might have a two-fisted chord with 10 or 11 notes in it…oh I guess there would have to be 10, wouldn’t it? [Laughs] Or I guess it could have 11, but anyway, what I’ll do is play a crunchy, thick, dark chord, and I’ll just start lifting fingers and play the chord again with those fingers lifted and if I still get the effect that I’m going for, then I’ll lift another finger and I’ll think, can I eliminate that? And sometimes I think, no, I need that one, and I’ll put my finger back down.

When you write for a vocalist – and Bill Holman said this – it’s almost like taking candy from a baby. A lot of ‘givens’ are already in place. You already know the length of the piece, you already know the key, and you already know the tempo. You already know the time signature. You already know the melody. You know, there are so many givens and you remember the basic rules: enhance the mood and probably before that, don’t step on the singer. Then continue to do what you can to draw the ear toward the vocalist. So with all those parameters known, it makes it pretty easy to work with them and adapt them to your taste. Versus, if someone says,  “I’d like you to write a composition for me – write whatever you want”. Now I have to come up with virtually everything. And even though we love doing that, it’s definitely going to take more time and thought and effort than doing an arrangement for a vocalist.

ISJAC: You encourage those who you are around because that is what others did for you. And with respect to that, I have a question related to your son, Gerald.  I love his playing and everything he does.

JC: Thanks.

ISJAC: I have a daughter and when she was young I decided not to teach her. It was a difficult decision, but I thought it best to separate the dad part from the teacher part. As I was thinking about interviewing you, I thought I’d ask how you approached that with him as he was growing up. Did you teach him, or just encourage him, or…?

JC: Yeah, I think that it was more of the latter. My wife and I supported and encouraged, but we never pushed. And his older sisters, they are a year older than he is, and they both were taken to concerts and there was always music around. Actually, I didn’t have a stereo in the house but they heard a lot of music and knew what was going on. Once that I saw that Gerald was interested in going the music route, I just did my best, like most parents, to supply him with things that hopefully would help him move forward. So it was not only taking him to concerts, but also showing him a melody or showing him a chord that he was trying to figure out or, maybe just chiming in, but then stepping back and leaving him alone. I just didn’t want him to feel pressured. But then, often I’d be in the kitchen cooking dinner and Gerald would be in the other room practicing and he’d be playing a tune that I knew and I’d call out, “No, that’s an A-flat!” [Laughter]. So there’d be moments like that, but for the most part I was, as you say, more encouraging.

ISJAC: Thank you for sharing that. I suppose it was a bit of a departure, but I thought I’d ask you about that.

JC: How old is your daughter?

ISJAC: She turned 41 on New Year’s Eve.  She was into music and played piano and flute, but ultimately she became a graphic designer and art director, which, interestingly enough, is what her grandmother did.

JC: Yeah it’s funny. My daughter hasn’t followed in my wife’s footsteps but is aligned more to her way of thinking…and it’s a combination for sure, but I feel a lot more of my wife’s influence in my daughter in direction than I do in Gerald in a lot of ways. We’re a close-knit family.

ISJAC: I’ve always been fascinated by the great musician families. You mentioned the La Barberas: Pat, John and Joe, and the Jones family, Thad, Hank and Elvin, the Heath brothers, and…the Clayton family too.

JC: You never know!

ISJAC: Before I let you go, are there any current projects, performances or recordings you might like to mention?

JC: Before I do that, I’d like to say I thoroughly enjoyed our chat! Thanks for all of the time you’re putting into this.

I guess you could mention to be on the lookout for a few projects this year. There is possibly/probably a duo release with the wonderful (deceased) pianist, Mulgrew Miller. I’m also discussing releasing or rerecording the Monterey Jazz Festival commission I did, “STORIES OF A GROOVE, Conception, Evolution, Celebration.” It’s one of the largest works I’ve done and I’d like to release it in some fashion. That’s all being discussed. So, everything is percolating! Fingers crossed that it all comes together.

ISJAC: Thanks. What a joy to talk to you!

JC: Likewise.

ISJAC: And, thanks for the lesson! I learned a lot.

JC: Yeah, well I was just passing along what was passed along to me.

ISJAC: Thanks, John.


 

APPENDIX A

Shout chorus from “Splanky” composed for the Count Basie Band and is recorded on “The Atomic Mr. Basie”. Demonstrates ‘triple lead’ orchestration. Lead trumpet, alto saxophone and trombone are doubled at the octave.


About John Clayton:

John Clayton is a natural born multitasker. The multiple roles in which he excels — composer, arranger, conductor, producer, educator, and yes, extraordinary bassist — garner him a number of challenging assignments and commissions. With a Grammy on his shelf and eight additional nominations, artists such as Diana Krall, Paul McCartney, Regina Carter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Gladys Knight, Queen Latifah, and Charles Aznavour vie for a spot on his crowded calendar.

He began his bass career in elementary school playing in strings class, junior orchestra, high school jazz band, orchestra, and soul/R&B groups. In 1969, at the age of 16, he enrolled in bassist Ray Brown’s jazz class at UCLA, beginning a close relationship that lasted more than three decades. After graduating from Indiana University’s School of Music with a degree in bass performance in 1975, he toured with the Monty Alexander Trio (1975-77), the Count Basie Orchestra (1977-79), and settled in as principal bassist with the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra in Amsterdam, Netherlands (1980-85). He was also a bass instructor at The Royal Conservatory, The Hague, Holland from 1980-83.

In 1985 he returned to California, co-founded the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra in 1986, rekindled the The Clayton Brothers quintet, and taught part-time bass at Cal State Long Beach, UCLA and USC. In 1988 he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California Thornton School of Music, where he taught until 2009. Now, in addition to individual clinics, workshops, and private students as schedule permits, John also directs the educational components associated with the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Centrum Festival, and Vail Jazz Party.

Career highlights include arranging the ‘Star Spangled Banner” for Whitney Houston’s performance at Super Bowl 1990 (the recording went platinum), playing bass on Paul McCartney’s CD “Kisses On The Bottom,” arranging and playing bass with Yo-Yo Ma and Friends on “Songs of Joy and Peace,” and arranging playing and conducting the 2009 CD “Charles Aznavour With the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra,” and numerous recordings with Diana Krall, the Clayton Brothers, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz, Orchestra, Milt Jackson, Monty Alexander and many others.

Website: http://www.johnclaytonjazz.com

 

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. The Amsterdam Philharmonic.
2. Recorded on The Atomic Mr. Basie. (YouTube video posted by Warner Bros.) “Which is “the 6th most critically acclaimed album of 1958, the 25th most acclaimed of the 1950s, and the 837th most acclaimed of all time, based on an aggregation of hundreds of critics’ lists from around the world”. Wikipedia.
3. See the Appendix at the end of the article for an score excerpt showing the ‘triple lead’ approach.
4. “50 Years at the Village Vanguard (Thad Jones and Mel Lewis at the Village Vanguard) ” by Dave Lisik and Eric Allen available at www.skydeckmusic.com.
Artist Blog

Michael Phillip Mossman: On Arranging

When I teach arranging at Queens College I like to use lots of analogies, mostly having to do with cooking or architecture. As musicians it’s very easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of the music and lose our connection with the human experience. Everyone eats and everyone needs a place to live so cooking and building make for good points of reference. Particularly, I think of arranging as preparing a meal for friends. If I knew I had a group of vegans coming over for dinner I could buy the choicest cut of meat available and grill it to perfection yet my dinner would be a failure. Similarly, if I had a group of cattle ranchers over, tofu as the main course might disappoint. So before I start a project I like to take some time to think about who will be involved and what would fulfill or exceed our needs. What can I prepare that will bring out the best in all the participants? These include the performers, sometimes a featured guest artist, the audience, the promoters, perhaps a publisher and certainly myself.

In some cases thought alone will get me there but in other cases I need to do significant homework to get to know the participants better. In this way I can create something original yet take into account the particular talents and abilities of the people involved. This is similar to the architect who designs an house based on its setting, the surrounding environment, the needs of the owner and those of the town while still staying true to his/her own standards of design and style.

The homework process isn’t always easy.

My first experiences as a professional arranger came writing for Mario Bauza and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. I was the jazz soloist in the trumpet section and was probably one of the least savvy when it came to understanding how to arrange music for a band with an Afro-Cuban rhythm section. I had studied composition with Wendell Logan at Oberlin Conservatory and had taken arranging lessons with Don Sebesky in New York so I had some idea how to write but was way out of my depth when it came to these styles at this level of collective expertise. In addition to the technical issues there were cultural and personal skills to learn as well. We used to rehearse in the basement of Boy’s Harbor, an institution in East Harlem. Everything about these rehearsals was inconvenient. Getting there from Brooklyn was inconvenient. Waiting for everyone to show up was inconvenient. Arguing over the figures and whether they were in clave was inconvenient. Some of the band members were real characters with musical talent but had odd personal traits. There were many egos as well to navigate amongst the musicians, whose approval of the music meant a chart’s adoption or rejection. Inconvenient!

Its much easier to just work everything out in your head and enter the music into a notation or sequencing program and just hope the musicians play their parts right.

But the magic in music is when all these inconvenient individuals bring all their voices and opinions together and we work through difficulties and possibilities together. The wisdom and experience of each musician in that band, along with the opportunity Mario gave to me as a young arranger were among the greatest gifts one can receive. The extended family that was Mario Bauza’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra taught me how to arrange for that band by sharing their knowledge. Bobby Sanabria showed me numerous bell patterns to learn and recordings to listen to. Victor Paz shared his unique philosophy of what makes for good section writing in that context. Patato Valdez reminded me how much deeper the tradition was than could be captured in any chart. Still, when I arranged a melody given me by Mario in a style that was a bit off center from the band’s repertoire, they trusted me.

Example track “Lourdes’ Lullaby” from album 944 Columbus:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLxocqgVJY8

The sharing process is not always pain-free! Once I transcribed a vocorder recording Joe Zawinul gave me to orchestrate for the album “My People.” I didn’t understand the groove under it but was too timid to ask for an explanation. I wrote it out mistaking where the downbeats in the bars were! Yikes! But the experience reminded me never to be either too fearful or pompous to ask questions and seek help from performers. Making and correcting errors, however frustrating and sometime embarrassing is essential for growth and is sometime necessary do arrive at the best work possible for the people involved. I regularly consult with performers about bass lines, piano figures, percussion breaks, section orchestration, etc. In the process I have learn new techniques and also history, language and a greater cultural awareness through these personal interactions. Personality is the essence of style! An orchestra is made up of people, not just instruments.

As I teach my students: “The audience does not hear your chart. They hear people playing your chart.” If the music fits the performers and brings out their best, that’s what the audience hears. (Perhaps the best example I have experienced as a performer is when I have played with Jimmy Heath’s band! Love is in every part in every chart.)

Another part of the homework process is transcription, including transcribing grooves (including bass lines, cymbal patterns and drum, piano voicing styles, particular harmonic languages) and melodic construction. A recent album I did with the WDR bigband with Mohktar Samba and friends as guest artists required a great deal of transcription. The Senegalese and Morrocan grooves we were using were new to me and to learn them meant a massive immersion into listening and transcribing as much as I needed to get the grooves right. As I teach my students: Get ahold of any material you can to learn what you need to get the groove right so what you do with the winds doesn’t crush the groove! In this case Mohktar had a book with examples of the grooves, recordings and video to check out. And I asked him questions, directly, which is by far the best way to learn. A ten-minute conversation with a real artist is worth hours of “Googling” stuff!

Still we had to resolve issues in rehearsals, which involved listening to one another and negotiating solutions. More human stuff! Inconvenient! But the growth offered by such work is enormous and mirrors the very process we need in all forms of human engagement.

Link to example, WDR rehearsal with Mohktar Samba, directed by Michael Philip Mossman:

As terrifying and painful transcribing unfamiliar material can be, the practice leads rewarding artistic growth. The truly terrifying thought for me is churning out the same kind of stuff the rest of my life!

While composing and arranging can be a solitary pursuit, learning to share ideas and collaborate can also lead to larger opportunities such as ballet, Broadway and film scoring. It can be inconvenient sometimes, to bend your ideas to include the needs and opinions of others. But with practice their knowledge and experience can become yours in the process. Here is a clip I scored for the animated film “Chico and Rita,” nominated for an Academy Award in 2012. The director, Fernando Trueba is a walking encyclopedia of Afro-Cuban jazz and its historical context. Working with him was as much a learning experience as a creative one. Music is essential to most movies. Yet the role of the composer/arranger/orchestrator is subject to the needs of the action on screen and succeds or fails on that basis.

Clip from Chico and Rita:

Perhaps not as flashy as film scoring and recording albums is the kind of collaboration I do with my publisher, Hal Leonard (which is really the people who work at Hal Leonard… corporations are made of people!) I have gained an enormous amount of respect for the work publishers do to keep music strong in our schools. To produce work for a school market means listening to the needs of directors and state boards of educators. This can be the most difficult of all for creative artists! Arranging under technical and range restrictions is very challenging. Writing for Jon Faddis and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band was easy in comparison… they could play anything! But answering the needs of a director in rural school district who may or may not have a strong lead trumpeter or who might have a freshman bassist means preparing music that can teach as well as sound good. If there is anything I am proud of its seeing videos of bands across the US playing charts I arranged and learning how to play a Mambo or Partido Alto. Without music in schools we have no public to enjoy hearing jazz in the first place! No question, it is inconvenient to get a score back with 50 questions about articulations, range decisions and rhythmic quantization. But the expertise and experience of editors I have shared has raised my work considerably and has helped me become a better professor of arranging!

So, in summation, we all celebrate creativity and innovation. Individual achievement in the arts is what we strive for. But my long-winded rant has been one of listening and learning from others in the pursuit of a collective result. It’s the Yin and Yang of jazz arranging: We strive for individuality but we depend upon the work of others to realize what we have created. Gaining the full value of the performers and the satisfaction of our audience depends on our level of understanding and respect for their work and needs as well.

About the Author:

 

Michael Philip Mossman has been active on the international scene since the age of 17. And has recorded with his own groups and with a virtual “who’s who” of the music industry.

Michael was nominated for a 2013 Grammy Award for “Best Instrumental Arrangement” for his “Afro-Latin Ellington Suite.” Michael has composed and arranged music for the films “Bossa Nova” and “Chico and Rita,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 2012. His ballet “Beneath the Mask” was performed by Jon Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Orchestra with the Deeply Rooted Dance Company. His ballet, La Cova do Rey Cintolo was premiered in 2010 in Mondoñedo, Spain.

Mr. Mossman has conducted the Bilbao Symphonic Orchestra in Spain, and has composed and arranged scores for the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Louisiana Philharmonic, the Tri-Cities Symphony, Joe Henderson’s Grammy winning Big Band album, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, the Count Basie Orchestra, The Charles Mingus Orchestra, Tito Puente, Mario Bauza, Slide Hampton and the Jazz Masters Orchestra, Paquito D’Rivera, the UMO Orchestra of Finland, the NDR Big Band of Hamburg, WDR of Cologne, HR Bigband of Frankfurt, HGM Bigband of Zagreb, Danish Radio Big Band, the Andalucia Latin Jazz Big Band, Heineken Jazz Festival Orchestra in Puerto Rico, Granada Bigband, Sedajazz Latin Jazz Ensemble, and Ray Barretto’s New World Spirit.

Following stints as lead trumpet with the Machito Orchestra, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, Michael became the musical director of Blue Note Record’s “young lion” group, Out of the Blue. He recorded four albums for Blue Note with this group before joining the Horace Silver Quintet. Michael has toured and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Joe Henderson, McKoy Tyner, Gerry Mulligan, Joe Zawinul, Slide Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Jon Faddis, George Gruntz, Bob Mintzer, Steve Turre, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Tom Pierson, The Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra, the Charles Mingus Orchestra, Benny Carter, the Gil Evans Orchestra, and the Count Basie Orchestra. Michael has played lead trumpet with the Michel Camilo Bigband, the Jon Faddis Orchestra, the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra and the Jimmy Heath Bigband among many others.

Michael has also been a key performer in Latin Jazz since his days with Machito. Mr. Mossman has performed and recorded with Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Chico O’Farrill, Ray Barretto, Daniel Ponce, Israel “Cachao” Lopez, Paquito D’Rivera, Bebo Valdez and Michel Camilo (including a screen appearance in the motion picture “Two Much”). Michael is featured in director Fernando Trueba’s highly acclaimed documentary on contemporary Latin Jazz, “Calle 54” as both performer and commentator. He also served as arranger and trumpet soloist for the legendary innovator of Latin Jazz, Mario Bauza and his Afro Cuban Jazz Orchestra.

Michael is featured as lead trumpet and arranger on the Grammy winning album, “Song for Chico,” by the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra as well as on “Un Noche Inolvidable” and “40 Acres and a Burro.” Solo releases by Michael Philip Mossman include “Springdance,” “Mama Soho,” “The Orisha Suite,” “Missa Afro-Cubana,” “Soul con Timba Live at Bohemian Cavern.”

Michael, a Yamaha Artist, is currently Professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College in New York City. Michael’s music is published by the Hal Leonard Corporation.

 

 

Artist Blog

Thinking Forward (Blog 17)

by Paul Read, ISJAC Artist Blog Curator

This month’s blog is a blog about blogging (say that three times very fast)… and the ISJAC blog in particular. This is our 17th entry… can you believe how tempus fugit?

A little background to start with:

When asked to curate the ISJAC Artist Blog a year and half ago, I agreed because I am of the opinion that composing and arranging involve life-long learning. And having a place on this site where jazz composers/arrangers might share ideas, experiences, or muse/opine about anything at all seemed (and still seems) like a terrific idea to me. I’ve been composing and arranging music in a variety of genres and styles since I was about 16 or 17 (I turn 70 next February…Yikes!!) I have had wonderful teachers over the years (there’s a list in my Mar 1/17 article), and like most music creators, I find I am constantly learning – by doing, by studying scores, by listening, improvising, experimenting, and so on. Thus, I’m sure you will understand why I have really enjoyed the blogs that have been posted so far and have found them both  inspirational and informative.

The first thing I did back in mid-2016, was to draw up an initial wish-list of potential contributors – an obvious first step. Then I started to look for contact info and/or emails for those that I didn’t have on hand. The first iteration of the list was chock full of highly accomplished, skilled and knowledgeable musicians – all of them personal musical ‘heros’. The list is long and I keep amending it and appending to it. It will be some time before I have made contact with everyone. But in the past 16 months it has been tremendous to have so many great musicians agree to contribute – and some have written more than once. Scroll down to see a list of the 16 contributors we have had since John La Barbera posted our first entry on July 1, 2016. We trust you have been enjoying what they have had to say and also the many resources accompanying the articles – many include scores, excerpts, links to video and audio files.

We invite your comments:

So now we have arrived at month 17 and are wondering how the blog is being received by our members and other readers. We don’t have any clear picture, as there has been very little (as in, almost no) feedback so far. As a result, we thought it might be a good idea to ask for a little help from you and to ask you to tell us briefly what you think of it so far.  I expect that this will be very helpful as ISJAC has quite a few members now so we expect the feedback will indicate many different points of view. Please consider leaving a short comment at the bottom of this article, or any previous blog.  Or, send an email and let us know what you think about the directions we are taking. If you have suggestions that would make this blog stronger or of greater interest to you, please include those as well. Your note doesn’t have to be more than one sentence or can even be point form.

Why you may find the blog helpful:

I know I’m not alone when I say that, when composing, I sometimes experience a sense of not knowing what the heck I am doing. Being an habitual deconstructionist, I used to find this bothersome. But somewhere along the line, I learned through experience, and from other composers, with skills far superior to mine, that this state of mind is not unusual at all – in fact, when it occurs, it best be embraced. We know that music theory is something that is created through close examination of what composers write. Not the other way around. As I am sure is the case with you, I study and analyze scores and recordings so I can find out as much as I can about why and how the music works so well. Man, there is so much to learn. That may be why I value this blog so much.

Before Closing:

The 16 previous articles have been stellar and, in my opinion, they make for great reading and offer helpful information and insights. We feel they provide valuable resources for anyone involved in this great art form. Some of the past blogs have been ‘how-to articles’ while others have been more personal, historical, analytical or general in scope. Some bloggers have offered individual accounts of their unique writing processes. As curator, I am very lucky to be able to see them before anyone else does J. We are looking forward to future entries and hope you will check back to see the December 1 article (blogger TBA).

In the meantime, I hope you might contact me at pread@isjac.org. I hope to hear from you soon.

We would appreciate your passing along our website address to friends and colleagues. It might be good to mention that membership in ISJAC is free!!

OK, here is a list of our previous ISJAC blogs:

Enjoy!

Paul

7/1/16 John La Barbera On Arranging – Part 1
8/1/16 John La Barbera On Arranging – Part 2
9/1/16 Adam Benjamin on Jazz Composition
10/1/16 David Berger’s Answers to Common Jazz Arranging Questions
11/1/16 Rick Lawn: Remembering Manny Albam
12/1/16 Bill Dobbins and Concerto for Jazz Orchestra: the Use of a Twelve-Tone Row in a Large Scale Jazz Composition
1/1/17 Rick Lawn: Lessons I’ve Learned
2/1/17 Florian Ross: Cooking & Eggs
3/1/17 Paul Read: Minor and Major Seconds, 1959, Transcribing, Score Study and other Reflections
4/1/17 Terry Promane: Give Me 5
5/1/17 Asuka Kakitani: My personal perspective on composing
6/1/17 Fred Hersch: A Composition Exercise to Try Today
7/1/17 Bob Mintzer: The Ever Evolving Writing Process
8/1/17 Adam Benjamin: Some Thoughts on Listening
9/1/17 Ryan Keberle: Eight Things I’ve Learned About Jazz Composition and Arranging as a Freelance Trombonist
10/1/17 Scott Robinson: Following the Music

 

About the Author:

PAUL READ (pianist, composer, arranger) lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Currently he curates the blog for the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers. He was a member of the Humber College Music Faculty in Toronto from 1979 to 1991, Program Coordinator there from 1982 to 1987, and Director of Music from 1987 to 1991. In 1991, he founded degree programs in jazz studies at the University of Toronto (Mus. Bac., M. Mus. and DMA) where he was Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies and following that, Director of Graduate Jazz Studies. He was Canada’s Representative on the Board of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) from 2002-2008, and was the founding Director of the National Music Camp (NMC) Jazz Program (1987 to 2006). He has also taught in the summers at the Ken Kistner Jazz Camp (Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan) and the Prairielands Jazz Camp (Regina, Saskatchewan). He is now retired from education.

Selected Recordings:

The Dance Never Ends – with Trish Colter (1998, At Long Last Love  – Trish Colter (2002), The Heart of Summer – Paul Read Quartet featuring Scott Robinson (2004) Now available on cdbaby, and Arc-en-ciel  (Addo Records) – Paul Read Orchestra (2013) Now available on cdbaby.

Awards:

2017 Inducted into the MusicFest Canada Hall of Fame, 2015 Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Music (Toronto Arts Foundation), 2008 Paul Read Orchestra (PRO) nominated for a Canadian National Jazz Award, 2007-2008 Awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Recording Grant, 1993 Awarded the University of Toronto Senior Alumni Award for Innovation in Teaching and finally, 1972 Winner of the Rob McConnell/Gordon Delamont Arranging & Composition Award.

Paul’s Website: www.paulread.ca

Artist Blog

Scott Robinson: Following the Music

There are times when I am reminded of the power that creative music can have in our world.

Living in the New York City area, I confess I am in a bit of a bubble. Creative opportunities abound here, with many inspiring colleagues, and even the most adventurous music finds eager listeners who usually know a thing or two about what we are trying to do.

But this music is a hardy traveler, with a well-stamped passport. She visits many places, opens many doors. She makes friends easily, sleeps around, and has children of mixed heritage. As a devoted servant of this music, I follow her where she leads… and she can lead me to some unlikely places. My trip to Pakistan is a recent case in point.

PAKISTAN?” you say? That’s exactly what I said when my old friend and colleague, bassist Pat O’Leary, first called me about going there. His wife Gabrielle Stravelli – a very fine singer — was putting a group together for a State Department-funded trip, and they wanted me to go. For a guy who dreams of playing in every country on Earth (I’ve made it to about 60… long ways to go!), this was certainly enticing… but also somewhat concerning. What about safety and security? What were the risks?

My wife didn’t want me to go… and I don’t blame her a bit. But I gave it a lot of thought. Yes, I felt nervous about being in potential targets like big Western-style hotels (think Mumbai) and consulates (Benghazi). But, on reflection, I realized that I feel just as much a target every time I enter the Lincoln Tunnel right here at home. And there had just recently been a terror attack in Times Square. Maybe I was more at risk right here in New York.

And there’s something else: I feel a sense of duty when it comes to this music. She needs to be shared… to be taken out into the world. Not just to the comfortable, well-known destinations, but sometimes off the worn path, to places where she may risk being greeted with blank incomprehension… or even hostility. This is part of what we do. It’s a part of the job description for anyone wanting to continue what Louis Armstrong started. Sometimes you have to follow the music where she leads. It’s a bit like walking the dog – and then realizing at a certain point that the dog is really walking you.

I decided to go. My brother was stunned: “You’re going to go play jazz, in Pakistan… with a woman?!” I was reminded of my own reaction when my friend Bob Belden told me he was going to Tehran to play some jazz concerts. “C’mon, really? Iran? You’re joking.” Nonetheless, he later told me he had an incredible experience and was very well-received, and sent me an amazing photo of his Iranian audience cheering and waving.

My own trip was equally eye-opening. We travelled with armed guards, and every venue — including schools, hotels, and TV stations, as well as diplomatic facilities — was likewise under armed protection. Our performances were all by invitation only, with no advertising or advance exposure on social media, in order not to attract the wrong kind of attention. But never once did I feel any hint of hostility, whether under those controlled conditions or just out in the street. In fact, warmth and friendliness were easy to find. Visiting the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore one day, we were shyly approached by a group of schoolgirls in traditional Muslim garb who wanted their photos taken with us (we were the exotic ones), and before long we were all smiling, laughing, and taking “selfies” together. As we said our goodbyes, their teacher came up to us with incredible graciousness and sincerity. “You have no idea how much that meant to our girls,” he said. “They will not forget your kindness.”

Our first performance took place in a little arts café in Islamabad, run by two very industrious and dedicated individuals who are devoted to the idea of bringing such small venues back to the Pakistani landscape where, I was told, they once proliferated. Known as the Foundation for Arts, Culture and Education, or FACE (the word “music” being omitted due to the belief in certain quarters that music is forbidden by Islamic Law), this little venue serves as an art gallery, café, performance space and educational center all in one. It quickly filled with a small but enthusiastic and diverse audience, eager to hear – yes — music. We played a short set first, after which we were treated to an amazing duo performance by two Pakistani virtuosos of the sitar and tablas. Then, the two groups joined together and gave an impromptu collaborative performance, the kind of thing that could only have taken place among improvising musicians (the Pakistanis are very fluent improvisers). This was a revelation, hearing these two disparate cultures meet in the realm of sound and creativity, the two musics intertwining like living things. The people loved it.

Later, socializing up on the rooftop lounge, I met a Pakistani gentleman who described himself as a documentary filmmaker, and I was struck by the depth of his gratitude and sincerity. “I want to thank you,” he said earnestly, “for bringing your music here, to this harsh environment.” I asked him what he meant by “harsh environment.” “We always loved music in Pakistan,” he told me, “it is in our blood. But now, it is very difficult for music here. Many feel that it is forbidden. This is very sad; we need music here. It is an important part of our culture and history.” I asked him what he thought was the solution to this state of affairs, and was rather stunned by his response. He thought for a moment, then looked me in the eye and said, “We must fight against religion.”

I know this answer will not sit well with some. But I found it remarkable to hear such candor on the rooftop of a tiny arts café in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (that is the country’s full name) — and ironically coming from a man whose appearance, to be perfectly frank, would probably be unfairly associated with the words “Islamic extremist” in the minds of many Americans. It caused me to wonder what sort of risks some of these people might be taking, both to present and to partake of this music here in this “harsh environment”… perhaps greater than any perceived risks I may have taken to bring it here. In fact, there is a long history of people taking extraordinary risks to embrace American jazz, in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and elsewhere. On my first trip to Japan I was standing outside a noodle shop in Nagoya with alto great Jerry Dodgion. The proprietor recognized Jerry and ran outside to beckon us in, enthusing about having once seen Jerry with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. “I love jazz, I love American jazz musicians,” he gushed while plying us with food and drink. Then, “I have something to show you,” and off he scurried… returning moments later with a tabletop wind-up Victrola and a small stack of 78s! To my astonishment, a few cranks later the sound of Louis Armstrong was filling the room. “My father kept these records hidden during World War II,” he told us proudly. “If you were caught with American music, you could go to prison… or worse.”

This was the moment that I began to comprehend the power that this music can actually have. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, hearing this glorious sound come out of a fragile disk spinning at our table, and thinking, this is who won the war. The generals, the battleships, the emperor are all long gone, but Louis Armstrong and his music came through it all unscathed. The guns and bombs long ago fell silent, but this music still speaks. It lives on… not just in New York, not just in America… but here in this little shop in Japan, where someone cherished and preserved it, and took considerable risks to pass it on to his son. That is real power: the power to move minds and hearts in troubled times, to serve as a kind of antidote to the ills and evils of the world… and ultimately to outlast them.

The timing of our trip to Pakistan proved to be fortuitous in just this regard. The very day we arrived, our American president delivered a speech containing some remarks about Pakistan which touched off quite a bit of ill will, and were considered by many Pakistanis to be threatening. The backlash could be seen daily in the Pakistani newspaper editorials. Anti-American street demonstrations sprang up and persisted for days, resulting in cancellations of several of our events due to security concerns and an overabundance of caution. And yet, whenever we performed, we were met with warmth and gratitude. There was the young woman in a head scarf, eager to tell me how excited she was to be hearing American jazz for the very first time… the astonished young man staring at my instrument, asking me what it was – having never seen a saxophone before (he was not alone!)… the star leader of the “Qawwali” band we collaborated with who, after a very long rehearsal with Gabrielle, told her it was the first time he’d ever sung with a woman… the music teacher and instrument collector who spent seven hours with me the day we met (taking me to his school, his home, out to eat — even buying me a set of Pakistani clothes!), and who wrote the next day after being up half the night listening to my music, “You’re a great musician and I am your student and fan… I love your music from the core.”

This is why we’re here, I thought: to offer up our music and let it serve as an antidote, and to let its presence, and ours, bring commonality and goodwill. And not only our music, but the Pakistani songs we learned and performed as well. We touched a small number of people, I know… but they will carry the experience away with them. They will tell their families, their friends, that all Americans do not despise them. And they will remember.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic reaction I received came during a workshop we gave in the sweltering, smelly basement of a cultural center in Karachi, when I was asked to introduce my instrument to the crowd. “This is my saxophone,” I told them. “We’ve been together a very long time, more than forty years. She is much more socially adept than I am, much better at making friends. Smarter, too! And she likes to travel. So by staying close to her, I have been able to meet many wonderful people all over the world. And now I am very happy because, today, she has brought me here to meet all of you.” The place erupted. Music wins again.

I intend to continue to follow this music for as long as she will put up with me. I seem to show my age, but my 100-plus-year-old escort does not. Ageless, she has survived countless calamities, injustices, and upheavals, and will doubtless outlast many more… yet her voice is as clear and sweet as ever. As she trots around the world and makes herself perfectly at home, I am grateful to still be allowed to tag along. I hope we’ll run into you somewhere.

 

About the Author:

Scott Robinson and his unusual reed and brass instruments have been heard in some 60 nations and on 260 recordings with a cross-section of jazz greats representing nearly every imaginable style of the music, including Bob Brookmeyer, Tom Harrell, Frank Wess, Maria Schneider, Anthony Braxton, Joe Lovano, Ron Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Ruby Braff and Roscoe Mitchell. Primarily a tenor saxophonist, Scott once placed directly below the great Sonny Rollins in the DownBeat Readers Poll. As a composer, his works range from solo performance pieces to chamber and symphonic works. He has been a writer of essays and liner notes, an invited speaker before the Congressional Black Caucus, and a Jazz Ambassador for the U.S. State Department. Scott releases highly adventurous music on his ScienSonic Laboratories label, and his Doctette (celebrating pulp adventure hero Doc Savage) gave what The Boston Globe called “the most quirky and delightful set” of the 2015 Newport Jazz Festival. See www.sciensonic.net.

Artist Blog

Ryan Keberle: Eight Things I’ve Learned About Jazz Composition and Arranging as a Freelance Trombonist

This was a difficult writing assignment for me. As I tried to decide what to write, I kept thinking about the wealth of resources that aspiring jazz arrangers have at their disposal, including the brilliant pedagogical methods books from people like Ray Wright, Don Sebesky, Bill Dobbins, David Berger, etc.  And, as the ISJAC Blog has made readily apparent, there is also a wealth of knowledge possessed by a new generation of jazz composers like Darcy James Argue and Adam Benjamin who are eager to share their knowledge in eloquent and insightful ways. So I asked myself, what do I bring to the world of composition and arranging that perhaps others may not? Although I’ve had many wonderful teachers over the years and have read many insightful books on the subject, the lessons I most frequently refer to in my own compositional and arranging pursuits come from the enormous amount of time I’ve spent playing trombone in a big band, large ensemble, or even in small groups. This brings up an important yet slightly off-topic discussion on why performance experience is even more valuable than most people recognize in the training of educators. But, we’ll have to save that discussion for another time. For now, I’ll focus on lessons learned that may or may not be included in your typical jazz arranging textbook, or concepts that, when experienced playing in an ensemble, might present themselves differently thus allowing for an alternative point of view.

1. Your Music Should be Fun to Play!! (Learned from every great composer and arranger whose music I’ve had the pleasure to play, including Duke, Sy Oliver, Mingus, JJ, Oliver Nelson, Gil Evans, David Berger, Maria Schneider, Pedro Giraudo, Darcy James Argue, Miguel Zenon, Sufjan Stevens, et al.)

This seems like such an easy thing to do and, really, if it’s foremost on your mind throughout the creative process, it can be! However, with so much to think about and to consider while composing and arranging, I find that this lesson, (which in my mind is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING when it comes to creating quality music), is oftentimes the first to get overlooked. It’s important to define what I mean by “fun”. I DON’T mean the music has to be tongue-in-cheek or sound like cartoon soundtracks. Sometimes, by just simply providing eight measures of solo improvisation you can make your music fun and satisfying to one of your performers. Fun music means music that is rewarding to play. And, when writing for a highly trained jazz musician, this means music that challenges yet still allows for a performance of swinging, grooving, beautiful music that sounds easy and natural. I’ve played plenty of music that is extremely challenging yet, even when you and your bandmates nail it, the music that results still doesn’t feel good, and probably doesn’t sound all that good either. This brings up an interesting challenge because the ideal solution I’m suggesting is not to simplify what you’ve written or eliminate the more challenging passages. Instead, this challenge is best addressed by singing or, even better, playing through the passage in question while listening for those moments of uncertainty. Once you’ve identified the problem spot it’s usually pretty easy to find a more natural alternative, and that allows for the preservation of the larger musical idea. Other ways I’ve found to make music more “fun” is to incorporate improvisation in non-soloistic ways (see #3 below); write for each instrument using prototypical techniques and phrases; avoid extended periods of rest for the same person; write music with rhythmic nuance (see #2 below); or write music to be performed at a Halloween party for pet owners and their pets (that is my horrible attempt at a joke and also an actual gig I played once…!)

2. Rhythm is Everything (Also learned from every master jazz composer and arranger.)

Whether its swing, straight 8ths, 80’s pop ballads, or Venezuelan 5/8 merengues, this lesson still holds true. Rhythm should always be first and foremost on your mind. And what about rhythm should one think about? That’s easy. One simple question can be your guide throughout the creative process: Does the rhythm FEEL good? It’s important to note that this question and process relies on the composer possessing a certain baseline level of fluency in the musical language and genre within they’re working. Assuming this is the case, the ability to FEEL a rhythm’s personality is of the utmost importance when performing and composing good music. A few specific compositional techniques that I have found to help in creating a rhythm of quality that feels good are a balance of syncopated and downbeat-oriented rhythms; rhythms that contain unexpected moments of movement or elements of surprise; rhythms that contain patterns, both simple and complex; and rhythms that reflect the rhythmic language of the genre.

Something else I often think about is striving for rhythms that sound like they were improvised or rhythms that have a unique personality. Imagine the way Louis Armstrong or John Coltrane would play the melody of a jazz standard. Almost every phrase will have personalized changes – primarily rhythmic variations – making the final product sound a whole lot different from the way it’s notated in a Real Book. (Oh, Real Books. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them!)

3. Strive for Balance Between the Composed and Improvised (Learned from David Berger)

My definition of a jazz composer is someone who writes music that balances the pre-composed with improvisation in their music. This is something very much on my mind these days given that the more improvisation one organically incorporates into their arrangement the more fun the musicians will have playing it (full circle back to Lesson #1 above!). Here’s something I wrote in 2015 that demonstrates how improvisation can be incorporated into a jazz arrangement in unorthodox and creative ways. I’ll let you figure out how much of this is improvised, but as a hint, I’ll tell you that with the exception of the intro from 0:00 to 1:35 most of what the band plays is improvised (and even this section we now improvise during live gigs). Yet, you’ll notice that there is very little “solo improvisation.”

“I Thought I Knew” – music by Ryan Keberle, lyrics by Mantsa Miro

And now, here is the trumpet part to give you an idea of what was pre-composed and what the brilliant Mike Rodriguez added. (Which is always way more hip than anything I could have come up with!)

  

4. Transitions, Transitions, Transitions (Learned from Maria Schneider)

So much of what we’re taught in jazz education deals with details. How to properly notate a chord, the best scale to use over a certain chord (a chord that lasts for all of one measure!), how to feel a 4 over 3 polyrhythm, etc. As a result of this attention to detail, many jazz musicians are challenged when it comes to really hearing and appreciating those big picture aspects of music. One of those aspects is how a composer/arranger travels in real time from one unique musical moment to the next. A great example of the importance of transitions can be heard in Maria Schneider’s Hang Gliding, perhaps her best-known work. So much time is spent studying Maria’s orchestrational techniques, maybe because these are things that are more easily written and discussed. However, I can tell you first-hand that Maria’s primary focus when work-shopping a new piece are the transitions in her arrangement. And there are many different types of transitions – harmonic, rhythmic, metric, timbral, etc. Below, I’ve highlighted just a few of the magnificent transitional moments from Maria’s Hang Gliding.

“Hang Gliding” – Maria Schneider

Transitions occur at 1:05-1:12; 2:38-2:50; 3:36-3:42; 4:10-4:20; 5:48-5:52 and 6:48-7:03 (and that’s just the first half of the piece!). I hope students will spend some time studying how and why these moments are so important in addition to the other brilliant but more quantifiable aspects of Maria’s musical language.

Below is a piece  I recently composed that came to me in one of those magical moments of clarity as an almost fully formed song. The entire piece was written in just one afternoon of improvisation at the piano. However, I found the arranging process to be quite difficult as I struggled with how to turn one chorus of a song into a fully formed arrangement for my band, Catharsis, to perform. It took finding the proper transitional material that allowed for this piece to finally come to life.

“Become the Water” – music by Ryan Keberle, lyrics by Mantsa Miro

5. It’s All About Counterpoint (Learned from Sufjan Stevens and Pedro Giraudo)

This can mean many different things since counterpoint exists in at least three different general forms: melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic. This lesson really made an impact on me, so much so that I formed a band called Catharsis to focus almost exclusively on counterpoint, or on the interaction between individual musicians all playing single-note instruments. While melodic counterpoint is the type most familiar to musicians (thanks to years of academic coursework!), I find that rhythmic counterpoint is equally important when it comes to composing or arranging in a jazz context. The beauty of counterpoint is that it inherently creates a sense of layered complexity which allows the composer to streamline each single idea thus making for music that is more natural and fun to play (see Lesson #1 above). In fact, with counterpoint, sometimes the simplest of ideas can provide enough interest.

Here’s a great example of the power of counterpoint even when using simple musical ideas over a simple chord progression.

“All the Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands” – Sufjan Stevens

And, here’s another great example of a more traditional Bachian contrapuntal approach in a Latin jazz setting from the brilliant musical mind of Pedro Giraudo.

“Contrapuntren”

6. Create Your Own Language (Learned from Gil Evans)

I think it goes without saying that every definitive composer AND performer, from all genres, possesses a unique voice. This is something for all aspiring composers and performers to be aware of, but it’s also something that can present a clear and present danger when one consciously tries to force the issue, typically leading to unnatural or dishonest music. I hear quite a bit of this nowadays with young musicians thinking they’ve created a unique sound by combining different influences, genres, instruments, etc… I think Mark Twain said it best: “There’s no such thing as a new idea.” But more importantly, quick fixes are rarely, if ever, meaningful and enduring. The most beautiful and astonishingly unique voices in jazz are those who find their language by drawing from the tradition without feeling the need to reinvent the wheel. In my opinion, there is absolutely no arranger with a more definitive voice than that of Gil Evans and yet there is very little he did that hadn’t been done before! Nevertheless, the way in which he takes the tradition and puts his own beautiful magical spin on it all still leaves me breathless. The level of detail; melodic, harmonic, AND rhythmic sophistication; and sheer musical beauty sets Gil’s arrangements apart from all others I’ve played. And as you might expect, the capacity for this music to inspire and impart wisdom seems almost infinite and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface. After playing his music a great deal over the past 10 years, it seems to me that it is, in fact, those details that give Gil’s music so much color, so much beauty, integrity, and in the end, such a unique personality.

7. Focus on making your MUSIC good before arranging and orchestrating (from Miguel Zenon)

No matter how great your arranging and orchestration chops, the MUSIC has to stand on its own in order for the final product to delight and satisfy. This might sound obvious when you hear it but it’s such an easy thing to overlook when one begins with the details rather than with the big picture. Before jumping into things like orchestration, instrumentation, mutes, and countermelodies, be sure to remember to focus on how the music makes YOU feel. As the composer, you should feel a deep emotional connection to the music you’ve written. I learned this first-hand when the musical genius,  Miguel Zenon, created a big band a few years ago. Miguel took music that he had composed for his quartet and then arranged those same tunes for big band. Starting with music that he had already perfected –  both on paper and for performance –  allowed for an easy adaptation to big band. He didn’t have to change much of anything when it came to arranging, and simply reorchestrated the music in efficient and smart ways. You can hear one of these songs, Same Flight, first in its original quartet form followed by his big band orchestration below.

Miguel Zenon Quartet, “Same Flight”

Miguel Zenon ‘Identities’ Big Band

8. All Good Music Tells a Story (Learned from Maria Schneider and so many others)

Music can be as simple as a brief moment of tension and release or as complex as a 20-minute Stravinsky masterpiece, but all good music does the same thing that a good poem, novel, movie, dance performance, play, or visual art piece does: It engages the audience in dramatic ways on an emotional level. When you think about common themes between genres or between artistic disciplines you start to notice similar techniques in how quality (versus non-quality) art tells its story. These include memorable beginnings and endings, subtle yet complex characters, thorough yet not over-indulgent character development, moments of surprise, moments of tension and moments of stability. This list could go on and on and I encourage those young aspiring composers and arrangers to focus on learning from other artistic disciplines, including dance, photography, written word, etc.

To exemplify both Lessons #7 and #8, I’ll finish with a music video that my band, Catharsis, recently released. This is our cover of the Bob Dylan protest song, The Times They Are A-Changin. The song has stood the test of time, primarily on it’s lyrical merit, but the melody is infectious and the harmony is simple yet poignant. It is this good music that allowed me, as the arranger, and Catharsis, as the performer, to get creative in our interpretation. It also tells a story not just on a lyrical level but also throughout the development of our arrangement, which mirrors the story that the video director, Claudia Bitran, tells in the moving image.

On a final note, please remember to support recorded and live music in any and all ways you can. There are live music venues, jazz clubs, and performing arts centers around the country, and world, which need support! Not everyone studying jazz in school is going to become a professional musician, and that’s even better because music education is beneficial no matter your path (a topic for another blog post), and creates educated ears and supportive audiences who can decipher between good and great art.   And we need that support now more than ever. Streaming music is not a sustainable model for musicians, and by subscribing to Spotify or Apple Music (and YouTube is even worse) you are hastening the end of musicians’ ability to earn a living by creating music. I hesitated to even offer the above examples on YouTube, given that much of this music is available for purchase in recorded format – so after you get a free taste, go out and buy it! Musicians, artists, and creative individuals play a critical role in fighting the ignorance and greed being spewed from many of our government leaders, most especially from the current administration. The times really are a-changin and we need to do all we can to ensure they change for the better.

“The Times They Are A-Changin” – music by Bob Dylan, arranged by Ryan Keberle

About the Author:

Few musicians have managed to navigate the richly varied avenues of New York City’s abundant music scene with the same passion and adaptability as trombonist and composer Ryan Keberle. Since his arrival in 1999, Keberle’s diverse talents have earned him a place alongside a staggering array of legends, superstars, and up-and-coming innovators.

Leading his pianoless quartet Catharsis or arranging for the little big band setting of his Double Quartet, Keberle draws upon lessons learned playing alongside masters of a multitude of forms, from jazz legends to indie rock ground-breakers, R&B superstars to classical virtuosos. He has toured with the acclaimed indie rock songwriter Sufjan Stevens and with the ground-breaking big bands of Maria Schneider and Darcy James Argue; he has accompanied soul hitmakers Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake as well as jazz legends Rufus Reid and Wynton Marsalis; he’s been heard on movie soundtracks for filmmakers like Woody Allen and in the pit for the Tony-winning Broadway musical “In the Heights.” Keberle’s own music integrates those wide-ranging experiences into a highly personal jazz language that pays heed to tradition while searching out fresh and original pathways. Born and raised in Spokane, Washington, Keberle was surrounded by music from an early age.

Both of his parents were music educators, his father a jazz trumpeter and professor at Spokane’s Whitworth University, his mother a piano teacher and longtime church music director. Keberle started out by studying classical violin and piano before adopting the trombone as his primary instrument; classical music remains one of the many components of his arsenal, as he continues to perform with brass chamber ensembles. He also followed in his mother’s footsteps, serving as music director at a Manhattan Catholic church for several years.

Keberle moved east to study at the Manhattan School of Music, where he came under the tutelage of renowned trombonist Steve Turre, as well as composers Mike Abene and Manny Album. He was the sole member of his graduating class chosen to receive the William H. Borden Aware for musical excellence in jazz. In May 2003 Keberle became a member of Jazz at Juilliard’s first graduating class, having studied with Wycliffe Gordon and David Berger, whose big band he has worked with over the ensuing years.

In 2007 Keberle released the self-titled debut of his Double Quartet, a malleable, brass-heavy octet that showcased his deft composing and arranging skills, The band’s second disc, Heavy Dreaming, was released in 2010 and garnered rave reviews and slots on year-end lists from magazines like JazzTimes and Stereophile.

Early 2012 marked the debut of Keberle’s latest group, the pianoless quartet Catharsis, comprising some of the music’s most compelling young voices: Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Jorge Roeder (bass), and Eric Daub (drums). Keberle’s writing for the band reveals his more melodic and emotional side on pieces driven by groove, the blues, and Latin jazz, with which all four members have extensive experience. Keberle has worked with the Pedro Giraudo jazz Orchestra and with Brazilian superstar Ivan Lins, and was named Latin jazz trombonist of the year by the Latin Jazz Corner website in 2008 and 2009.

Both his own compositions and his arrangements of works by other composers evidence Keberle’s expansive tastes, which encompass Duke Ellington, The Beatles, Sufjan Stevens, and Ravel, among countless others. His work in the indie rock world, including a world tour with Stevens, has provided the newest fork in what has been an unpredictable career. It has also afforded him the chance to return to the piano, as he has with the singer/songwriter Nedelle Torrisi of the band Cryptacize. But he has also performed with the Saturday Night Live House band and with “Family Guy’ creator Seth MacFarlane. His music has taken him to venues across the globe, throughout Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America.

The sum of these eclectic travels is the distinctive, original voice of Ryan Keberle, Whether performing in any one of these vastly different contexts or leading his own band, Keberle continues to evolve into one of the most intriguing and vital musicians of his generation.

Artist Blog

Adam Benjamin: Some Thoughts on Listening

Hello again! Since I wrote one of the first blog posts for ISJAC about a year ago, all sorts of people that are way smarter and more experienced than I am have told you all the real stuff about life and chords and concerti and stuff. So I’m going to steer clear of those areas so as to not embarrass myself. Let’s talk about Listening.

So, there’s this tendency that has is present throughout approximately 100% of human history. This tendency is that as Young people become Middle-Aged people, they tell the new Young people that they’re doing things wrong. This helps Middle-Aged people feel like they are Smart and helps them feel better about not being Young anymore. Sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong, but most of the time it’s worth considering what they are saying. Young people, use your own set of values and ethics to determine if they are right or wrong. If they’re wrong, be nice about it, they have enough to worry about already. Someday you, too, will be Middle-Aged person! So be kind.

This tendency is exaggerated in times of great change, like now. So we shouldn’t be surprised that, on the topic of Listening to Music, there is much Kvetching on the part of Middle-Aged people regarding the habits of Young people. I, myself, have Kvetched about this! But, I am one of those Middle-Aged people that still likes to imagine that somehow deep inside I am still Young, so I shall try to mitigate this tendency, and not get too preachy. Here is my attempt at an honest and impartial Listening Guide.

1) Do It

If you are not listening to music at all, that is bad. How much listening to music you should do is up to you. Everyone is different. I can’t listen as much as most people because when I listen to music I am emotionally, cognitively and spiritually overwhelmed approximately 100% of the time. It’s just how I am wired. But I still need to engage, even when it hurts.

2) Listen to Not Music

2a) Have you heard Glenn Gould’s “The Idea Of North”? There’s a part where he makes connections between Bach counterpoint and the multiple simultaneous conversations occurring in a diner. That blew my mind when I was 10, and I still love the idea. Right now I’m in a coffeeshop beside a river and there are people talking, and the whooshing and grinding of coffee machines, and footfalls, and keyboards clicking, and on the stereo, “Summertime” is being played quietly on a soprano sax (well actually, being played loudly but turned far down in the mix) over some generic world percussion sounds. Most of the individual elements are pretty awful actually, but the way all the different sounds in the room blend together is somehow pleasant. Listen to this! 

2b) Think about the physical space you are in, the materials it’s constructed from, and how it changes the sound. Maybe there was an architect or acoustician who even did it on purpose! Really listen, actively listen. I find it useful to imagine a visual meter of the kind you see on mixing boards (back when those were a thing). Frequency is on the X-axis and Amplitude on the Y-axis. What frequencies are present, and missing, in your room / world right now? Which are loudest? How is it changing? If you really want to trip out, add a Z-axis for time and see if you can visualize the patterns (rhythms) in 3 dimensions. Whee!

2c) Also, listen to birds.

3) Feel It

Lost in many discussions about how we, as musicians and composers, should listen to music, is Feeling it. This makes sense because we have to Study music as well as Feel it. We have to take our beautiful lover and Dissect him on a clean and sterile surface, under a bright light. Yuck! But, not Yuck, because we find amazing things in there, and we learn so much, and we can put him back together afterwards. But all this Learning is useless if we become unable to Feel music. So in addition to all the Dissecting we must also be Immersing and Loving and Living. At some points in your life, this is so easy for you, that you don’t even realize it’s a thing. At other points, it must be gently or forcefully rekindled. How to get there is up to you. Listening to something you don’t Understand is a good method. Maybe listening to the things you loved when you were 16. Maybe listening on headphones on top of a mountain.  Maybe you need to be totally alone for like 3 days. Be careful, but do what it takes. If you’re not Feeling, things get out of whack.

4) Don’t Mistake the Information for the Music

This is related to #3. As trained musicians, we can hear what Notes are being played and what Time Signature a song is in and whether the bass player has bad intonation in thumb position. This is fine but it is not Music. Think of everything that has been written about Coltrane, how much that music has been studied. Do we really know its secrets? To be clear, studying music is crucial for performers and composers, and musicology is a beautiful thing. But don’t forget that we are only studying the structural attributes of a force that we deeply, fundamentally, do not understand. This is not a science. Don’t forget this. Our brains are so well-trained to decipher all the different levels of Information, that sometimes we must turn our attention away from the Information, and towards the Music.

5) Listening is Consumption

Remember that if you consume a recording without remunerating the creator(s) of the recording, you are saying that either (1) you will pay them later, (2) someone else will pay them, (3) they have enough money to keep making recordings, or (4) you don’t care if they can keep making recordings. I’m not going to lie — I sometimes use YouTube, and Spotify, and Apple Music, and Tidal, even if I know it’s bad for artists. I think the accessibility of music on the Internet is too wonderful to resist, and is an incredible tool, especially for students and others who simply cannot afford to remunerate the creators. But please, keep in mind that counting on people creating great content for you to consume without you paying them is a bad idea. Maybe we will move towards a patronage system, or greater institutional support, or better deals with the corporate gatekeepers, but none of that is in place now. Please don’t create a future in which only rich kids can make albums.

6) I Am A Middle-Aged Person

6a) From approximately 1951 to approximately 2006, the standard format of a piece of recorded musical art was an “LP”, which usually lasts somewhere between 35 and 72 minutes and is usually divided into somewhere between 4 and 20 parts, or “songs”. There is nothing objective about this format, and it was the direct result of the technological innovations and constraints of its time. But it was the format in which these pieces of recorded musical art were conceived, like chapters of a book, photographs in an exhibition, or movements of a symphony. Playlists are great and singles are great and shuffle is great and remixes are great and outtakes are great. But, please, spend at least some of your listening time experiencing these works in the format in which their creators conceived of them.

6b) Maybe you think you can’t tell the difference between 256k mp3s and 512k MP3s and AIFFs and WAVs and CDs and OGGs and FLACs, but you can! You totally can. Please consult #4. Just because no Information is missing, or the missing Information is deemed to be insignificant by Technology Corporation, does not mean that you don’t Feel the difference. Maybe the part of “A Case of You” that makes you cry is located at 28.5khz and when that gets flattened you don’t cry the same way. Every device sounds different, every format sounds different. Also, the way we experience music depends on our relationship with the device that plays it for us. Do you really want the thing that sends you annoying work emails and depressing eHarmony results also being your source of spiritual sustenance?

6c) Liner notes are so important. They made every album an interdisciplinary work. Don’t trade that in for an indistinct thumbnail image.

6d) Hey! You’re doing too much stuff all the time, too much stuff at once. You’re training your brain to not be at peace, to not be able to focus on something and fully engage it. Think about how often we “check” something — check the news, check our email, check our texts. You don’t need to “check” stuff so much, everything is going to be fine. The part of your brain that was designed to tell you if a bear is going to eat you is being hijacked by Technology Corporation and retrained to obsessively check your Instagram comments. Dude — Technology Corporation is making Hell Of Money! And now you can’t concentrate long enough to read a book. Use your music-listening time as an opportunity to focus 100% on one thing.

7) Context

I’ve noticed that for every little teensy bit I learn about Art, and Film, and Art Theory, and Philosophy, and Literary Theory, and History, and Linguistics, and Mathematics, my ability to understand, enjoy, and access various musics expands tenfold. Don’t shut out the rest of the world, it makes music richer and funner and more beautiful.

8) I Could Go On

There’s so much more to say. I’ve omitted basically everything. I was gonna talk about Paul Motian and Aphex Twin and trees. But I have to walk my dog, and a storm is rolling in. Just remember, the whole point of Art is that is makes people Feel things. That’s approximately 50% job of creator and 50% job of listener. So! Put all the time and love and focus and joy that you put into making music into listening to it, and we should be good. And, stop checking your phone — the bear is not going to eat you.

About the Author:

Adam Benjamin
Adam Benjamin is a Grammy-nominated and critically acclaimed pianist, keyboardist, composer and educator. He is a founding member of the band Kneebody and is the director of the Program for Jazz and Improvised Music at the University of Nevada, Reno. Recognized as a “Rising Star in Jazz” in Downbeat magazine’s critic’s and reader’s polls for seven years running, his unmistakable sound crosses stylistic boundaries and challenges traditional notions of jazz. Adam maintains a humble and humorous approach that connects him with his audiences worldwide.

You can stay up to date with Kneebody at kneebody.com.

Artist Blog

Bob Mintzer: The Ever Evolving Writing Process

My first experiences as a composer/arranger probably began when I was somewhere in the vicinity of 8 years old. I would sit at a piano for countless hours on end, experimenting with combinations of notes, chords, sounds, rhythms, and things resembling songs I might have heard on the radio, television, or an LP. Through trial and error I would stumble onto a chord progression and perhaps a corresponding melody that fit with that chord progression, playing it for a long time in wonderment. These early explorations were quite naive and not particularly well informed. Yet that spark of interest and drive to find nice combinations of notes was the catalyst that has pushed me to listen/learn/compose with great enthusiasm to this very day.

Our influences as composers/arrangers are, to my way of thinking, environmental. The music we grew up listening to, the bands we played in, the tunes that coincide with profound life experiences all help to shape our individual sound in our writing. This is somewhat like a recipe we’ve made many times, ever evolving as we alter the ingredients a little at a time.

I’ve always spent a good deal of time trying to recreate music that moves me on the piano, sometimes on the guitar, and ultimately on the saxophone. I would try for emulating as much detail as possible. Being that I was very curious as to how the “whole picture” worked, I would inevitably pay careful attention to what each individual instrument was doing; piano voicings, piano comping, bass lines, drum patterns, and some understanding of how the whole band fit their individual parts together. To me it seemed like an incredible puzzle that beckoned one to take apart and re-assemble.

Playing through the great american songbook on the piano was another integral part of developing a compositional vocabulary for me. This inevitably led to expanding upon traditional versions of these great tunes through expansion of form, some reharmonization, and integrating various rhythmical side trips within the form. Becoming comfortable with playing tunes on the piano ultimately led to an ability to conceptualize the instrument without actually having to physically access the piano during the writing process.

My first large ensemble writing experience happened on the Buddy Rich band. I had the incredible opportunity to write my first 6 big band pieces for this great band, to record them and play them every night. On Buddy’s band I had the good and bad aspects in each pieces staring me in the face on a nightly basis, and was able to adjust my approach with each subsequent venture. What a crazy great situation! I hadn’t had the time to study arranging up to that point, being that arranging for big band was not yet on my radar. Little did I know which way the road would turn.

In hindsight I realize that if an aspiring arranger spent time playing piano, learning the jazz language, going on from there to explore various voicings, combinations of notes, rhythm possibilities, and melodic development, and then sat in a big band for an extended period of time, they would have much of the machinery in place to fashion a decent big band arrangement. Without knowing it, I constructed a piece that had development, variety, and shape, qualities that I had been exposed to via playing the great arrangements in the Buddy Rich book. Being confronted with the opportunity to write that first big band piece forced me to consider the various musical qualities associated with any compelling piece of music: a story line, form, motion, variety, and texture. While my orchestrational abilities were in the beginning stages, I never the less could access the sound of the big band that was in my head, melding

this sound with ideas that I had found on the piano earlier. Also inherent in this initial experience was the thinking of what Buddy would like to hear, and how I might create an environment in which I would enjoy playing with him. These first few big band attempts were just that: attempts. But they definitely framed what lied ahead in terms of developing a sound and process.

I went on to write some for Mel Lewis, the Sam Jones Tom Harrell small big band, did some orchestrating for television (not really for me) and in 1983 put my first big band together. Hard to believe that in the last 34 years we’ve recorded 20 big band projects. Between these projects and various european radio band experiences, I’ve written close to 500 arrangements. I still feel like there is plenty to learn and plenty of avenues to explore. What all this writing has afforded me is a certain level of fluidity and confidence.

One of the most critical components of fashioning a big band or other large ensemble arrangement is having a set of parameters already in place. I generally think about who I am writing for, what kind of groove may be appropriate, what key best fits the intent of the piece, and sometimes a particular scenario that the music might underscore. Also to be considered is what kind of form may be utilized. What then follows is a sketch of the piece where I establish much of the above mentioned. I usually start with framing the form by inputting primary themes and perhaps some harmonic information. If various orchestrational devices occur to me I may write a description in words of what that orchestration might look like, and keep moving. (unison trumpets-tutti saxophones) If I can sketch out most of the piece it gives me a good head start on the writing. Often times I will program a drum loop in Sibelius and then add a bass part and then piano/guitar parts. This creates a nice bed to set horn parts on top of. With each subsequent pass through the piece, I add a little more detail, usually leaving the major voicings and detailed orchestrational devices for last.

Since I am generally writing for a recording project or some sort of production that involves 8-12 tunes I wind up working simultaneously on all the pieces. It makes things go more smoothly when I toggle between pieces, and things are less likely to stall in this scenario. The mantra is “keep moving”. The other plus with working on multiple pieces simultaneously is that you get a sense of how the full program of tunes will work together.

Frequently I have heard a piece of music that inspires me, and manages to spark a sound in my head that borrows from the groove or some aspect of the harmony or melody of the piece. If you take one of the three as a foundation (rhythm, harmony, melody) and then build on top of that, more ofter than not you wind up with something that sounds nothing like the original inspiration. I think the primary effect in these cases is that the excitement of hearing a moving piece of music gets the creative juices flowing, and makes you want to write something.

A great way to get a new piece started (on top of listening to all kinds of music) is to sit quietly and imagine what the piece you are going to write sounds like. You might hear general shapes of sound that translate nicely into a sketch, one that can be developed later in terms of detail. I frequently hear a sound, a rhythm or bass line or melody when I am walking. Something about that form of rhythmical bodily movement inspires musical ideas to emerge. If the initial idea comes from something other than you playing an instrument, as in your imagination, you are far more free to hear something well beyond what you might play.

Another approach for me is to improvise freely on either piano or saxophone, and wait for something compelling to emerge. Once I detect something of interest, I play the idea repeatedly, elaborating on the initial idea a little at a time. Once it seems like a fairly complete sentence I move on the perhaps a complimentary section with a new melody or progression. Little by little a composition emerges. Some of the better compositions come quickly and are not terribly complicated. Simple is allowed! With simplicity there winds up being room for complexity used in a strategic manor to create tension/release and a general sense of variety.

Aside from grabbing ideas from pre existing pieces of music, there is a lot you can do in terms of moving things around at the piano. Take a 1-4-5 three note voicing and move it around in a variety of ways, whole steps or minor thirds apart, for example. Try different bass notes against this voicing. Have the top note of the voicing form a melodic shape while simultaneously having the bass line create a melodic shape of it’s own. Utilize contrary motion between bass line and chord voicing. Take a 1-4-5 voicing and move it diatonically through a variety of scale qualities (1/2-w diminished, altered dominant for example). There are an infinite number of devices of this kind that can spin off into a potential composition. And seemingly if you start to operate this way the ideas manage to come more quickly, where one shape leads to an offshoot of that shape, and onward from there. Patterns are a great device for planting a seed for a new composition.

There is far more to discuss as far as process. Being a self taught arranger much of my process involves “making it up as you go”. There is definitely an improvisatory thing at play when writing and arranging, where one idea leads you to the next. I generally have no shortage of ideas. Being fairly active in the music scene usually primes the pump as far as generating ideas go. Once the idea emerges, then the real hard work begins. Fashioning a well constructed, compelling piece of music involves much editing, re arranging, and refining. This part of the process never seems to end. I can always find ways to improve, or at least update anything I have written. Small tweaking of articulation, voicings, and melodic lines are all part of the journey to arriving at a good piece of music. That journey is why I get up in the morning.

The final piece of the puzzle of composition/arranging is getting you music performed, hopefully by a group of great musicians of your choosing. This is the wild card that inevitably takes the music to places you never thought existed. Hence it is critical to leave lots of room for the personal input of each player, where every member of the ensemble contributes to the musical conversation in their own particular way. This is the basic premise of jazz music. As a composer/arranger it is my roll to stay out of the way of the conversation by way of leaving room in the writing for interplay and conversation.

So much more to learn, so much more to write. So many gems in the classical repertoire to draw upon. Many interesting rhythms and textures in indigenous music from all corners of the globe. Keep searching, keep putting the puzzle together. Stay current as far as what young players/writers are up to. Write yourself into the picture as a player, an instigator, an orator. Keep moving!

Mintzer Big Band examples

Get Up!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5UwWXVH0Lg

Truth Spoken Here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ioc2voPbkM8&index=6&list=PLZkh-aQshNIPQBNEKW9PwoTGmEaZ1NWYU

Civil War https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UemgTly–U&list=PLZkh-aQshNIPQBNEKW9PwoTGmEaZ1NWYU&index=15

These three tunes from the MCG Jazz cd “Get Up”

Please visit bobmintzer.com for more examples.


About the Author:

Bob Mintzer, born January 27, 1953 and a native of New Rochelle, New York is what’s known as a triple threat musician. He is equally active in the areas of performance, composing/arranging, and music education. While touring with the Yellowjackets or his own quartet, or big band, Bob is busy writing music for big band, various small bands, saxophone quartets, orchestral and concert band music.

Bob is also on the faculty of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles along with long-time cohorts Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, Vince Mendoza, and fellow Yellowjacket Russell Ferrante. where he teaches jazz composition,, saxophone, directs the Thornton Jazz Orchestra, and conducts a jazz workshop class for incoming freshmen and sophomore jazz students. He also does workshops all over the globe, writes books on a variety of musical subjects, plays on countless recordings every year, and is summoned to be guest conductor and soloist with large and small bands all over the world.

Bob has played/recorded with a wide variety of artists ranging from Tito Puente, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band, James Taylor, The New York Philharmonic,National Symphony, American Saxophone Quartet, Art Blakey, Donald Fagan, Bobby McFerrin, Nancy Wilson, Kurt Elling, to Jaco Pastorius, Mike Manieri, and Randy Brecker.

“Music chose me at a very early age” says Bob. “I was completely taken by the 12 tones, whether hearing music played on the radio, television, recordings, or live concerts around the New York City area. I was not only struck by the emotional outpouring of great musical performance, but also found myself completely consumed with how the music fit together in all its glorious detail. I could spend hours sitting at a piano, trying to replicate the songs I would hear others play.

“Jazzmobile, an organization that sponsored jazz performances around the greater New York metropolitan area, sent a quintet consisting of Dr. Billy Taylor, Grady Tate, Ron Carter, Harold Land, and Blue Mitchell to the New Rochelle High School in 1967. I was a sophomore at the time. I think it was then and there that I decided that music would be my calling. Later that year I was taken to the Village Gate to hear the double bill of the Miles Davis quintet and the Thelonious Monk Quartet. From that point on I went to as many live performances as I could on the budget of a 16-18 year old. During my formative years I was so fortunate to have the opportunity to hear Sonny Rollins, Miles, Monk, Sonny Stitt, Dexter Gordon, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, and many of the jazz greats play around New York.

“In 1969 my folks had the foresight to encourage me to audition for the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. I received a scholarship to attend this great school for my senior year of high school. My classmates were Peter Erskine, Danny Brubeck, Elaine Duvas (principal oboist in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra), and Tom Hulce (who played Mozart in the film Amadeus). This year provided the inspiration and information that was to establish my practice and training regimen for years to come. I was studying classical clarinet, playing guitar and piano, learning how to play the saxophone and flute,learning songs and writing tunes for the little combos we would put together.”

In 1970 Bob attended the Hartt College of Music in Hartford Connecticut on a classical clarinet scholarship. Jackie McLean had just started a jazz program at Hart, and Bob spent time with Jackie while working on a multitude of skills.

“I was very interested in all kinds of music and was attempting to learn how to play flutes, clarinets, saxophones, piano, work on composition, and get my school work done, Bob explains. “I played clarinet in the orchestra and various chamber music groups. I also played early music in a small group for a while. There were some crazy rhythms in much of early music that paralleled what jazz improvisers were doing as far as playing over the bar line. It was all fantastic! After school I would listen to jazz recordings and go and sit in with local jazz musicians. There was a pretty vibrant scene at that time around Hartford, where one core group of musicians were working 6 nights a week in different joints.”

Jackie eventually pushed Bob to consider moving down to New York City and jump into the jazz community down there. He took the suggestion and transferred to Manhattan School of Music in 1973. At that time there was a lot of playing going on in the lofts, which were commercial spaces newly converted to living quarters, and very affordable.

Bob’s contemporaries during the period were Michael Brecker, Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman, Richie Bierach, John Abercrombie, and countless other musicians. “The musicians I encountered in NYC in the early 70’s were all about the music,” Bob remembers. “Rents were affordable, and guys would get together in the lofts to play and compare ideas. Everyone’s aspiration was to land a gig with a working jazz group. In the interim I paid the rent doing whatever would come along, from subbing in broadway shows, to doing odd recording sessions or club dates.

In 1974 Bob was recommended to Eumir Deodato by a Manhattan School of Music classmate. Bob toured with Deodato for one year, playing large venues all over the world. “Eumir had a hit record with his rendition of the Strauss Zarathustra melody. He was a teriffic arranger! Check out the arrangements he did for Sinatra and Jobim on their duo recording in the 60’s. I met several musicians on that band that took the time to show me things about all kinds of music. Rubens Bassini, former percussionist with Brazil 66 took me under his wing and showed me many things about the rhythms of Brazil.”

During that same year Bob started playing with the Tito Puente Orchestra. This was a steady gig around the New York area. This music had a lasting impact on Bob’s writing and playing for years to come. He later played with Eddie Palmieri and Mongo Santamaria.

In 1975 Bob joined the Buddy Rich Big Band and spent two and a half years playing every night with Buddy, except for a week off at Christmas time. “On Buddy’s band,” Bob explains, “we played in every small town in the U.S. as well as in other countries. I was so thrilled to be playing every night and seeing new places all the time. We would go out after the concerts and find a place to sit in with a local band. If there was no jazz club we would play with whatever band there was. I remember playing with a cowboy band in El PasoTexas one night. I also learned how to write big band arrangements on Buddy’s band. He was very gracious about letting me write for his band.”

While on Buddy’s band Bob also wrote music for Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and did a brief stint with the band at the Village Gate in NYC. He also did a tour with Hubert Laws playing a utility reed chair.

Bob left Buddy in 1977 and settled down in New York to work on his writing and playing. He played with Joe Chambers, Ray Mantilla, Tom Harrell, Teramasa Hino, Sam Jones, and began to do some freelance work in the studios, with symphony orchestras, and in Broadway pit orchestras. In 1978 he joined the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band. He also became a member of the band Stone Alliance (Don Alias, Kenny Kirkland, Gene Perla) that year.

In 1981 Bob joined Jaco Pastorius’ Word of Mouth Band with Michael Brecker, Peter Erskine, Don Alias, and Othello Molineaux. He played tenor sax and bass clarinet in that band as well as doing some arranging for the large ensemble version. Three recordings and a video document this music and show Bob to have quite a unique voice on the bass clarinetist. Around this time Bob was also playing with Mike Manieri and Randy Brecker. He also did his first two solo recordings for the Pony Canyon Label in Japan. (Hornmanand The Source)

In 1983 Bob put a big band together to play at the club owned by Mike and Randy Brecker called Seventh Avenue South. In NYC. It was a one-off project initially to showcase the various musicians that had been playing in the club with their own bands. Dave Sanborn, Mike and Randy Brecker, Don Grolnick, Peter Erskine, Lew Soloff, Will Lee, Barry Rogers were all on board. The band became an instant success and did a recording for CBS Sony in Japan called Papa Lips.

Around that same time Tom Jung started an audiophile jazz label called DMP Records. After hearing the band play at Seventh Avenue South. Bob and Tom Jung embarked on a recording relationship that lasted for 22 years and produced 13 cd’s with 3 Grammy Nominations(One Music, Departure,Only in New York) and a Grammy win for the Homage to Count Basie CD.

For the rest of the 80’s Bob worked with his big band; playing the Berlin Jazz Festival, playing the Village Vanguard in place of Mel Lewis’ big band when the band was on the road. Kendor Music (the publisher that published the Thad Jones and Gil Evans series) stared the Bob Mintzer series. School and pro bands around the world started playing his music, which had a fresh signature sound and blended the jazz tradition with a variety of other influences. Bob also joined the faculty of the jazz department at Manhattan School of Music, where he resided for the next 25 years.

During the later part of the eighties Bob was doing a fair amount of studio work, playing recordings by Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Queen, James Taylor, and Steve Winwood. He also became a member of the American Saxophone Quartet and performed regularly with the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theatre, and American Composers Orchestra. As a composer/arranger Bob wrote for the St Lukes Orchestra, ABC, NBC and the academy Awards show.

Bob recorded several small bad projects in the later 80’s-early 90’s including 2 CDs for Owl records in France (N.Y Jazz QuartetLonging) , two CDs for BMG (I Remember Jaco and Twin Tenors w/ Michael Brecker) , and a cd for the TVT label (Quality Time). His quartet CD, One Music for the DMP label was nominated for a Grammy.

1990 was a pivotal year for Bob He was asked to record with the Yellowjackets on the GRP CD Greenhouse, which was the start of a twenty plus year stint with one of the premier bands in jazz music. The band has received 13 Grammy nominations, has been voted best contemporary jazz group almost every year in the jazz magazine readers polls, and continues to play major jazz venues all over the world.

Yellowjackets is a leaderless band where each member is called upon to write, arrange, play, and make decisions as an equal partner. The band has consistently demonstrated that four people from diverse backgrounds can work together and create an art form where the whole is far greater than the separate parts.

In 2005 Bob began a relationship with the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild (MCG Jazz)resulting in the recording of 3 big band recordings: Live at MCGOld School New Lessons, and Swing Out. Kurt Elling sings on all three of these cd’s. Bob also recorded a quartet CD, In the Moment for Art of Life Records with Phil Markowitz, Jay Anderson, and John Riley.

In 2008 Bob and his family moved to Los Angeles, where Bob joined the faculty of the University of Southern California. He put together a big band in Los Angeles and plays regularly at Vibrato Grill in Bel Air. Bob maintains a busy touring schedule, playing with the Yellowjackets, his quartet, big band, and as a guest conductor/ soloist with college and pro bands.

Bob’s latest small band recording is called Canyon Cove, and is a swingin organ cd with Larry Goldings and Peter Erskine.

bobmintzer.com

Artist Blog

Fred Hersch: A Composition Exercise to Try Today

In 2001, during my second composition residency at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH, I was completely stuck with my writing.  I had come to the Colony to work on what I had hoped would be a chamber-opera-type-thing – only to find right before I left that I would not be able to procure the rights to the novel I wanted to adapt. I felt rudderless, taking frequent naps and spending an inordinate amount of time reading novels by the resident fiction writers.

It was also extremely cold – February in New Hampshire is no joke – so I was in my cottage going a bit stir-crazy. Then I got an idea by looking at a baseball cap that I had with me in my studio.  I cut a piece of paper into 12 one-inch squares – each square representing a note of the chromatic scale.  I put the squares into the baseball cap, shook them up, and got a “pitch”.  Then I set a timer I happened to have with me to 45 minutes – this I determined as ideal since it is the length of a typical psychotherapy session.  For example, if the “pitch” was Bb it meant either: Bb major; Bb minor; or starting on the note Bb.  So I had a starting place and turned on the timer.  The challenge was to write a tune (in scribble as no one but me had to read it) and complete it within the 45-minute interval.  So I was composing as close as possible to the speed of improvising – and the deadline meant that I didn’t have forever to wait around for divine inspiration to descend from the heavens.  I just used whatever came first and worked it out from there.

This process over the years has led me to compose many of my best and most durable compositions.  Jazz compositions these days – with computer notation programs and the fluency of younger jazz players in odd time signatures and complex structures – often have too many elements in them. They don’t leave room for the player to interpret them or add their personality and point of view to the theme or the harmonic structure – and many of them are simply not memorable. I was 24 years old and a very experienced jazz pianist who knew hundreds of tunes before I dared to write one of my own.  I figured “what could I write that would be better than Wayne Shorter or Billy Strayhorn or Kenny Wheeler or Ornette or Monk?” – so why bother?  Then I realized that all of these tunes I loved had only a few simple elements – a great progression, a durable melody and a particular rhythm or vibe.  So I didn’t have to re-invent the wheel after all – just write a short-form tune that is memorable and distinctive. (Richard Rodgers did extremely well with just the notes of the diatonic major scale). And, most importantly, simple isn’t easy. Everything that Monk wrote fits on about 100 pages, but each tune has its own beautiful logic and specific world and they are fun and challenging musical problems to solve over and over.

I have a beloved and banged-up kitchen timer that is always by my piano.  When I am stuck, I write a “kitchen timer tune”. Best case, I come out with something I really like – and can tweak later. Worst case, I only wasted 45 minutes. My “batting average” has gotten pretty good over the years when I set my mind to it. Maybe you will give this a try?


About the Author:

Fred Hersch is a 10-time Grammy nominee as jazz pianist and composer; he was the recipient of a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and was named a 2016 Doris Duke Artist and 2016 Jazz Pianist of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association. His memoir Good Things Happen Slowly will be published by Crown Books/Random House in September 2017. www.fredhersch.com

Artist Blog

Asuka Kakitani: My personal perspective on composing

Although I don’t talk much about the process of composing with my fellow composer friends or anybody, I enjoy reading about other composers’ processes when I get a chance, so I will share mine here hoping someone would enjoy reading it. This is not technical but more of my personal perspective.

I started studying jazz composition at Berklee College of Music when I was twenty-six years old. I would imagine many people would start much earlier studying something like that, but I actually wasn’t really interested in composing before I attended Berklee. Soon after I started classes there, I had to compose for some school projects and I quickly fell in love with the freedom of composing. At that time, I was trying to play piano like Bud Powell, and it was struggle for me being constrained by my own idea of how I should sound. On the other hand, composing, it was a discovery of a new playground. I loved to tell my stories through my composition, which I even didn’t know I would enjoy so much. I just felt so free.

Telling stories is an important part of composing for me. Sometimes composing is my tool to tell a story. I almost always have a story in my head before I start writing. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic one; it could be an ordinary day of summer in the garden. Nature is usually a great inspiration for me. I think composing is like taking my camera and going outside to look under a leaf or inside flowers with a macro lens. There are lives and dramas that we cannot see with our naked eye. There are so many details, which are delicate, colorful, and vibrant. That is how I want my music to be, too.

One of my teachers at Berklee, Ted Pease once told me that melody is the most important thing. That stayed with me for a long time, and most of the time, my piece starts taking shape and firming its character with some melodies. I sing (terribly) in the street, on the subway, in the shower, waiting in line, in the woods, or in front of piano to find the magical melodies somewhere in the air. Sometimes I would succeed to catch them and write them down on manuscript paper, but I fail a lot of the time, too. Singing works best for me so far because then I can be free from my hand habits on the piano, I do not play any other instruments, and I do not want to write something that I cannot sing. When I luckily find a succession of notes I’m happy with, I quickly and carefully write them down on paper without key signature or time signature to not have any constraints to shape a melody I found. I would sing and play it on the piano many times until it feels right, and then I figure out the best time signature for the melody. Often times I won’t have enough rehearsal time with a band, so it is crucial to have the clearest and easiest way possible to read. I stopped using key signatures at some point, so I even don’t bother to think about it.

It takes a lot of time. Every time I almost cannot believe when I complete a piece.

Since I had my daughter in 2014, it has been even harder to find time to sit and work. Although parenting is a wonderful and incomparable experience, it is a 24-hour commitment. I suffer from lack of time and sleep and being unfocused. Finding five minutes to sit in front of the piano here and there, staying up late or getting up early, or staying up late AND getting up early depends on her sleeping schedule – scavenging for time to write and stay focused has been a real challenge for me.

Sometimes I cannot write anything for a few weeks. And one day I think I hear something, and write it down, and the next day I think it does not sound as good as I thought yesterday, and after two weeks, I would come back to that melody and feel it is pretty nice. Three days later, I would say, “This is awful!” I would be stressed out, feel miserable for a few days. Then a “good day” comes and I am able to catch a few magical notes in the air. That makes me so happy until I become miserable again, which would be the next day. A “good day” does not come so often. But despite my agony, “bad days” are necessary to endure in order to have a “good day” from time to time. After feeling gloomy from not being able to write any notes for many days, I suddenly find myself lost in the music that I am writing. It starts to grow its own personality and follows me around all the time, and I feel as if I am with someone who is very close to me. I feel a connection with the piece, and we are attached to each other until it changes its mind and starts acting as a stranger again.

Although I love the freedom of composing, and composing makes me feel that I am free to create what I want to, it is very easy to settle in with an idea or phrase that I feel should work. Once I get trapped in the “this is going to be a masterpiece” syndrome, I start circling, and I notice that I stop trying to hear those magical melodies in the air anymore. There are many obstacles to overcome: feeling the need to utilize certain “cool” techniques, not being able to let go of an idea that does not work in context, and the pressure to finish a piece by a deadline. It is a perpetual struggle to escape from all the things that tie me down, and to keep pushing myself to step out from my comfort zone. For me, composing is an endless journey for finding something real. In order to keep pressing on, I would continually tell myself that music does not need to be impressive, but should be completely honest. It might not end up being so great of a piece of music after all, but the experience of writing absolutely honest music is the most precious thing to me. And more times than not, but utilizing this process, the end result is something I’m truly satisfied with, and sometimes even love.


About the Author:

Asuka Kakitani is a composer, arranger, and conductor. She is the founder of the Asuka Kakitani Jazz Orchestra (AKJO). Their 2013 debut album ”Bloom” was selected as one of the best albums on the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, All About Jazz, Lucid Culture, and DownBeat Magazine. Her awards include the BMI Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize, the Manny Albam Commission, and artist grants from the American Music Center, Brooklyn Arts Fund, and the Jerome Fund for New Music from the American Composers Forum.

Artist Blog

Terry Promane: Give Me 5

At the time of this writing, I had just attended an arranging clinic by John La Barbera who was the spring visitor at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto where I teach.  He outlined 5 cornerstones of arranging for our students that were his guide and the basic fundamentals of his pedagogy.  Coincidentally, a week or so before, I was approached by Paul Read who suggested I write an article for the ISJAC Blog discussing my favorite arranging tactics.

Most of these ideas have been compiled over 25 years of teaching at U of T and playing on countless recording sessions and concerts, mostly with Toronto based jazz artists. 

To be specific, I’ll present ideas here that have helped me develop a good sound as well as saving time and aggravation in the studio or preparing music with few rehearsals.  With the ever-changing sensibility of the current music business (meaning, not many players are free to rehearse all day as in days gone by) things need to be correct and clear. 

  1. Give Me More

I’ve had the pleasure of playing with and writing for some serious players. When  the chance presents itself, I will check out other writers’ scores and parts and check the level of detail in not only my part (the trombone part) but also the rhythm parts.  I’ve seen charts with everything possible included and others with virtually nothing.  The most economical example of drum part writing (as VJO drummer John Riley points out) is the 3 bars of crayon from Thad Jones on the original “Little Pixie ll” drum part.  Legend has it that Mel Lewis had a photographic ear and only need a once-through, rarely opening the book.  Others writers like Maria Schneider fill up all the parts with detail. 

For me, too many parts with slashes are a problem.  Over the years I have developed into a control freak needing to dictate as much of the texture as possible.  From years of not getting what I wanted, and then learning how to get exactly what I want, this seems to be the approach best suited to my needs. 

Bass

Bass gets the most slashes, but considerable suggestions are included on the page.  Many of my ideas these days are based around ostinatos and straight 8th grooves in various time signatures, so dictating that information is important.  Straight ahead swing material gets the standard 4 slashes and chord symbols with the occasional push here and there. 

Guitar

In my charts, the guitar rarely sees slashes except for open blowing sections.  Most of the melodic content is backed up by guitar voiced in unison or octaves with other sections.  I’ve heard players comment that they know it’s a chart of mine because of the wall-to-wall guitar cues.

I realize this sounds counter-intuitive considering the clichéd reputation of guitar players as not being able to read well – so I email them copy days ahead of the session.  They are always appreciative.  Thankfully, Toronto is loaded with very talented guitarists who are exceptional readers.

Piano/keys

Years ago, while handing out parts in a rehearsal I put down a typical (swing with slashes) piano part in front of Don Thompson (who loves to play…everything!)  He looked at me and said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Since then, moving forward, I now include as much material as possible in all of my piano parts.  They are more like 2 stave conductor’s scores including all melodic cues and harmonic rhythms. 

The resulting piano parts are enormous, but the piano player is directly connected to the entire scope of the piece.  In Don Thompson’s mind slashes meant nothing in that situation.  Considering the guitar is often busy with melodic content, the sole role of the keyboardist becomes to intelligently comp in and around the rest of the band.  A detailed piano part helps the keyboard player do this effectively.

A different approach is to give the pianist a master rhythm part. In this situation all the rhythm section players play from the same detailed part.

2.  Caught in the Middle

Middle C was the first note I learned as a 5 year old during my first piano lesson.   Conservatory piano lessons were what the kids in my family did, although I know that this is clearly not everyone’s experience.  Today, with the proliferation of guitarist, bassist, drums and vocalists in most post secondary music institutions, middle C or the grand staff for that matter, may be mysterious concepts for non-keyboard players.

The age old question of why are so many trombonists have become great arrangers and composers remains.  One reason is that trombonists have a firm understanding of that note and how middle C feels and sounds!  (I’ll put piano players on that list as well).

The concept remains quite simple.  Above middle C is where the majority of melody rings and below middle C is where arrangers need to be careful voicing.  I toured extensively with Rob McConnell in the Boss Brass and then, much more frequently, with the Rob McConnell Tentet.  On the rare occasion that Rob would actually talk about writing, he did divulge one secret.  We were on a plane and for whatever reason he was describing his favorite Ab 13 voicing of Duke Ellington – and then out of the blue he says “ you know TP, I rarely voice a tri-tone above middle C, then went on to another topic.  Most likely ordering another bloody Mary!

That was a serious light bulb moment for me and gave me a firm understanding why Rob’s sound was indeed Rob’s sound.  Tri-tone at or below middle C with the melody above middle C supported by a triadic formation that rarely included the 3rd or flat 7!  That is a general statement to say the least, considering all of the ?/V7 variants available, but I’m sure you get my drift!

I show my students a demonstration using 2 hands – in the left, tri-tone and in the right, melody tension, tension (and in many cases, another tension).  With both thumbs on middle C, the arranger can feel where all the action is going to happen – between the hash lines – to use a football example.  In my experience, the close voicing is rare and if used is mostly in cluster voicings or to depict a classic “Supersax” sound.

Understanding middle C will help young writers avoid the pitfalls of writing melody that is too low or too high, and voicing below safe low limits.

Without meaning to linger too long on voicings, I feel that a modicum of “arrangers piano” is required to advance to the next level.  I was certainly guilty of dead voicings until Frank Mantooth gave me a copy of his jazz piano method book, “Voicings”.  This book hammered home principals I still teach today including balanced right/left configurations and what Frank called symmetrical 6/9 Miracle Voicings.

3.  Don’t Forget Your Pencil

As a freelance musician I sadly break the cardinal rule:  Always bring a pencil to rehearsal.  I never have a pencil, but as a writer, I always use a pencil.

I just turned 55 so I started writing in the early 80’s.  We used pencil and score paper and copied parts by hand.  I began writing (as many of you have) analog style, well before digital.  The organic process of putting pencil to paper has become vital to my process – it’s free from, right click, left click, shift/command/M/4….command Z…command S…..

John La Barbara and I both agreed that there was something special about the writing process with a piano.  There is a tactile connection to the sound that stimulates ideas that does not exist while composing at the computer.  Check out a book “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon.  It’s a fun read by a young writer who supports the idea of stealing from the masters (in a good way – you have to read the book), but also having some separation between the use of the pencil and the computer to stimulate your creative juices.  Most of my ideas are hatched on a lead sheet with melodic variants and chord substitutions.  It’s very remedial looking, but it keeps me on track when I get the computer going.  A double stave rough sheet for elaborate orchestrations is best for me.

Maria Schneider was a distinguished visitor at the University of Toronto a few years ago.  She set up shop in my office for the week complete with a 32 stave score pad on the piano, no bar lines (you’ll know the one if you’re old enough) and sketched ideas with no restrictions to the melody, harmony or meter.  It’s a great format (although I’ve never had enough solid ideas to fill up 2 staves)!

4.  The Long and the Short of it!

From the biggest most elaborate film sessions to the tiniest demo – the one thing that can kill the clock is a lack of attention to detail – specifically articulation.  This also applies to rehearsing new material with professionals who have little time to waste.  Eating up recording or rehearsal time putting in articulations in a killer!  You won’t realize your potential regarding feel and accuracy if you fail to go the extra mile.  My students pay for this as a minus 10% but in professional circumstances you’ll feel it in your pocket book. 

I’ve sat down in studios with charts with no indication of long/short/loud/soft and it’s a signal that things are going to go badly…and it goes real bad, I’ve seen it countless times.

Attention to detail shows the professional player that you know what you’re doing.  From articulations, to formatting parts, correct rehearsal numbers and dynamics is a subconscious signifier that you are on the case.  Without these vital ingredients, there is a good chance the orchestra will give you right back what you deserve.

5.  Make it hip, not hard!

Over the years, I’ve written some pretty unmusical material.  Over time, I’ve realized that there was something to be said for writing music that feels good, sounds good and is easy to play.  Good music that great musicians want to play – it’s a no-brainer.  The tipping point was when I decided to emulate my elders in Toronto.  Here is a quote from the liner notes I composed for the Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet Volume 1.

This CD embodies what many have called “The Toronto Sound.” This is not a conscious effort, although Toronto jazz composers, arrangers and performers have been a part of an unconscious musical movement akin to the Group of Seven painters.  This goes back further than my memory, but Dave Young was on the ground floor with Phil Nimmons, Rob McConnell, Rick Wilkins and Ron Collier, all pillars of the local and our national jazz consciousness.   

The Toronto sound is complicated, but generally relies on a few crucial ingredients; exciting, well crafted and uniquely voiced arrangements, a distinctly Canadian musical sensibility, impeccable tuning, flawless execution and world-class solos.

What I didn’t mention is that Rob McConnell et al really knew how to write great sounding stuff that was easy to play!  Sure there’s going to be some high notes, and some blistering sax work, but it’s not the main event!  It’s all part of the story, the big curve of the piece.  When I started in the McConnell band I couldn’t believe how easy it was…I mean, it was soft, no high notes, great intonation and it swung like hell.

In the end, it’s all in the details.  Pay attention to inventive melodic composition, and harmony and stay away from gimmicks.  Write what you hear and make it accessible to a wide range of abilities and your music will sound great! 

Terry Promane,

Toronto, Ontario CANADA

March, 2017

——————————–

Editor’s note: Please check out one of Terry’s composition, this time for jazz 12tet, “The Icemaker’s Mistress”. This is a track from the CD, “Trillium Falls” which can be found at https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/trillium-falls/id1210913574

Both full audio and pdf score are included here:

The Icemaker’s Mistress

Click here for the full score

More info about the highly acclaimed University of Toronto Jazz Program along with lists of other recordings, please go to www. uoftjazz.ca


About the Author:

TERRY PROMANE is an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto specializing in jazz trombone, composition, and orchestration. He is a member of many of Toronto’s most prestigious jazz groups including the Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet, the Rob McConnell Tentet, The Boss Brass, the Mike Murley Septet, the John MacLeod Big Band, the Dave Neill Quintet, the Kirk MacDonald Jazz Orchestra, and the Carn/Davidson 9. He was twice named ‘Jazz Trombonist of the Year’ by ‘Jazz Report’ Magazine, and nominated for three consecutive years as the National Jazz Awards’ ‘Trombonist of the Year’ and ‘Arranger of the Year’. As a freelance musician, Promane is a first-call session player who can be heard in countless feature films, documentaries, jingles, and in pit-bands for dozens of hit musical productions.  He has performed with Holly Cole, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Mel Torme, Natalie Cole, Aretha Franklin, Kenny Wheeler, Bill Holman, Tito Puente, Dave Valentine, Maria Schneider, Vince Mendoza, Gonzalo Rubacalba, and Hilario Duran.

Artist Blog

Paul Read: Minor and Major Seconds, 1959, Transcribing, Score Study and other Reflections

As we all know, learning to compose, arrange and orchestrate is an ongoing, lifelong pursuit. For this month’s blog entry I thought I’d share some personal recollections of the ways that I acquired skills and attempted to improve my writing over the years. This is a personal account, a sort of memoir, not an offering any sort of formula or even ideal way to progress. Everyone learns in his or her own way. That said, I hope these reflections may be of interest or of use to some.

1. Listening: Recordings, Concerts and Performing

I’ll start with an observation. Some astonishing music was recorded in 1959. I was eleven years old:

  • Kind of Blue (Miles Davis)
  • Giant Steps (John Coltrane)
  • Mingus Ah Um (Charles Mingus)
  • The Shape of Jazz to Come (Ornette Coleman)
  • Time Out (Dave Brubeck)
  • Sketches of Spain (Miles Davis and Gil Evans – released in 1960)
  • Blowin’ the Blues Away (Horace Silver)
  • Portrait in Jazz (Bill Evans)
  • Live at the Half Note (Lee Konitz)

These landmark recordings contained a high percentage of new compositions. There were new ideas, styles, approaches, and they all were, I think I’m safe in saying, game-changers. I imagine I’ve missed one or more of your favourites, so please add to the list by leaving a comment below this blog. It would be interesting to compile a longer list.

Of course, I didn’t listen to most of these recordings until well after 1959. Hey, I was just getting started. My listening drifted chronologically all over the place. For example, I didn’t hear “Live at the Half Note” until about 10 years ago when I went on a Lee Konitz kick. I couldn’t believe how fresh it sounded. I don’t think I listened to ‘Sketches of Spain’ until some time in the mid sixties. It still amazes me how many great recordings happened in the same year.

But it was in 1959 that I first started to pay attention to my father’s jazz LPs. He had a membership in something called the “Columbia Record Club” and at regular intervals (maybe every 2 months) the club would send one or more recordings in the mail. If you weren’t interested, you sent them back. This presents quite a contrast to today’s distribution challenges. The merits of iTunes, Spotify, CD Baby, Rhapsody, Beats, Mog, GooglePlay, Deezer, etc. is a potentially contentious topic. That’s for another blog on another day.

My father’s listening (and, therefore, mine) included ‘classical’ music, Broadway musicals, jazz, marches and all sorts of other things. I still think it is important to study many kinds of music. I learned that it was important to observe ‘forensically’, to analyze and pay close attention!!

One of the jazz albums that I heard very early on was, “Ellington Indigos” (recorded in 1957). The album is available now on CD and on-line, re-mastered and included on “The Complete Ellington Indigos” – and you can still find vinyl copies for sale on line.  Here are some stats:

Released 1958
Recorded March 13, September 9 to October 14, 1957
Length 44:36
Label Columbia
Producer Irving Townsend

I vividly remember being drawn to Duke’s “Solitude” which is the first ‘cut’1I guess we don’t refer to ‘cuts’ anymore. ☺ on the album.2Much later, it occurred to me that this was a remarkable way for an album to start. Maybe even a little audacious. It was certainly a different type of ‘attention getter’. The arrangement begins with a rubato piano solo (probably improvised). I had absolutely no idea what he was doing, but I liked it…a LOT. So I tried to figure it out through much trial and much error at the piano. As I recall I was pretty hard on the LP, dropping the needle, picking it up and dropping it again. Not always with precision.

Here is a bit of the solo piano intro that I heard:

Click Here for a PDF version of the Solitude Excerpt

I was intrigued and decided to search for those sounds on the piano. What I heard (and knew nothing about) was:

  • the sound of the half step grind at the bottom of the chords. And not just major 3rds over a pitch a half step down, but also the minor 3rd in measure 4 (That one took a few reps to figure out).
  • the harmony above the melody which then beautifully shifted to the soprano voice in m.5.
  • that the approach was so economical. Duke moved smoothly to open voicings in m.8.
  • the low b9 in bar 9. Of course, I didn’t know that was what it was called.

Of course, there are thousands and thousands of examples of ½ step dissonances and b9 intervals or ‘grinds’ in all sorts of music written long before 1957. But this was my first moment when I paid close attention and realized what it was that I was hearing.  I guess I could have started with any record, but this is what I remember hearing very early on.

I did a lot of listening to all sorts of jazz once I caught ‘the bug’. I remember that I fell head over heels for the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1964 Carnegie Hall recording. I did try to find some of those sounds on the piano, but what I did more of was SINGING. Particularly the Paul Desmond solos. I can still sing along with that record. I learned a lot about melody from doing that. Sometimes I would figure out a chord by trying to arpeggiate (with my voice and the piano). I followed this routine with other recordings. I can still ‘sing’ many of George Coleman’s solos on the Miles Davis 1964 pair of records, “My Funny Valentine” and “Four and More” (Columbia).

Another big band album I listened to a lot back then was, “Li’l Old Groovemaker” by the Basie band with all the charts written by Quincy Jones. One memory is that cut 1, side 2 was “Nasty Magnus” which was great for learning one way to build excitement. The seemingly endless repetition of one idea behind the tenor solo worked wonders. Like you, I heard lots of Basie, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Holman, Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Gil Evans, Marty Paitch and on and on. And I was lucky, growing up in Canada, to be able to hear Nimmons ‘N’ Nine on weekly radio show on CBC Radio. Phil Nimmons is one of our (Canadian) great musical treasures.

Apart from recordings and radio, hearing the music played live for the first time was a profound experience. In the late sixties I recall hearing small groups including Mongo Santamaria, and the Miles Davis band with Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette.  And then the big bands of Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Maynard Ferguson all came to Toronto. Listening to these large groups and hearing the orchestrations live helped me take more steps forward.

Another big step forward came from playing with other musicians, which allowed me to hear the sounds in yet another way.  Checking out the music from that perspective was yet another ear opener. It really improved my ability to be able to hear combinations of instruments, the sound of various trumpet and trombone mutes, and so on when I was writing at a desk or piano.

2. Transcribing

Gradually I started transcribing. Simple things at first and then more complicated things.

I have a clear memory of hearing for the first time the iconic “Blues and the Abstract Truth” by Oliver Nelson3Impulse! Recording. Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder. One early revelation was figuring out that in “Butch and Butch” the trumpet and saxophone go from playing in unison to parallel major 2nds. Definitely a wow moment. The melodies on the album were full of interesting intervals. And the music swung like crazy!

Click here for a PDF version – Butch and Butch” PDF excerpt

Transcribing jazz orchestra charts came later for me – out of necessity. I taught in a high school for 6 years in the 1970s and while there were some great Thad Jones charts in print and Kendor was also publishing Sammy Nestico but those were few and far between. (I recall that Gil Evans’ “Maids of Cadiz” was published, but it was an exception to the rule. At that time I had very motivated students and I wanted them to have the experience of playing good music. So I started lifting, among others: “Tones for Joan’s Bones” (Chick Corea, arr. Duke Pearson), “La Fiesta” (Chick Corea, arr. Tony Klatka),4it was eventually published so I could check for accuracy. “In A Sentimental Mood” (Duke Ellington, arr. Bill Holman). “The Quintessence” (Quincy Jones), “Evening in Paris” (Quincy Jones), “Round Midnight” (Monk, arr. Marty Paitch) – those last three were alto saxophone features and I had a killer alto player in my high school band so, the mother of invention is necessity, right?

Regarding transcribing Quincy Jones’  “The Quintessence”, which featured Phil Woods.  I used a reel-to-reel tape recorder in those days.  And I used it a lot. Those machines had three speeds: 7 ½, 3 ¾, and 1 7/8ths. The high speed was good for hearing roots and bass lines, and of course the slowest speed was great for slowing down fast tempos. Music recorded at 3 ¾ would sound normal, 7 ½ would be twice as fast and an octave higher and 1 7/8 was an octave lower than normal. Somehow, either the turntable I used to play the original into the tape recorder, or the tape machine itself, were out of whack. And the music I heard was in Gb major. So I lifted what I heard and had my high school band and later on a college band I directed play it in that key. It was later that I realized the tape recorder hadn’t been calibrated properly (I guess) and played back the recording up a ½ step. Once I realized my mistake, I changed it to the correct key of F major. Lesson learned (but no longer relevant) was to check several sources for accuracy.

3. Studying Arranging and Composing Texts

I picked up techniques from various books over the years. For my 16th birthday, my parents gave me a copy of “Sounds and Scores” by Henry Mancini. It came with small vinyl discs containing recordings of many of the examples in the text. I remember I learned a lot from that one. Everything from laying out a score to rather advanced orchestration. Hank loved those alto flutes, didn’t he? Another gift when I went to university was William Russo’s “Composing Music”. Over the years there have been many books I’ve found very useful and inspiring. In no particular order, texts by these authors have been valuable: Russ Garcia, Don Sebesky, Sammy Nestico, Simon Adler, Bill Dobbins, Gary Lindsay, Richard Sussman and Michael Abene, Jim McNeely, Mike Tomaro, Nelson Riddle, Ted Pease, and more.

Formal Study

In 1966 I was a first year music major at the University of Toronto. The courses were challenging and I learned a lot, but I really wanted to study jazz arranging and composition and, in those days, you lowered your voice when you said “jazz” in those hallowed halls. (At that time they didn’t admit saxophone majors – you had to play clarinet instead).

So I began private studies in theory, counterpoint, arranging and composition with Gordon Delamont who was the go-to guy at that time in Toronto. Among his students were Rob McConnell and Ron Collier, and many others. He had five texts published by Kendor which I believe are still available.5I think they stand up fairly well these many years later, but while still full of great information the arranging text could use an update. Subsequently I was also fortunate to have instruction from Ted Pease, Walter Buczinski, John Beckwith and one fabulous 4-hour session with Jim McNeely. Grabbing a lesson or series of lessons with someone whose music you love is highly recommended.

4. Score Study

I’m a score junkie. I have found score study to be extremely valuable throughout my musical life. I was fortunate to lead big bands in college and university for nearly 40 years and so I saw a lot of full scores. Learning to read transposed scores was a skill I acquired a bit later than some. When I transcribed I got in the habit of writing in concert pitch. But it is clear to me that learning to read transposed scores is essential.  Most published scores are transposed. Many writers prefer to write transposed scores.

Nowadays you can find published scores by a many great jazz arrangers and composers for performance and study.6For example, I recently discovered a link where you can find out lots about Gil Evans’ “My Ship” arrangement. Go to: http://jazzarrangingclass.com/gil-evans-arrangement-of-my-ship-w-transcription. It is wonderful to see the music preserved and published.

I continue to collect scores. I’ve obtained scores directly from composers like Jim McNeely, Mike Holober, Asuka Takitani, Chuck Owen and Fred Stride and through ArtistShare I’ve purchased scores by Maria Schneider and Bob Brookmeyer.  E-Jazz Lines, Sierra Music and others provide other great resources.7An aside: the late, great Canadian arranger, Rob McConnell donated all his original Boss Brass paper and pencil scores to the Music Library at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. They aren’t in regular circulation, but if trying to track down something of Rob’s you could try contacting that library for more information. http://library.music.utoronto.ca

For ANY public domain ‘classical’ music score, visit http://imslp.org. You may do what I did and purchase a membership.  You can download pdf files to study off-line. No copyright infringement.

Speaking of possible copyright infringement, it appears that there are hundreds of recordings on YouTube with video of the scores sync’d to the audio. That said, I understand there are new efforts underway to improve the tracking of streaming on YouTube, SoundCloud and other sites so that music creators get paid when their music is played. Check out http://www.audiam.com for one service I just heard about.

A more recent discovery is that you can view a great number of scores that have been performed by the New York Philharmonic. They are in the Leon Levy Digital Archives. The scores are images of the complete scores complete with pencilled annotations and other markings by whoever was conducting at the time the score was archived. It’s a bit of history I find very interesting. And there are many scores still under copyright. You can’t download, but you can study them on your computer display. One example: I found Stravinsky’s “L’Histoire du Soldat” there.

5. Write, Hear, Edit, Hear, Write, Edit…

I’ve learned a great deal of what I know about writing from actually doing it. And, even more important, hearing the music performed by musicians. MIDI is okay in a limited way, but hearing live musicians interpret your music is invaluable. I’ve also learned a lot by listening to players’ advice and feedback about playability of my music. For example, I learned how to greatly improve my drum parts by listening to various drummers’ advice (don’t overwrite, consider the page turns, etc.).

One final anecdote: In 1971, I had my final lesson with Gord Delamont and he gave me a present to commemorate our time together. It was an oversized eraser. The perfect gift.  I’m still learning and relearning to use it…often.

-P. Read

_____________________

Afterword

I never anticipated writing an article for this blog, but I guess it was inevitable that a month would come along when my invitations to others to contribute would not bear fruit. Many who have been invited have written to say they were interested but that they were in the middle of a project or busy in other ways and, could they write later.  This is great news. Composers and arrangers (and all musicians) should be busy (and hopefully, remunerated handsomely).

If you have suggestions or comments about this or any of the other articles, please contact me at: pread@isjac.org or post a comment below.

Sincere thanks to those who have contributed one or more articles to date: John La Barbera (2), Adam Benjamin, David Berger, Rick Lawn (2), Bill Dobbins and Florian Ross. Their knowledge, insights and music have been informative and inspiring.


About the Author:

PAUL READ (pianist, composer, arranger) lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Currently he curates the blog for the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers. He was a member of the Humber College Music Faculty in Toronto from 1979 to 1991, Program Coordinator there from 1982 to 1987, and Director of Music from 1987 to 1991. In 1991, he founded degree programs in jazz studies at the University of Toronto (Mus. Bac., M. Mus. and DMA) where he was Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies and following that, Director of Graduate Jazz Studies. He was Canada’s Representative on the Board of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) from 2002-2008, and was the founding Director of the National Music Camp (NMC) Jazz Camp (1987 to 2006). He has also taught in the summers at the Ken Kistner Jazz Camp (Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan) and the jazz faculty of the Prairielands Jazz Camp (Regina, Saskatchewan). He is now retired from education.

Selected Recordings:

The Dance Never Ends – with Trish Colter (1998,  At Long Last Love  Trish Colter (2002), The Heart of Summer – Paul Read Quartet featuring Scott Robinson. (2004) Now available on CD Baby, and Arc-en-ciel  Addo Records  – Paul Read Orchestra (2013) Now available on CD Baby.

Awards:

2015 Muriel Sherrin Award for International Achievement in Music (Toronto Arts Foundation), 2008 Paul Read Orchestra (PRO) nominated for a Canadian National Jazz Award, 2007-2008 Awarded a Canada Council for the Arts Recording Grant, 1993 Awarded the University of Toronto Senior Alumni Award for Innovation in Teaching and finally, 1972 Winner of the Rob McConnell/Gordon Delamont Arranging & Composition Award.

Paul’s Website: www.paulread.ca

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I guess we don’t refer to ‘cuts’ anymore. ☺
2. Much later, it occurred to me that this was a remarkable way for an album to start. Maybe even a little audacious. It was certainly a different type of ‘attention getter’.
3. Impulse! Recording. Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder
4. it was eventually published so I could check for accuracy.
5. I think they stand up fairly well these many years later, but while still full of great information the arranging text could use an update.
6. For example, I recently discovered a link where you can find out lots about Gil Evans’ “My Ship” arrangement. Go to: http://jazzarrangingclass.com/gil-evans-arrangement-of-my-ship-w-transcription.
7. An aside: the late, great Canadian arranger, Rob McConnell donated all his original Boss Brass paper and pencil scores to the Music Library at the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto. They aren’t in regular circulation, but if trying to track down something of Rob’s you could try contacting that library for more information. http://library.music.utoronto.ca
Artist Blog

Florian Ross: Cooking & Eggs

You’d like to cook? OK. Why? Is it because you like food and would like to prepare it yourself, or maybe because you would like to impress someone? Perhaps you would like to become a famous chef.

All of the above are good reasons to start cooking – and there’s an abundance of more good reasons. In fact, I don’t think there are any bad reasons to start cooking, as long as there is at least one.

So, please make up your mind about why you’d like to do it. This is not a permanent decision and it might change rapidly during the course of your experiments. Still, make up your mind for now. Write your ideas on a piece of paper and put them somewhere safe.

There are many ways to start. You could just wander through your kitchen, pick up some things and throw them together, heat up the stove and go for it. Things might work or it might not.

The next thing you are probably going to do is either watch or ask a friend, mother, or grandpa how and what they cook. At first, you will most likely choose a dish you love and would like to make it yourself. Maybe granny isn’t around at the time when you have a craving for pancakes? That also might be one of the reasons you

If you don’t know anyone who can cook a little, you might have to start searching for someone or something that could help you reaching further than your first attempt of boiling toast and ketchup. That something could be the first cookbook you pick up from a bargain bin at your local bookstore. It might read something like: 50 Delicious, Simple Dishes for Absolute Beginnners.

You might succeed or you might not, but if you’re still into it, you are bound to upgrade your knowledge. You might take a cooking class, buy more advanced cookbooks, cook with friends and exchange ideas and knowledge. This is going help you take a great step forward.

Soon you’ll be interested in not only recipes, but detailed information about the chemical and physical processes involved in cooking, why some pans stick and others don’t, and why you shouldn’t work with sharp metal tools in a non-stick pan. Where and when certain produce grows and where to get the freshest fish might be other great things to find out about.

You will analyse recipes, watch friends cook, travel and take down ideas from other chefs, be aware of certain styles, cultures and countries. You will learn about them and start combining ideas from Japanese cuisine with Peruvian styles.

Now, you’ve come far from your initial attempts and years will probably have passed.

If you keep this up, and you still have the piece of paper that tells you why you wanted to cook in the first place, you will realize that you have come a long way. Your goals may have changed, but you will be able to see, from what you originally wrote in your notebook, why you want to start cooking and to keep doing it.

All is well.

What could go wrong?

Of course, a lot can go wrong, but one of the saddest and dumbest things that can go wrong, is that you lose track of the initial reason why you even started.

You read many books about molecular cooking, about complicated, weird ways of chopping fish. You’ve learned so many rules, you have analyzed and tried to understand everything. You even spend some time in China and Italy to learn from master chefs. You studied, you took courses, you practised…, and?

You forgot why you are doing it. And suddenly all the things you’ve learned replace your original incentives and why you wanted to learn how to cook in the first place.

You were told that you cannot combine milk and lemon – so you don’t. But have you ever tried making paneer? You have checked out Malaysian and Austrian cuisine, so you might combine coconut milk and fish sauce with apple strudel – because you think it’s hip and new and interesting.

But, do you step back and check if this is what you want? Is this the taste you like? Is this part of your goal? Probably not.

So step back and rethink why you do all of this. What do you need in order to achieve which goal? Which techniques do you need? What should you focus on? Ever ordered from a take-out that offers Chinese-Grill-Italian-French-German-Taiwanese-Crossover? Did you like it?

Ask yourself these questions:

Why did you want to learn to cook?

Why did you want to understand how to cook?

Why did you copy chefs?

Why did you experiment?

If you reach a point where you feel any confusion , I’d recommend focusing on eggs for a while. Scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, fried eggs, eggs benedict, pancakes with eggs, eggnoodles, egg on steak, egg nog, foamy eggs, real pudding made of eggs, sauce hollandaise, spaghetti carbonara…

That should get you back on track.

Cook away!
Florian Ross


About the Author:

Florian Ross Pianist, Composer www.florianross.de

Florian Ross is a musical explorer.

His journey into the many lands of jazz began with studies in Cologne and later London and New York, where he honed his skills both as a pianist and a composer. Florian’s special area of devotion and expertise was post-bop, which flowered into his remarkable ability today to handle all forms of contemporary and improvised music.

His first album as a leader appeared in 1998. Now he has a dozen to his name, with more on the way!

Florian’s music comes from a deep synthesis of heart and mind, of feeling and intellect. This is why he can so effortlessly span the realms of improvised and composed jazz. His gifts as a piano player prevent him from being seduced into the abstract theory of purely intellectual composition, while his instincts as a composer enables him to steer clear of self-indulgence on the keyboards.

He leaves to others the boring arguments about traditional jazz versus the avant-garde. Florian’s too busy making music.

And it’s music of a breathtaking variety. The diversity of formats he works in is simply dazzling. Just listen to the samples http://www.florianross.de/#media to hear Florian casually excel in every combination from solo, duo, trio and quintet right up to big bands and string orchestras.

He has taught at many German universities and academies and is currently teaching Piano and Composition at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz, Köln. He has also been involved in teaching clinics and workshops all over the world.

He has played, composed and arranged for many orchestras across Europe including the Metropole Orchestra, WDR and NDR Big Band. Florian’s international awards for playing and composing are too numerous to list, but among them are the coveted first prize in the Danish Radio Big Band International Thad Jones Competition and the prestigious WDR Jazz prize for composition.

– Andrew Cartmel, Spring 2014

Artist Blog

Rick Lawn: Lessons I’ve Learned

I guess when you begin to see your runway getting a little shorter you think more about the things you’ve learned over many years of teaching and writing. These moments of reflection also prompt you to want to share this information with others and begin to document your findings, conclusions, and lessons learned. I was happy to accept the invitation to contribute to the ISJAC blog and have this opportunity to share just a few of these lessons I’ve learned. Notice that none of these observations and suggestions has much to do with the mechanics of writing e.g. chord voicings, form, orchestration, and so forth, but have more to do with my view of writing from 1000 feet.

Lesson I: Don’t be too eager to compose original music.

Reflecting back many years to my undergraduate years, I had great teachers. For example I had Joseph Schwantner for beginning orchestration class before he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1979, and Rayburn Wright for jazz arranging courses and related jazz curriculum. Who could have asked for anything better? They were very open to whatever projects I chose to do, even though they sometimes fell outside the intended guidelines of the assignment. I often preferred to write original music rather than arrangements, though I did write several arrangements as I recall. Years later as a teacher myself I offered the same latitude to my students. But it was many, many years later that I realized how allowing this kind of freedom might have actually been a disservice to my development. For some reason much later in my career I began writing arrangements, carefully analyzing them first, deconstructing them, re-harmonizing, reconsidering style, tempo, key, meter and so forth. In creating a number of arrangements of both jazz classics for my 10-piece band Power of Ten such as “Giant Steps,” “Naima,” and “Bass Face” along with remakes of pop tunes I grew up with, I found that my writing was suddenly moving in new directions. I was learning more from myself and by myself. Perhaps this growth and further maturity in my writing was going to come about anyway as I grew older, wiser and more experienced. But I have to believe that my growth was in part due to working with other composer’s materials and discovering how I could make it my own. As a result, I found that my own compositional efforts were advancing. The lesson here is that arranging with an eye (and ear) towards transforming someone else’s material is a very valuable process in the path towards developing as a well-rounded writer. I learned, for example, that typically the meter dictates the rhythm of the melody.  On the other hand, reversing this relationship by letting the rhythm of the melody dictate the meter, can lead to some interesting outcomes.  Working on assignment from Danny Behr at Walrus Music I had a great deal of fun transforming tired old public domain pieces like “Yellow Rose of Texas” and “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” I honestly feel that while I continue to compose original music, some of my best work recently has been in the form of arrangements.

Lesson II: Don’t rely too much on the computer to do your creative work.

Computer notation and sequencing software has revolutionized the way we can work. These applications have in some ways provided a new resource in our toolbox, removing some of the guesswork and tedious aspects of writing. But don’t let this tool become a monkey wrench that works against creativity. I learned this lesson the hard way.

I have always been a technology geek so embracing the technology was fun and enticing, especially when the young student writers came to their lessons with their scores on disk. In some ways they made me feel behind the times as I was not using computer sequencing and notation software to the full extent that they were. I decided I needed to catch up and started a new original score, working almost solely at the computer and MIDI keyboard. I brought the new score for reading by the UT Jazz Orchestra and it was the worst piece of music I had ever written. After spending some time with it in rehearsal I asked the band to pass it in and I threw it out. I had never done that before, always keeping things that I had written for possible use at some later date. After doing some soul searching I began to conduct an informal survey of much younger writers who I admired, for example Vince Mendoza and Maria Schneider. I was interested in learning about their creative processes, and particularly how they used computers. Surprise, Surprise…..they didn’t! They still relied to a great extent on using pencil and paper, the piano, and their own instruments. They only introduced computers towards the end of the process or as a means to perhaps check something they had written and could not easily play at a keyboard. This age old approach to creativity hasn’t changed nor has it been improved.

There is something much more linear about having pages of manuscript in front of you, all visible at once that provides a better sense of flow, pacing, musical evolution, and the dramatic aspects of your score. I found that the computer didn’t provide the same essential insight during the initial creative process, and I had let the computer actually replace my own creative muse instead of helping it in the tedious, repetitive aspects of writing.

The computerized musicians inside that box never have to take a breath, never falter or tire, never complain about playing an impossible passage or something at the extreme ends of their ranges. Computers remove the essential need to create space in a score because they can play anything and do anything you ask them to do, but of course this is entirely artificial. I’ll pursue this a bit more in Lesson III that follows.

Computers also tend to diminish the composer/arranger’s need to internalize the sound, range, timbre, special characteristics and technical capabilities of the instruments. Without a personal awareness of these attributes arrangers can find it difficult to develop their own sound and may even create music that tires the listener. I believe it orchestration that defines a significant aspect of an arranger’s identity.

I have found that students can be mislead by computer software which tends to bypass the need to internalize things like instrument ranges, timbre in certain ranges, transpositions, the sound of mutes, instrumental combinations, saxophone sub-tone, and how difficult it might be for a real instrumentalist to execute a particular passage. I decided to help them by creating a software tool that provides a quick easy reference for nearly all the instruments that are typically found in an extended jazz ensemble. I call it The Orchestrators TooKit and it offers aural feedback on nearly every pitch possible by these instruments and it features REAL instruments not samples. It also provides useful information on transpositions, idiosyncrasies, special effects including the sounds of brass mutes, possible instrumental combinations, and so forth.  It is Mac and PC compatible and I’m offering it here exclusively at no charge. Click or copy the link below and paste it into your browser.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/79etjk2bhr9kaca/AAA1XwSGFsxGL_jVry3ilRXya?dl=0

Download the compressed .zip file of your choice (Windows, Mac or Linux) which will keep the download file size down. Extract the program from the .zip file once you’ve downloaded it to your computer. All I ask in return is to let me know if you find it useful to you or your students and how it might be improved.

Of course the controlled recording studio circumstances make the samples somewhat unreal by comparison to more acoustic, live performance situations, but you still might find it to be a useful tool as some of my students at UT did.

Lesson III: Evaluate your work through the ears of the listener.

As I suggested previously, it is all too easy to over write. I think it was Sammy Nestico that suggested our best friend is the eraser.  While cutting and pasting is easy at the computer, be careful investing too much creative time sitting in front of one. I found that some of my students fell into this trap. I remember an occasion sitting at the piano with one of my graduate students who, some time later, won the Brussels Jazz Orchestra composition contest. We were reviewing a print out of a score he was working on. At one point I asked him if he had any idea how much time had elapsed during a section of the score. He looked at me puzzled and I could tell he had no idea. I then explained the simple formula to compute how much time elapses from one point to the next.  Understanding your music at this basic level helps to determine if you’ve dwelled too long on a section using the same orchestration, or at the same dynamic level, or before something significantly new is introduced. I then explained to him that by multiplying the number of measures times the number of beats per measure and dividing that total by the metronome marking, he could determine how much time had elapsed. For example, 80 bars of ¾ meter times 3 beats per measure equals 240 beats divided by the metronome marking of 100 equals 2.4 minutes or 2 minutes 24 seconds (.4 x 60 = 24). In that way it is easier to begin to disconnect as writer from the score and begin to get a better impression of what the listener hears, helping to avoid ear fatigue or boredom. This is a simple guideline but one that is very easy to overlook.

I found in analyzing some of my favorite ballads, for example, that a good arrangement often featured significant changes every four measures. In that short time something usually changed  orchestrationally, or perhaps in others ways. Four measures isn’t a long time, but it is when the tempo is only 60mm!

Lesson IV: Learn to recognize the appealing “hook” in your music and make the most of it.

While some of you might find it demeaning to use the pop music term “hook,” I find it a useful term to describe that kernel in a score that helps listeners to remember a piece, follow the composition, and want to hear it again. It’s important to remember that unlike other art forms, music is not visual and is quite ephemeral. The hooks become tangible objects that provide listeners with something concrete and reoccurring that guide them through a piece. The hook usually appears multiple times in the score, possibly reoccurring each time with a slightly different variation. If we aren’t careful during the creative process we can easily not see (or hear) a great hook that can be influential as we develop the score. The hook can actually be the initial creation that then spawns the rest of the composition. Hooks can appear in the form of a harmonic progression, a melodic line, and particular rhythmic figure that might have slightly different melodies or harmonizations each time it reappears. Hooks provide a form of gravitational pull or grounding for the listener. They are a target or a goal that helps to provide glue to all of the other aspects of your composition. As small as these kernels might be, they often provide the musical DNA that one associates with a particular writer. We can often successfully guess on first hearing who might have written an unidentified piece based on the hooks we hear.  They can range from relatively simple figures to more complex. Hooks can also provide valuable material when we search for the elusive way to end a piece, or begin it. Many of my favorite contemporary jazz composers use this device to great affect, and it is an ingredient I frequently make use of in my own writing.

You can hear a few examples of how I’ve used hooks in my music on YouTube:


Click here to listen to these tracks on YouTube

Particularly listen to “Hopscotch” for the 4-note melodic/rhythmic gesture that serves as the basis of the A section of this chart. You’ll also hear a hook appear in different ways and for different purposes in “Quiet Please!.” It first can be heard from 1:56-2:18 and it reappears throughout the chart in various ways. Multiple hooks can be heard in “Retrospect.” The first occurs at 00:40-00:42 as a 4 –note phrase that either ascends or descends and is used many times and in different ways throughout the chart. The second hook immediately follows it from 00:54-1:17, occurring several times throughout the chart. Lastly, I used a similar reoccurring device with variations in “Never Too Late.” The first occurrence is heard from 1:03 to 1:13.  I guess I should thank whoever illegally uploaded these tracks to YouTube without my permission as it’s made sharing these examples easy!

I hope these few lessons I’ve learned, having more to do with the process and art of writing than the mechanics, will make sense to you and offer something to consider passing on, or perhaps benefit your own work. The older I get the more I find I have to learn!

 


About the Author:

Richard (Rick) Lawn

Richard (Rick) Lawn has received several significant composition grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and, as a member of the Nova Saxophone Quartet, has recorded on the Musical Heritage Society, Crystal and Equilibrium labels. The Sea Breeze record label issued “Unknown Soldiers,” a CD recorded by the Third Coast Jazz Orchestra that features his compositions and arrangements including his arrangement of “Donna Lee” recorded by Bobby Sanabria’s New York Latin big band on his 2001 Grammy nominated CD. In fall 2011 his Philadelphia based little big band Power of Ten10 released Earth Tones that includes his original compositions and arrangements. The CD received coast-to-coast radio play and favorable reviews.

Kendor Music, CL Barnhouse, Walrus Music, Concept Music, Alfred Music, eJazzlines, Warwick Music, Dorn, LawnWorks Publications and UNC Press among others publish his music. Rick’s books entitled The Jazz Ensemble Directors Manual (in its 4th edition), Jazz Theory and Practice in its 2nd edition (that includes interactive ear training software) and Experiencing Jazz now in its 2nd edition have become staples among jazz educators and students.

Rick’s performing experiences outside his own ensembles include extended engagements with Lionel Hampton, Chuck Mangione, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Austin Symphony others. He has performed in back-up orchestras for Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Natalie Cole, Marian McPartland, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Dianne Schuur, Rosemary Clooney, Aretha Franklin and a host of others.

Richard Lawn is the former Dean of the College of Performing Arts at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia where he is now Professor Emeritus and part-time faculty member teaching jazz history online. He also teaches online for VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Recetly Rick has become involved with the International Society of Arrangers and Composers. Formerly, he was affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin serving as Founding Director of Jazz Studies, Chair of the Department of Music, and Associate Dean for academic affairs. Visit his Web site at: http://www.RickLawn.com.

Artist Blog

Bill Dobbins and Concerto for Jazz Orchestra: the Use of a Twelve-Tone Row in a Large Scale Jazz Composition

(Click here to hear Concerto for Jazz Orchestra)

From the time I became the principal director of the WDR Big Band in the fall of 1994, I started thinking about the possibility of composing a multi-movement concerto for jazz orchestra specifically for that band. I decided that, if it was to be for a jazz orchestra, it should be written expressly for the special qualities of the particular musicians in the band and should also showcase the skills of the individual sections as well as the full ensemble. However, it wasn’t long before my interest in the immediate projects at hand and the excitement of writing for a wide range of internationally known guest soloists kept my creative imagination occupied and the idea of the concerto was forgotten. For some unknown reason, my attention returned to it during the spring of 1999, while looking forward to a good deal of free time in the summer months just ahead. It seemed like the time was right, and I planned to compose the piece in time for one of the band’s fall programs.

The idea of a concerto for jazz orchestra was initially inspired Bela Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, one of my favorite pieces of music since my college days in the mid and late 1960s. In terms of overall dimensions, Bartók’s scheme of five movements also appealed to me. It seemed to me that five movements could more completely display the exceptional ensemble and solo skills of the WDR Big Band and also allow for maximum range of tempos, expressive moods and orchestral colors. I eventually decided that the outer movements would be relatively fast swing in 4/4, with the slow movement in the middle, also in 4/4. For contrast, the second movement would be a medium tempo jazz waltz and the fourth would be a toccata of sorts, in 12/8, with even eighth notes and an Afro-Cuban character.

As I began to think about melodic and rhythmic ideas, I found myself coming back to the thought of organizing a twelve-tone row, primarily for melodic material. My first twelve-tone jazz piece was a blues called Blues for Anton, inspired by the symmetrical rows of Anton Webern during my undergraduate years as a classical piano and composition double major at Kent State University. At that time I was very impressed by George Russell’s writing that featured pianist Bill Evans, and was fascinated by John Carisi’s use of a twelve-tone row in his composition Moon Taj, from the Gil Evans recording Into the Hot. The ability of these composers to employ chromatic and polytonal concepts to jazz compositions and arrangements without abandoning either the swing rhythmic feeling or the spirit of the blues really inspired my own search in composing, arranging and improvising.

During the 1980s I was invited to compose an original piece for a recording project of trombonist Jim Pugh and bass trombonist Dave Taylor (The Pugh/Taylor Project), involving an instrumentation of two saxes with woodwind doubles, two violas, two cellos, rhythm section and the two trombonists. I took that opportunity to write a more ambitious piece in which a twelve-tone row was used as the main source for the thematic material and some of the harmonic structures, while returning to the blues form for the main themes and solo choruses. The piece was entitled Still the Blues (After All These Years), reflecting my enduring conviction that some connection to the feeling of the blues is an essential element of all great jazz.

From this earlier experience working with twelve-tone techniques, I felt that the use of a row as a source for thematic content could provide a self-imposed limitation that would enable my strongest musical influences to come through in a personal manner, while also providing an important unifying melodic element throughout the five movements. One of the final aspects of the large-scale structure of the piece was the decision to organize the five movements in keys that symmetrically divide the octave. Since there were to be five movements, it seemed that minor third relationships would be best suited. I decided that the outer movements would be in the key of C, with the inner movements in the keys of Eb, F# and A, respectively. I left the decision about major or minor modality to the more specific organization and development of each movement, with the assumption that all movements would have some connection to the blues, whether in actual form, melodically, harmonically, or simply expressively.

The twelve-tone row that I constructed strongly suggests blues relationships. The first seven notes of the original form consist of an enharmonic C7 chord with the blue third (Eb), blue fifth (Gb) and lowered ninth (Db). The first seven notes of the inversion form consist of an Ab7 chord with the blue third (Cb), raised eleventh (D) and thirteenth (F). The last five notes of the original and inversion forms consist of a Dm6 chord with the blue fifth (Ab) and an A7 chord with an enharmonic lowered ninth (A#). The first seven notes and the last five notes of both forms contain a diminished seventh chord, which relates to the minor third relationship between the main keys of the five movements of the piece. Of course, numerous harmonic structures that are commonly used in jazz have the notes of a diminished seventh chord within larger combinations of five or more chord tones.

concerto-ex-1

(Ex. 1)

Another final aspect that was decided before any actual themes were written, was that the first and final movements would begin with the same introductory material, primarily introducing the row in it’s prime form and setting the overall emotional tone for the piece. One of my favorite jazz compositions is a three-movement work that Bill Holman wrote for the Australian Jazz Quintet in 1957, Jazz in D Minor. The outer movements begin with the same thirty-measure introduction, which includes all the motivic material to be developed through all three movements. I was awed by Holman’s ability to follow the same thirty measures with two completely different pieces, each of which is equally compelling. Furthermore, having a lengthy introduction at the start of the outer movements, Holman balanced this with a much longer coda to conclude the final movement.

Of course, the work of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Bob Brookmeyer, Clare Fischer and many other jazz composers, as well as that of classical composers from Bach to Shostakovich have informed my own music through the years, and is a constant source of inspiration. The language of chromatic tonality is, arguably, western culture’s most unique musical gift to the world, and it is primarily jazz musicians who continue to use this language, enabling and encouraging its ongoing evolution.

My usual procedure in composing and arranging is to allow my ear and intuition to lead things. I only use techniques and theoretical knowledge in a conscious manner when I get stuck. The concerto opens with a majestic brass choral. The four melodic gestures of the lead trumpet line resulted from trying different rhythms with successive groups of notes in the row. The lead trumpet line in bars 1-9 presents a complete statement of the row, beginning on Eb. Although the first four notes suggest the actual key of the movement (C blues) the bass line and harmonic motion remain ambiguous until bars 15-21, when the progression leads to D7alt. and, eventually, G7alt. in subsequent measures. Although some of the brass voicings are bitonal, the voice leading is convincing as they move to more conventional harmonies at the end of the phrases. Strong voice leading is the most essential skill for achieving clear and colorful harmonic content.

The second statement of the row in the lead trumpet line in bars 10-16 is on A, a tritone lower than the first statement. Although the first two voicings are simply a transposition of the opening statement, the subsequent voicings continue in a contrasting manner as the row is divided into two long phrases, rather than four short phrases. The saxophone responses in unison octaves relate to the lead trumpet line and use some intervallic content from the row, but in a free manner. I simply heard what was suggested by the context of the brass material.

concerto-ex-2_01

concerto-ex-2_02

concerto-ex-2_03
(Ex. 2)

 

The main theme of the first movement plays with the blue third and blue seventh in a bitonal context of two solo instruments (trumpet and baritone sax, played by Klaus Osterloh and Jens Neufang, respectively) accompanied by bass and drums.  While the baritone line clearly suggests the home key of C blues, the imitation by the trumpet is in Ab blues. I like this relationship because the first and fifth scale degrees in C (C and G) suggest the third and seventh scale degrees in Ab, which give the Cb and Gb in the trumpet line a strong blues color.

The first four notes of the baritone melody are the first four notes of the opening choral melody. However, by moving down from Eb to C instead of up, an entirely different melodic meaning is conveyed. When the two horns join each other rhythmically in the pickup to bar 37, the trumpet line clearly takes over the melody from the baritone. The trumpet’s four-note group, G-G#-B-C#, is the retrograde of notes 2 through 5 of the opening choral melody (C-Bb-G-Gb) transposed up a half step. The baritone line here was developed freely, but still uses some intervallic content from the row.

After the opening four bars in C blues, bars 37-44 suggest motion from B7 to Em9, A7 to AbM9+11, C#13sus. and F#9sus., which resolves deceptively to G7+9-9. This leads back to the key of C blues in bar 45, where the content of the small group is presented by the large ensemble.

concerto-ex-3_01

concerto-ex-3_02

(Ex. 3)

 

The large ensemble statement of the main theme is cut short in order to keep the listener’s attention by developing material heard in the small group statement into a ten-bar transition to the second theme. While bars 37-38 are continued in a simple sequence in bars 39-40, bar 51 resolves the B7 chord to EM9-5 instead of Em9. Instead of completing the sequence heard earlier, a new starting point occurs. As a two-chord vamp is set up, the half note in the saxophone melody of bar 49 is lengthened, while the eighth note figure of bars 49-50 is shortened from six notes to five. Once the two-chord vamp has occurred twice, the eighth note line is stretched out by a full measure of eight notes, after which the vamp returns as the harmony moves from Eb7+9 to D7+9 in bar 59. This leads to the short second theme section, which begins with a pentatonic figure (F-Ab-Bb) whose shape is found in the first three notes of the inversion form of the row. The texture of this section is contrapuntal and, although the bass line and some of the melodic content clearly convey G blues, the lines are sometimes in a polytonal relationship.

I sometimes like to use classical formal relationships in jazz pieces, both to add another self-imposed limitation to work with and to acknowledge the rich European tradition of chromatic tonal music that many jazz musicians still draw from. In the classical sonata form, the second theme section is often in the key of the dominant, in relation to the main theme. Here, the main theme in a C blues tonality is followed by a second theme in a G blues tonality, established by the D7+9 chord. Note that the saxophone melody note is Db, enharmonically the major seventh, but also a blue note in the new key of G. Duke Ellington clearly heard that blue notes often sound convincing because the ear hears them as “right notes” in blues melodies, even if they are “wrong” notes in relation to the accompanying chords. According to Ellington, “If it sounds good, it’s good music. If it doesn’t, then it’s the other kind.” In this case, the Db recurs in the trumpet line of the second theme, where it is resolved up a half step (where the ear wanted it to go).

concerto-ex-4
(Ex. 4)

 

The second theme is followed by the closing section of the exposition, with stop time exchanges between the ensemble and the soloists leading to improvised solos by trumpet and baritone. The harmonic form for the solos combines blues and modal harmonies with G7+9 and Eb13+11 lasting for eight bars each. This is followed by a two-bar harmonic rhythm lasting eight measures, with backgrounds recalling the two-bar vamp figure from bars 51-52. At the end of each solo, the stop time exchanges from the end of the exposition return.

I decided to start the recapitulation with the second theme material, but in a higher, more climactic register. This soon descends to a lower register for a bit more contrapuntal development, which gradually builds to a cadence on a highly chromatic G7 chord that announces the return of the main theme. The brief coda features short exchanges between the soloists and the ensemble, ending on a Cm6/9 chord, but with unresolved extension of Gb, Ab and F in the higher instruments.

The opening of the second movement is my variation of the introduction to Stratusphunk by George Russell, as arranged by Gil Evans on the album Out of the Cool. The pyramid is taken from a retrograde of notes 1-7, transposed a minor third lower. It creates an octatonic voicing of Bb7, setting up the tonality of Eb blues. The solo bass trombone’s pickup, Bb-G, adds the eighth tone to complete the Bb half step-whole step octatonic scale. The Gb played on the downbeat of bar 6 clearly sounds like the blue third in the key of Eb.

The two eight-bar phrases from bar 6-21 each begin with the pitches Bb-G-Gb, notes 3-5 of the original form of the row. Each eight bars seems to suggest a harmonic turnaround leading back to Eb, although there is no rhythm section to clarify exactly what the chords are. At first, I tried following Bb, G and Gb with the three notes on either side in the row, Eb, C and Fb. I didn’t like the Fb, but substituting the Db next to it in the row seemed to make the perfect three-note response. From there on, I worked out the bass trombone line by ear until it sounded perfect to me. The two-beat cross rhythm in bars 10-11 and 18-19 definitely add momentum. Using a jazz waltz feel and a rhythmically developed bass trombone solo led the Stratusphunk reference into a totally unexpected direction, paying respect to the roots while creating a personal statement from them.

The second statement of the bass trombone theme is joined by a more active contrapuntal line that is bluesy in a less abstract way. This second line clearly suggests subtle chromatic motion away from the tonal center of Eb, to F# (bars 24-45), Ab (bar 26), Db (bars 27-29), C (bars 30-32) and F# (32-24), before concluding with a feeling of A (35-36). This second line was worked out by ear, although the sequence of intervals in the row was beginning to infuse the material with thematic unity s my ears more fully internalized the sounds.

<concerto-ex-5_01

concerto-ex-5_02

concerto-ex-5_03

concerto-ex-5_04
(Ex. 5)

 

The second theme of this movement is more romantic than bluesy, mainly to create contrast and balance. From this point until the return of the main theme near the end of the movement, the saxophones all switch to clarinets. Jens, the baritone saxophonist, enjoyed playing the little Eb clarinet, an instrument I was thrilled to be able to incorporate since hearing it in the music of Igor Stravinsky and Clare Fischer. The second tenor saxophonist, Rolf Römer, played Bb bass clarinet and the rest of the section played the normal Bb clarinets. I will come back to this section later on, in order to point out connections between the second themes of the second and fourth movements.

Because the first movement emphasized blues elements so strongly, I decided to develop the chord progression for the solos from the more romantic second theme. However, some elements from the second line of the first theme section return in a dialogue with the second theme. With the exception of the last two movements, the chord progressions for the solos in the concerto are never simply a repeat of progressions we hear earlier, but incorporate some of the same or similar harmonies to create a feeling of development and continuity rather than repetition. While repeating basically the same progression in small groups actually results in a high degree of freedom to alter and embellish that progression and still stay together as a group, the process of playing written music enables composers and arrangers to come up with much more unpredictable multi-layered musical stories with subtle connections and references in relation to different parts of a piece. The featured soloists in this movement are bass trombonist Lucas Schmid, valve trombonist Dave Horler and pianist Frank Chastenier. Dave was the lead trombonist, but loved to play solos on the valve instrument. Material from the second theme is used in further variation for backgrounds and interludes.

Between the valve trombone and piano solos the ensemble states a harmonization of the opening bass trombone solo line, scored for 5 flugelhorns, three trombones and bass trombone, followed by a rhythmically altered and melodically embellished variation of the same line harmonized for the clarinet choir. After the piano solo, a transition section for the ensemble leads back to the first theme section and a brief coda. The movement begins with a variation of the opening octatonic pyramid, but now on an Eb7 chord with the bass trombone providing an extra low Eb as a final solo statement.

As the third movement is a ballad, I wanted to feature our lead alto saxophonist, Heiner Wiberny. He is not only a beautiful lead player and consummate soloist, but he has a gorgeous ballad sound that can go more toward Charlie Parker or Johnny Hodges, depending on the repertoire. I was definitely thinking Johnny Hodges here. However, to provide contrast for a truly lush alto melody, I made an extended polytonal bluesy introduction that vacillates between brooding melancholy and dark humor. When the alto solo begins, the sun starts to peek out.

The main theme section of this movement uses extremely chromatic harmony that I first encountered in the music of Clare Fischer, from whom I learned that it is a hallmark of the symphonies and string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, even in his first symphony that he wrote when he was nineteen years old. Voice leading is especially at the forefront here, and there are frequent nonharmonic tones that create tension, but they all resolved in a manner that is convincing to the ear. The alto melody is an inversion form of the row, transposed down a tritone. This melody is an exact inversion of the lead trumpet line of the chorale at the beginning of the concerto, although some pitches are repeated here for melodic interest and ornamentation. Although the alto line looks like it is in F in the first two measures, the key is actual Gb or F#, and the melody notes are altered tones or extensions.

Notice that, although the bass note in bar 24 is G, as in bar 16, the chord is C#m9-5 with G in the bass rather than a G chord. This begins a sequence of minor II-V progressions, which provide the harmonic content for the second theme. This theme features the expressive solo trumpet playing of Andy Haderer, who plays lead in the section. Most of the melodic content of the second theme is developed from the last two notes of the row used for the alto solo, E and G. Although the entire second theme is not shown here, bars 30-33 are mostly a sequence of bars 26-29, a whole step lower. The solo alto extends the second theme to ten bars with a two-bar extension that leads to the last statement of the main theme in the exposition, which is also extended from eight to ten measures.


concerto-ex-6_01

concerto-ex-6_02

concerto-ex-6_03

(Ex. 6)

At the end of the exposition a short section of the melancholy introduction returns, which is extended to lead to a solo by bassist John Goldsby. To contrast the warm romanticism of the main and second themes, I decided to come up with a chord progression that emphasized tonic minor chord types, which contrasts with the mood of the exposition. This progression returns in the final movement as the harmonic accompaniment to the second theme, and will be shown later in reference to that movement.

At the end of the bass solo a short transition leads to a reprise of the second theme, but now embellished and orchestrated as a brass shout section with octave melodic responses from the saxophones. The solo alto again plays the two-bar extension, now stretched to three bars, leading to the final statement of the main theme. However, the theme is now played in a higher octave by the trumpets and leads to the high point of the movement. The solo alto takes over one last time in the seventh bar.  In this final statement of the main theme, which was originally eight bars and then extended to ten, it is stretched to fourteen bars. Introductory material returns with further development and leads to an unaccompanied solo alto phrase that ends on a bittersweet Gb6M7 chord with the blue third in the solo alto.

The drums establish the 12/8 Afro-Cuban groove in the first two bars of the fourth movement. The ensemble then comes in with a flourish, establishing the key of A minor. Although the introduction has little to do with the tone row, the rhythm section’s pickup measure in bar 8 is the retrograde of the same inversion form used for the alto solo in the previous movement. The form is like a rondo, with the feeling of a toccata.

The main theme is heard five times, each with a different orchestration. Where the second movement featured the saxophone section on clarinets, this movement features them on piccolo, flutes and alto flutes. As in a good portion of the second movement, I switched the trumpets to flugelhorns, preferring the darker sound for this movement, to contrast with the trumpets in the final movement. It is the flugelhorns that first state the main theme.

The primary melodic figure, E-D-B-C-A, comes from the retrograde of notes 6-10 of the inversion form of the row, transposed down a perfect fourth. The melody of bars 9-13 is simply rhythmic play with the first five tones of the A minor scale, especially the seven-beat cross rhythm from beat three of bar 10 through beat four of bar 13. The emphasis of the notes B and D moves the melody on to temporary resolution in bar 14. Once I had these first few bars, I eventually heard the rest, including the tonicization of IV in bars 14 -16 and the tonicization of III in bars 17-19. The use of the Ab on the A7 chord in bar 16 creates a pungent blues effect, but resolves convincingly to G before continuing on to the third and root of the D minor chord. The complete retrograde of the inversion form of the row recurs in bar 22, here as a pickup bar to the return of the bass vamp with colorful trombone chords announcing the next statement of the theme. On the repeat of the theme, the trombones contribute some counter lines and harmonic punctuation.

concerto-ex-7_01

concerto-ex-7_02

(Ex. 7)

The second theme in this rondo is developed from the second theme of the second movement. The group of tones, C-Db-Bb-Ab-G-E in bars 42-46 of the second movement, and G-Ab-F-Eb-D-B in bars 36-38 of this movement are transpositions of notes 3-8 of the retrograde of the inversion form of the row. I have included chord symbols here to save space, while giving some harmonic and rhythmic context to the use of this common material. The eight bars of harmonized brass content beginning at bar 36 are followed by nine bars of more active melodic development for the flutes and piano (unison octaves) with brass accompaniment, all leading to a flute solo by second tenor saxophonist Rolf Römer. The chord progression is taken from the second theme, with a few small alterations.


concerto-ex-8
(Ex. 8)

The flute solo concludes with a brief interlude for brass and rhythm sections that leads to a statement of the theme by the trombones. Here the pickup material heard in bar 22 is played by the brass section, and the flutes and piano play the harmonic material heard in the trombones at bars 23-24. The trombone statement of the theme is followed by a short ensemble interlude that leads to the third theme of this rondo, a funky eight-bar blues form in the key of Ab that starts on the IV chord (Db7). This is, perhaps, the most extreme contrast in the concerto. For the only time in the movement, the feel changes from Afro-Cuban to that of a 4/4 shuffle groove, but still notated in 12/8. Here I decided to have a guitar solo by Paul Shigihara, and state the theme after the solo as a bridge to the next recurrence of the main theme. The melodic content of the blues theme comes from notes 3-5 of the inversion form of the row and notes 2-4 of the original form. The blues theme is played twice before a short ensemble interlude leads to the next statement of the theme. It should be noted that the interludes throughout the movement return to similar material that is reorchestrated or developed differently in each recurrence.

The next statement of the theme is made by the flute choir, with three flutes and two alto flutes. The flugelhorns play a counter line in the middle, and the entire ensemble comes together in a send off for a trombone solo by then second trombonist, Ludwig Nuss (he has been playing lead since Dave’s retirement several years ago). For contrast, I decided to start this solo off with a rhythmically open feel, still in 12/8, and sixteen bars of G#o7/A, which eventually leads to the chord changes of the second theme as heard in the flute solo. The trombone solo is followed by a short interlude that leads to a reprise of the second theme, exactly as heard earlier.

The movement concludes with a full ensemble orchestration of the main theme. Two flutes and two alto flutes double the harmony of four of the five flugelhorns, but an octave above, while a piccolo doubles the lead flugelhorn two octaves above. The trombones play the accompanimental material heard in the opening statement by the flugelhorns. A brief and slightly humorous coda ends with a diminuendo and a final statement by the trombone and rhythm sections of the opening five notes of the main theme: E-D-B-C-A.

The fifth and final movement starts exactly like the first, with the brass choral and saxophone responses. However, when the fast tempo begins, it is a bit faster than in the first movement. Here it initiates dissonant pyramids alternating with eight-bar drum solos. These lead to a polytonal vamp section emphasizing a G pedal, which serves as a second introduction before the opening theme is stated. While the fourth movement made references to material from the second movement, the fifth movement refers back to material from both the first and third movements. Here, the saxes develop a figure from notes 1-5 of the original form of the row, transposed down a major third. This recalls the Ab blues line of the solo trumpet in the main theme of the first movement (Ex. 3), again creating a polytonal texture.


concerto-ex-9
(Ex. 9)

As the saxophone lines develop, the polytonal vamp starts to move up by half steps, with the implied key center of the sax lines moving along with it. This continues to build tension until the vamp reaches a B pedal (the leading tone in the key of C), which sets up a G altered dominant chord that leads to the main theme.

The theme is stated by trumpet and tenor saxophone, as the movement features trumpeter John Marshall and tenor saxophonist Olivier Peters, along with drummer Hans Dekker. The melodic content comes from the baritone melody of the main theme from the first movement (Ex. 3) Here, the twelve bar melody is divided into two six-bar sections, rather than the three four-bar sections of a blues. In the solo section however, the form sounds more like a conventional minor blues, with Ab9+11 substituting for Fm7. This move from tonic minor to the dominant on the lowered sixth degree of the key, and back to the tonic is heard in compositions from Duke Ellington (The Mooche, The Shepherd, etc.) to contemporary jazz composers. The last four bars (90-93) are a variant of bars 37-40 of the main theme from the first movement (Ex. 3).

In the repetition of the theme, the sequence from bars 90 and 91 to bars 92 and 93 is interrupted, recapturing the listener’s attention with the start of an eight-bar stop time transition. This is a variant of the material that started in bar 49 of the first movement (Ex. 4). Here, however, the stop time material continues in regular two-bar phrases, as I wanted to keep the rhythmic momentum going to set up the second theme, which begins in bar 102.


concerto-ex-10_01

concerto-ex-10_02
(Ex. 10)

The second theme is based on the chord progression used for the improvised bass solo in the third movement. This eight-bar progression emphasizes tonic minor chords, beginning with A minor. In this movement, going from C minor to A minor brightens things up as we move to a key that takes away flats (or adds sharps) to the tonic scale. Occurring rather suddenly, the key change is also a dramatic gesture. In the slow movement, whose home key was F# or Gb major, the move to A minor has a much different psychological effect.

concerto-ex-11
(Ex. 11)

The final statement of the main theme in the exposition, which follows the second theme, leads to a variation of the earlier polytonal vamp. This time, however, it emphasizes FmM7 with the third in the bass. The saxophone material from the earlier vamp is further developed here, and eventually leads to a G altered dominant chord that sets up the improvised solo choruses for trumpet and tenor saxophone. In the bridge, or second theme area of the trumpet solo, the piano plays the harmonic accompaniment from the bass solo of the third movement, but in this fast tempo (Ex. 11). In the tenor solo, the same content is orchestrated for the ensemble. Both solos end by returning to the vamp material from the end of the exposition. At the end of the tenor solo, however, the harmony leads to the same vamp material a whole step higher, on GmM7 with the third in the bass. This heightens the tension, which is gradual resolved as the vamp material descends chromatically, returning to the earlier FmM7. The ascending quarter note lead lines at the end of this section emphasize minor thirds and whole steps, as in notes 1-3 of the inversion form of the row. This is followed by exchanges between the drums and the ensemble, with the melodic content coming from different transpositions of notes 1-5 of the inversion form. The ascending sequences build to a resolution on a powerful E altered dominant voicing that leads to a full ensemble statement based on the chord changes of the second theme.

Because there was so much harmonized material in this movement, I decided to orchestrate this ensemble statement as full ensemble unison with bass and drums accompaniment. Although Ellington used this texture effectively throughout his career, it is surprising that it has been used so seldom in recent decades. The melodic vocabulary is that of basic swing and bebop that just felt right as a contrast to the thick ensemble writing and harmonic tension. At the end of this unison passage, the G altered chord is extended for two extra bars in order to draw attention to the final statement of the main theme. The main theme returns in its original small group orchestration, leading again to the vamp on FmM7/Ab with the bluesy saxophone lines on top. A brief extension of this material leads to a powerful full ensemble G altered dominant chord that sets up the coda.

The concluding section begins with a loud descending statement of the first six notes of the original form of the row (Eb-C-Bb-G-F#-E) with high register trumpets and altos in octaves, together with low register trombones, tenor and baritone playing the inversion of the same line starting on C# (C#-E-F#-A-Bb-C). This is followed by exchanges between the drums and low register sax and trombone chords. In the final gesture, a harmonized statement of the retrograde of the original row form gradually ascends to a climactic Cm11 chord. The final descending and ascending gestures heard in the coda seemed like the perfect conclusion to the final movement and to the entire work.


concerto-ex-12_01

concerto-ex-12_02
(Ex. 12)

In retrospect, I realize that the creation of this large-scale piece was a summation of my composing experience up to that point. I can hear the influences of all my major jazz and classical composers, brought together for the first time in a single work while being expressed in a personal voice and from a personal point of view. Because of this, I always look back on Concerto for Jazz Orchestra as one of the most satisfying pieces I have written. I’ll always be thankful to Wolfgang Hirschmann, the West German Radio and the WDR Big Band for providing me with the opportunity to direct and write for a world-class jazz orchestra for eight unforgettable years.

 

Concerto for Jazz Orchestra

Movement 1: Maestoso; Medium Swing

Movement 2: Jazz Waltz

Movement 3: Ballad

Movement 4: Toccata; Latin

Movement 5: Maestoso; Fast Swing


About the Author:

dobbins_bill_7

Bill Dobbins is professor of jazz studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he teaches the jazz composing and arranging courses and directs the award winning Eastman Jazz Ensemble and Eastman Studio Orchestra. As a pianist, he has performed with orchestra and chamber ensembles under the direction of Louis Lane, Pierre Boulez, Lukas Foss and Frederick Fennell, and he has performed and recorded with such jazz artists as Clark Terry, Al Cohn, Red Mitchell, Phil Woods, Bill Goodwin, Gary Foster, Dave Liebman, John Goldsby and Peter Erskine. He joined the Eastman faculty in 1973, and was instrumental in designing both the graduate and undergraduate curricula for Eastman’s Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media program. Many of his students have been heard in the big bands of Count Basie, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Thad Jones/Mel Lewis, Chuck Mangione, Maria Schneider, and Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra.

From 1994 through 2002 Mr. Dobbins was principal director of the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany, and he headed the jazz studies department at the Hochschule für Musik in Cologne from 1998 to 2002. Concert, radio, television and tour projects under his direction with the WDR Big Band included internationally acclaimed soloists Clark Terry, Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker, Gary Bartz, Kevin Mahogany, Art Farmer, Steve Lacy, Paquito D’Rivera, Mark Feldman, Gary Foster, Claire Fischer, Peter Erskine, Nicolas Simion and the Kings Singers. As guest director, he continues to write and direct projects for the WDR Big Band, the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra and the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra.

Advance Music, Mainz, publishes Mr. Dobbins’ compositions and arrangements for big band, chamber music combinations and solo piano. Jazz education programs worldwide have adopted his volumes of transcriptions of classic jazz piano solos and jazz textbooks for use in their courses. These include Chick Corea: Now He Sings, Now He Sobs, Herbie Hancock: Classic Jazz Compositions and Piano Solos, and Clare Fischer: Alone Together/Just Me, Jazz Arranging and Composing: a Linear Approach, A Creative Approach to Jazz Piano Harmony, and Arranging for the Contemporary Big Band, and a DVD, The Evolution of Solo Jazz Piano. Recent CDs include J.S. Bach: Christmas Oratorio, with the Kings Singers and the WDR Big Band, arranged and conducted by Bill Dobbins (Signum Classics) and Composers Series (solo piano) Volume 1: the Music of Clare Fischer and George Gershwin, and Volume 2: the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (Sons of Sound).

Artist Blog

Rick Lawn: Remembering Manny Albam

REMEMBERING MANNY ALBAM

I had the pleasure of studying with Manny Albam in the 1970s at the Eastman School of Music and considered him a mentor and a friend. I was among the many who mourned his loss in 2001 shortly after 9/11. For those of you who may not be familiar with his career, a short but accurate tribute by Peter Keepnews was printed in the New York Times at the time of his death: (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/06/arts/manny-albam-79-jazz-composer-and-player.html?_r=0)

More detail about his career can be found at: http://mannyalbammusic.com/biography/

Manny was not only a gifted composer/arranger, as confirmed by his peers and several Grammy nominations, he was a wonderful human being and a joy to work with. Looking back, I treasure my time with Manny and his music that I had the pleasure to perform. I’ve come to realize how much his teachings influenced my own writing and philosophy about composing, arranging and teaching.

Recently I embarked on a project to digitize some of the videos I had collected over the years and especially those from my time as Director of Jazz Studies at The University of Texas where we had entertained many guest artists during my 21-year stay.  I discovered a recording of a seminar that Manny presented in “the jazz room” at UT while he was in residence. The residency in the early 1990s culminated in a performance of his “Nostalgico” featuring graduate student Paul Haar on alto sax (Director of Jazz Studies at University of Nebraska) and the UT Studio Orchestra. Throughout the first lengthy segment of this seminar Manny discusses, among other things, the importance of knowing why we compose, the stories we must tell, and how we tell them through music. He used movements from his Soul of the City Solid State recording to illustrate his points. He played examples from Soul of the City in the seminar and, while they are third generation acoustic recordings of substandard quality by today’s standards, they are sufficient to stimulate your curiosity and illustrate his points.

I know other composers will agree that looking back on Manny’s vast collection of work, this suite of pieces stands out as some of his very best work and fortunately is still available from Amazon or iTunes on a reissued recording entitled Sketches of Jazz – Music From the Book of Life (“Soul of the City is the first 9 tracks). Many of his other recordings, including West Side Story that Leonard Bernstein praised, are still available as reissues, often on non-American labels. I invite you to pick up a copy of these recordings while they are still available.

I think one of the amazing aspects of these nine tracks is that so much can be expressed in under 5 minutes and Manny was a master of the short form. I find it astonishing how much ground Manny covers musically in the course of one of these pieces that range from 2:48 to 5:56. By today’s standards these lengths might seem like introductions. In some ways we may have been ruined by digital formats that allow us to run on and on.  Manny was clearly a master of the 3 – 5 minute piece that communicates a great deal of music in such a short time. There may be a message and lesson here for all of us and especially students – try writing a piece that is 3 to 5 minutes long yet flows, tells a full story, provides ample space for soloist(s) and has all the earmarks of a well developed score.  It’s harder than you might think to work under these constraints.

While the Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies archive offers a catalogue to Manny’s collection of scores and parts housed at the Institute, sadly the scores from Soul of the City and West Side Story are among the missing items. I have been working with his daughter in hopes of resurrecting these scores, and possibly others, so that they can once again might be performed and analyzed for instructional purposes. These pieces also offer an excellent lesson in writing for strings and augmented brass sections, especially French Horns. Nothing in the nine pieces that comprise Soul of the City could be considered outdated by today’s standards. It is timely music interpreted by the most outstanding musicians of the day (1966) including Phil Woods, JJ Johnson, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis, and others.

Manny was so attuned to his surroundings and sensitive to the human condition that I have to wonder what he would be writing today. I wish we knew, but somehow I think he would find the humor in it all.

Links to the circa 1992 Manny Albam seminar:

Part 1 –  https://youtu.be/mG2TaEsPqxo

 

Part 2 – https://youtu.be/mNpN-UVV3vE

Rick Lawn 10/9/16

As an addendum to the above, only days after writing this short introduction to the You Tube videos of Manny’s seminar I am happy to report that I have finally found the scores and parts for these classic pieces! I’ll keep the community informed about possible next steps.

About the Author:

Richard (Rick) Lawn

Richard (Rick) Lawn

Richard (Rick) Lawn has received several significant composition grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and, as a member of the Nova Saxophone Quartet, has recorded on the Musical Heritage Society, Crystal and Equilibrium labels. The Sea Breeze record label issued “Unknown Soldiers,” a CD recorded by the Third Coast Jazz Orchestra that features his compositions and arrangements including his arrangement of “Donna Lee” recorded by Bobby Sanabria’s New York Latin big band on his 2001 Grammy nominated CD. In fall 2011 his Philadelphia based little big band Power of Ten10 released Earth Tones that includes his original compositions and arrangements. The CD received coast-to-coast radio play and favorable reviews.

Kendor Music, CL Barnhouse, Walrus Music, Concept Music, Alfred Music, eJazzlines, Warwick Music, Dorn, LawnWorks Publications and UNC Press among others publish his music. Rick’s books entitled The Jazz Ensemble Directors Manual (in its 4th edition), Jazz Theory and Practice in its 2nd edition (that includes interactive ear training software) and Experiencing Jazz now in its 2nd edition have become staples among jazz educators and students.

Rick’s performing experiences outside his own ensembles include extended engagements with Lionel Hampton, Chuck Mangione, the Rochester Philharmonic, and the Austin Symphony others. He has performed in back-up orchestras for Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Joe Williams, Natalie Cole, Marian McPartland, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Dianne Schuur, Rosemary Clooney, Aretha Franklin and a host of others.

Richard Lawn is the former Dean of the College of Performing Arts at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia where he is now Professor Emeritus and part-time faculty member teaching jazz history online. He also teaches online for VanderCook College of Music in Chicago. Recetly Rick has become involved with the International Society of Arrangers and Composers. Formerly, he was affiliated with the University of Texas at Austin serving as Founding Director of Jazz Studies, Chair of the Department of Music, and Associate Dean for academic affairs. Visit his Web site at: http://www.RickLawn.com.

Artist Blog

David Berger’s Answers to Common Jazz Arranging Questions

The following blog is an excerpt from the beginning of my book, Creative Jazz Composing and Arranging (available at www.SuchSweetThunderMusic.com). Please excuse the obvious self-promotion but if you are interested in an arranging book that specifically deals with the art and tools of jazz arranging and composing, this is the book for you. I wrote it to answer all the arranging questions that I had when I was a young man. Included here are the most common and superficial questions. The rest of the book delves into the deep issues in-depth.

We Get Letters

Newspapers have featured advice columns for nearly 200 years, most famously Dear Abby and Ann Landers (actually twin sisters writing under pseudonyms).  In that spirit I’m going to answer the most asked questions that deal with general issues before we get to the details of arranging and composing.

1. Q: Should I become a musician?

A: No.  It will make your parents very unhappy.  Besides, if you had to ask, then you have already considered that you could get through life doing something else.  Music, like all the arts and the priesthood, is a calling.  When I was 12, I knew.  A few years later, an older musician I was working with said to me, “Being a musician is a curse, but not being a musician is a worse curse.

2. Q: Should I study classical music?

A:Yes.  You may never perform any Beethoven or Mozart professionally, but the experience of playing it as a student is invaluable.  As jazz performers, we need to play our instruments on the highest level.  The discipline of playing classical music gives us much of the technique you need to play jazz.  In order to write jazz, it is most helpful to draw on our experience playing jazz and other music.  Although I have not picked up the trumpet in over 10 years, my writing is informed by what I learned playing in bands and orchestras.

The best classical music will teach us strong musical aesthetics.  The principles are sound.  I have studied harmony and counterpoint from 16th century to the present.  I can’t say that I have consciously used anything I learned from the early music, but the harmony and counterpoint of Baroque music formed the foundation of what I do.  If you can take classes, start as soon as possible.  If not, then buy a few books on the subject and teach yourself.

3. Q: If I transcribe and study jazz soloists, arrangers and composers, will I wind up just copying them?

A: You’ll only sound like them if you really want to.  Do you sound like your parents when you speak?  You learned how to talk from them, but you went on to learn from many other people and eventually you found your own voice.  Sometimes I am hired to write arrangements in someone else’s style.  When I was young, I used to ghostwrite for a few of my heroes.  It was fun to try to emulate their style.  If you have more than one composer or arranger that you like, you will sound like a combination of all the things you like in their music, and ultimately discover your own musical personality that will grow out of that.

4. Q: Who are the most important jazz composers and arrangers to listen to and study, and where can I get their scores?

A:Of course everyone has personal preferences, but here are somearrangers/composers that I enjoy and have learned the most from (in no particular order) Horace Silver (2-horn writing), Benny Golson (3-horn writing), Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Jelly Roll Morton, Don Redman, Fletcher Henderson, Sy Oliver, Quincy Jones, J.J. Johnson, Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer and Wynton Marsalis.  I also love Benny Carter, Al Cohn, Neal Hefti, Johnny Mandel, Gerald Wilson, Ernie Wilkins, Billy Byers, Manny Albam and many others, all of whose work is excellent but not as groundbreaking or influential as the first group.  If I need to recommend just one. it is Duke Ellington, hands down, for the greatest depth and breadth.  Jazz at Lincoln Center has published many scores by Ellington and several of the others.  If you are looking for something, and can’t find it, email me at information@suchsweetthundermusic.com.

5. Q: Should I write at the piano or away from it?

A: I write at the piano.  So did Ellington and Stravinsky.  Strayhorn wrote away from the piano, and played the arrangement on the piano when it was completed.  Maurice Ravel said that if you write away from the piano, you will only write what you know, but if you use the piano, you will find new things.  I find this to be true for me.  When I write away from the piano, I tend to write more conservatively and more from my conscious mind rather than my subconscious (which is where the best art lives).  Then again, some pianists have told me the opposite.

6. Q: Do I need to write every day?

A: This is personal.  I tend to write when I am inspired or when I have a deadline.  I have gone months without even writing a note.  And then there are periods where I churn out a chart a day for weeks on end.  Billy Byers said that he wrote from 9-5 Monday to Friday.  I usually write during the day, but it is not uncommon for me to write late at night or very early in the morning, as my understanding neighbors will attest.  Find what works best for you.

7. Q: Should I use Finale or Sibelius?

A:Personally, I still use pencil and paper.  I grew up that way, and I am quick and effective.  I don’t need to change, so I don’t.  I see nothing wrong with writing at the computer as long as you are making the decisions and not letting the program make them for you.  Don’t believe the sounds you hear in playbacks.  These programs take no account for the registers and balances of the instruments.  The overtones are wrong.  There are sampling programs that are better, but even these can fool you.  Even when I play an orchestration on the piano, I have to imagine what the real instruments will sound like.  This comes from the experience of hearing music played live, playing lots of music in a variety of settings and hearing my own music played live and on recordings.

8. Q: What is the biggest mistake that arrangers make?

A:Overwriting.  Most charts have too many notes.  They are cluttered, so that the jewels get hidden.  So often when I conduct the work of other arrangers, I have the horns tacet certain figures and lines.  All of a sudden the chart becomes more focused and effective.  Similarly, many charts are too long.  They overstay their welcome and the audience becomes bored.  It’s as if the arranger was driving along the highway and missed the exit sign.  For me the arrangement should have ended, but the arranger was having too much fun writing and forgot the big picture.

One other consideration is that the more new material in the chart, the harder it is to get a good performance from the band.  This is especially crucial in situations with little or no rehearsal time.  Sy Oliver once asked me if I wanted to know the secret to being a great arranger.  He held up his forefinger (just like Curly in City Slickers) and said, “Just focus on one thing.  Keep it simple so your audience can understand what the band is doing”.

9. Q: What other arranging books should I read?

A:I started with Russell Garcia’s The Professional Arranger Composer, which was probably the best text available 50 years ago.  I haven’t looked at it since, but I would imagine that the advice is still sound.  It’s aimed at beginners and covers the basic issues.  Rayburn Wright’s Inside The Score analyzes scores by Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones and Bob Brookmeyer.  Ray was my teacher.  This book is fairly advanced, and is invaluable.  Bill Dobbins’ Jazz Composing and Arranging, A Linear Approach is the text for small group arranging.   The concepts are somewhat advanced.  Lastly Chuck Israels’ Exploring Jazz Arranging covers basic essential material and proceeds to a smattering of advanced concepts and techniques.

I studied classical composition for 2 years with Ludmila Ulehla.  Her encyclopedic text, Contemporary Harmony: Romantic Music Through the Twelve-Tone Row, is the seminal book on classical harmony.  The concepts presented apply to jazz as well as other Western music.

10. Q: What do I have to do to become a great arranger?

A: It sure helps to be born with talent, musicality and an artistic sense—these things cannot be taught, but if you have them, they can be nurtured.  Beyond this, a great arranger needs 5 things: an inquisitive mind, the need to put everything in order, a good ear, boundless love of great music, and the passion, patience and fortitude to write hundreds of arrangements.

About the Author:

db-hi-res-photo

Jazz composer, arranger, and conductor, David Berger, is recognized internationally as a leading authority on the music of Duke Ellington and the Swing Era. Conductor and arranger for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra from its inception in 1988 through 1994, Berger has transcribed over 750 full scores of classic recordings, including more than 500 works by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn in addition to hundreds of other classic jazz recordings. Several of these transcriptions in addition to a number of original arrangements are featured in the recent Broadway hit, After Midnight.

In 1996 Berger collaborated with choreographer Donald Byrd to create and tour the Harlem Nutcracker, a full-length two-hour dance piece that expands the Tchaikovsky/ Ellington/Strayhorn score into an American classic. The 15-piece band assembled to play this show has stayed together as the David Berger Jazz Orchestra. The DBJO actively performs Berger’s music on tours throughout the United States and Europe.

Berger has written music for symphony orchestras, television, Broadway shows and films and has composed and arranged for Duke Ellington, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Quincy Jones and the WDR Big Band. He has also arranged for dozens of singers including

Jon Hendricks, Betty Carter, Freda Payne, Natalie Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Madeleine Peyroux, Milt Grayson, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Susan Graham, Denzal Sinclaire and Champian Fulton.

Berger has taught jazz arranging and composition for 30 years in the New York City area at the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, The New School, William Paterson University among others.

Read more about David Berger at www.davidbergerjazz.com

For David Berger jazz arrangements, books and blog, visit www.SuchSweetThunderMusic.com

Keep your eye out for Creative Jazz Composing and Arranging: Volume II to be released in the coming months.

Artist Blog

Adam Benjamin on Jazz Composition

Greetings Earthlings! This is my first blog post for ISJAC. It is an informal essay on “jazz composition”. I’ll try to be clear and make some useful points. Future posts will include some specific methods and techniques to try.

“Jazz composition” is a slippery term. There is lots of disagreement about “jazz” and what is “jazz” and what is not “jazz”. Many complex and important questions reside in and around these debates, and I would love to discuss them with you in the future. However, for the purposes of this informal essay, my answer to such questions is “Meh.” By which I mean, let’s not worry about what we’re calling things and who thinks you’re Jazz and who thinks you’re not. Let’s disregard all that for the moment.

PART ONE: Here’s one thing I know for sure

Here’s one thing I know for sure, is that to do something well, you have to actually do it. Preferably you have to do it many, many times. So all of that THINKING about compositions and TALKING about compositions and STARTING compositions is all well and good, but in order to write some decent music you’re going to have to write a lot of pieces / tunes / songs / jams / beats. Every time you write a piece / tune / song / jam / beat, COMPLETE THE CYCLE. Here’s how:

  1. make the complete thing
  2. bring it to the World
  3. hear it back and live with it
  4. edit as necessary
  5. DONE now start a NEW CYCLE!

So, if you’re writing Hot Jazz Tune, this would mean:

  1. write a complete piece
  2. bring it in to your Hot Jazz Combo
  3. hear them play it, record it, play it at a few gigs, etc
  4. make some tweaks if it needs it
  5. DONE now write a NEW HOT JAZZ TUNE!

Or, if you’re writing Sick Beatz for Partiez this would mean:

  1. make a complete piece
  2. release it on the internet, play it at shows, have a sick MC spit over it, etc
  3. see if you like it, if it makes people dance, if it gets the human you have a crush on to comment on it, etc
  4. make some tweaks if it needs it
  5. DONE now make NEW SICK BEATZ!

The whole point is, don’t spend too much time and thought and stress over any one thing you create. Just give it to the world and move on. Don’t get stuck trying to make a masterpiece. Everybody writes some crappy things. Creating a lot of things is the only way to make sure that some of them are not crappy. As you create more and more things, completing the cycle more and more times, you make less crappy things, more good things, and possibly … possibly even a great thing. But you cannot force this, it comes only when you have completed many cycles, with mixed results. This means being TOUGH, so that when something sucks, you don’t feel awful, but it also means being SENSITIVE, so that you can write music that make people feel things. TOUGH but SENSITIVE, that’s the way.

PART TWO : Here are two kinds of Jazz Composition

“Jazz Composition” can be a bazillion things. Today I’m going to talk about two different kinds of Jazz Composition. (There’s a bazillion minus two kinds that I’m not going to talk about today.)

Jazz Composition Kind One : You have an awesome Band. You write for the particular people and particular sounds and particular personalities of that Band. For example, I write songs for my awesome band Kneebody. I specifically write things that they will sound awesome playing, and that makes them feel good, which in turn makes me feel good. I try to make it fun for them, comfortable in some ways and challenging in some ways. I think about what will fit in our setlists with the songs we’re already playing, and what will fit the venues we’re playing and the bands we’re playing with. I try to write something that propels our band forward and nudges our music in a more Now direction, a more Us direction, a more Real direction, a more Human direction, a more Imaginative direction, a more Mature direction, a more Yeah direction. We put no limits on ourselves and write music that is as detailed and complex and through-composed as we want. We don’t think about what kind of music it is.

LESSON: You don’t want to have a band exactly like my band (trust me), but you want to do something like this, you want to have a situation with this much trust and rapport, because it will help you grow as a composer (and as a person). This situation will not always be there in your life, but you must make it be there sometimes. You must.
Clue: try making the primary concern finding people that you want to spend time with, rather than just finding the Cats who are most Killing.
Clue #2: In Kneebody we learn all the music BY EAR. That’s worth repeating — We learn all the music BY EAR. We initially encounter all the music as sounds and feelings and we work in that realm. (Disclaimer: we all went to school and read music well, but just choose to work this way in this project.) It helps us form personal connections with the music, and to retain and evolve the music over a period of years. This process may or may not work for you, but find a process that is uniquely yours. Plus, do you really want to bring music stands to every gig ever?

Jazz Composition Kind Two : You have Gig with some Cats who are Totally Killing. You write songs for this group of people that may or may not play together again, and you want to play the songs at next Gig with some different Cats who are also Totally Killing. You have maybe one rehearsal or maybe zero rehearsals before said Gig.

LESSON: In this situation, you must write differently than in Jazz Composition Kind One. You must write music that is more flexible, and does not depend on particular players to succeed. You must write music that is suited to the playing abilities, and reading abilities, of the current and future musicians that will play this music. What can be executed successfully after one, or zero, rehearsals? (If you’re feeling skeptical about this scenario, think of almost all the great jazz music ever made.) You must distill the uniqueness of your ideas into their clearest forms, which is a very, very important thing to do. (Try it when you are talking as well.)
LESSON ALSO: Even though you think it will not sound Killing if you write something that is Jive, do not be afraid to write simply. That’s worth repeating — DO NOT BE AFRAID TO WRITE SIMPLY. Simple music makes musicians play better and improvise better because they’re not spending 90% of their brainpower trying to play the material correctly. Yes, master musicians can play ultra-complex music flawlessly with one or zero rehearsals and improvise creatively. But these Cats on your Gig, they may be Killing but are they master musicians? Right.
LESSON ALSO ALSO: Also, when I say write simply, I don’t just mean the music, I mean the CHART. In this musical scenario, the CHART is the Ur-document, the holy text of the moment. A very common mistake I see is that even when Composer writes a Simple Tune (Yeah man) the chart is confusing and byzantine (Not Yeah man). Sometimes you won’t even be there and CHART is the only communication connecting you with the performers. In a very literal way, CHART *IS* the composition. You must communicate the essence of the piece with CHART, using great detail when necessary but never, ever more detail than necessary. If you are there, you can Talk Down CHART before playing it at Gig, but you should say either zero, one or two sentences. Anything more than that people will forget. Remember, these are improvisers. All you have to do is not get in their way.

In conclusion, don’t be a drag. People are going to be playing your music and it’s going to sound great or terrible or Meh and they will probably play some things wrong. It definitely won’t sound like it did in your head. You will be feeling stressed and feeling judged. Eventually (after many times COMPLETING THE CYCLE) you won’t feel stressed or judged, but for now you do. Don’t take this out on the people around you. They’re just trying to play your music or have a successful night at Venue or eat dinner or whatever. You, and they, are doing this for Joy and Feelings, so just let go of all the stress. Nothing can go wrong. If your song sounds terrible the world does not blow up. You still have to drive home later. Music is amazing because it can be such a vehicle for Joy and Feelings and Understanding and Bonding but when it sucks NOTHING BAD HAPPENS. We are not surgeons. You are free to experiment and no one will die. If someone dies at your gig, it’s not your fault. It was just their time.

About the Author:

Adam Benjamin
Adam Benjamin is a Grammy-nominated and critically acclaimed pianist, keyboardist, composer and educator. He is a founding member of the band Kneebody and is the director of the Program for Jazz and Improvised Music at the University of Nevada, Reno. Recognized as a “Rising Star in Jazz” in Downbeat magazine’s critic’s and reader’s polls for seven years running, his unmistakable sound crosses stylistic boundaries and challenges traditional notions of jazz. Adam maintains a humble and humorous approach that connects him with his audiences worldwide.

You can stay up to date with Kneebody at kneebody.com.

Artist Blog

John La Barbera On Arranging – Part 2

Part 1: http://isjac.org/artist-blog/john-la-barbera-on-arranging-part-1

Part 2.

“Since many of our contemporary songwriters can’t find middle C with radar, the first function, I think, of the arranger is to make order out of chaos. Once that order is achieved the real work starts. The arranger must build a structure that supports the song. The song is the thing, and the arranger’s function is to make it memorable regardless of one’s personal feelings.”

© Henry Mancini 1982 (Letter to John La Barbera)

Yes, the “song is the thing” and one must recognize what exactly comprises the song.  Obviously it’s the original melody and chord changes, rhythm, and this is VERY important: the audience.  No matter how sophisticated or amateur an audience, they need a reference, and that’s the song.   The next step is to “make order out of chaos ” as Hank has mentioned.  This can be taking a tune that has minimal chord changes or rhythmic value and cleaning it up.  Nothing too drastic, but just enough for it to be allowed in public without disguising its original style, or intent.  Now state this cleaned up original first.  This is extremely important, state the original in a state that is as close to the original as possible.  After that, you can manipulate it as much as you want and they, the audience, will get it.  One of the advantages of age and experience is having observed listeners’ reaction to a given arrangement and understanding why it worked or failed.  And, if one looks at the breadth of an arrangement, the thread of what is the  audiences’ focus is the song or what substitutes for that song.  For introducing students to the art of arranging, I tend to use the melody as an equivalent of the song to get them going because to quote an old Broadway adage, “people don’t leave a show whistling the chord changes!”

Think of the original song/melody as the “before” picture and after you’ve remodeled it (made it memorable) we have the “after” picture.  Without the original the improvement has little impact.  A good example of this is an arrangement I originally wrote for Buddy Rich on the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby.”  This was in the very early 70’s and I was still finding my way in this arranging game with plenty of technique and ideas but lacking in the finesse department.  Buddy turned it down and I was confused as to why he would do that to such a great chart (I thought).  As I matured I finally realized why the arrangement really didn’t work with a typical audience…it’s the customized car/hot rod without a picture of the original.  Had I started it out with even just a piano solo of the original melody and chord changes, what follows would have really worked for a general audience.   I recorded it on my first big band CD “On the Wild Side” just the way I originally wrote it and it should give you an idea of what I mean.  While we’re on the subject, once you’ve done a chart and have it played, fix any obvious mechanical mistakes and then leave it alone.  Know what you would do differently and then write two new charts.  I’ve known students who are still working on the same chart they did years ago and musically, haven’t grown an inch.

So let’s get down to the “real work” and break down the components of a typical arrangement and identify the song/melody.  We’ll “build the structure” using a big band jazz chart as our first example.

I like to think that there is a consistent thread that flows from the beginning to the end of a chart that represents the melody, implied melody, or the principal focus of the chart that is easily followed by the listener. For instance, in a short, traditional AABA form (“I Got Rhythm” changes for instance) big band swing chart of a standard tune, we start with the intro.

The lead trumpet plays the melody of the intro as the top line of a full ensemble scored in block voicings (spell-check hates that word).  This is original material the arranger creates as a piece of “support structure” Hank talks about.  Then we present the actual melody of the song using the original chord changes with unison saxophones for the first A, then soli saxes for the second A.  Unison bones pick up the melody on the B section and the last A section melody is scored for full ensemble once again with the lead trumpet presenting the melody.  So far a consistent thread that gives our audience a reference with which to compare what follows.   It’s been my experience that an audience actually absorbs what is originally stated no matter how unsophisticated idiomatically they may be.  They may not understand melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic concepts but the song does become embedded somewhere in their being.  I’ve also observed the reaction of intonation and dynamics on an audience.  As a body they can’t say “the clarinets are out of tune in the upper register,” but they sense something is wrong and either fiddle in their seats or lose interest in what’s going on at the moment.  The same is true for dynamics or lack thereof.

Getting back to our chart, we copy and paste that introduction as an interlude being careful to change it slightly (see “Nuts & Bolts” below).  Let’s say this time it’s lead alto playing the melody down an octave from the way it was first presented in our intro scored in block voicings with the bones.  Though somewhat customized, that melody is immediately recognized and becomes reinforced in the minds of the audience and in a sense, becomes part of the song.

Then we may have an improvised trumpet solo for the full AABA form…that is the melody now.  The backgrounds behind the solo (usually non-like instruments, saxes & bones) are subservient to the improvisation and should stay out of the way…they are not the melody.  We’re not selling the backgrounds, we’re selling the melody. (We’ll address this further later on)

O.K.  Let’s reuse that intro/interlude as a send-off or buildup to the shout chorus.  But let’s make sure to change it so it isn’t predictable.  How about starting with unison bones with the original intro melody and then have it pyramid by adding the saxes and then trumpets.

Now a fully scored shout chorus using a slightly augmented version of the melody.  The audience already knows this melody and immediately recognizes that the full ensemble is “playing around” with it.

Now let’s bring the volume way down by having the piano play the melody of the B section with the rest of the rhythm section.  Then let’s give the last A to the bones playing the melody in thirds.

And finally let’s “bookend” the whole thing with that intro/interlude/sendoff melody re-harmonized  to imply a modulation to a last full chord.

Though rather formulaic, this gives us a good representation of how a melody progresses throughout the arrangement.  Also, this is a very good schematic to get students stared on building their first big band chart.  Stay away from blues and 16 bar tunes at first, the shorter forms demand more skills.  Now for some nuts and bolts.

Nuts & Bolts

Make sure you know all of the basics.

Watson, describing Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet.”  (Trust me, this is going somewhere)

His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge… That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth traveled ’round the sun appeared to be to me such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You see,” he explained, “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.  A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it.  Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain attic.  He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order.  It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent.  Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before.  It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

WHAT you say?

Well, one should have all of the information committed to memory that is needed on a regular basis to keep the music flowing.  If you have to look up the transposition or range of an alto or tenor sax, you’ll never get the flow necessary to produce a seamless piece of work.  Know all of the mute possibilities and as many performance nuances (false fingerings, bends, slurs, etc.) as you can.  Score layout for all plausible ensembles is a must, as is part layout.   And don’t trust those “out of range” flags from your notation program, they aren’t always correct.  However, you probably don’t need to commit to memory the range and transposition of an oboe d’amore so why let that clutter up your brain.  When you’re standing in front of 6 or 60 musicians asking questions, you better be sure you have all of the basics committed to memory.

Trust your ears and inclination.

“The computer playback of an arrangement, no matter how sophisticated the samples, should not be totally trusted. It is not an acoustic instrument!”  

If you fail to heed this warning you might discard some wonderful voicing or orchestration choices and have an end result that sounds less than vibrant.  The beauty of any combination of pitches of an orchestration lies in the overtones produced by same.  Without them, a true digital reproduction is impossible.  If you heard a playback of any of Gil Evans’, Thad Jones’, or Bobby Brookmeyer’s scoring with the best of computer generated sounds, you’d more than likely think them unacceptable.  You have to see it on the page, hear it in your head, and believe it.

“Copy & paste is your best friend & worse enemy”

Copy & paste is to computers as col  (come sopra) was to our hand written scores in the old days… “let the copyist do the work.”  All well and good, but it invites one of our enemies, predictability, into our work.  Even the slightest change to a block of copy & paste satisfies the requirement to “make it memorable.”  If you use your introduction as an ending or interlude/sendoff, change it slightly…add a few more measures, change a rhythm or harmony, change the meter and it will add continuity and avoid redundancy.

More on this later on.

“Never use your principal instrument to work out ideas.”   

Those who do tend to migrate to the same tonal centers, clichés, implied harmonies; it stifles new ideas.  Use your head for all of your initial work, your brain has no melodic limitations, no chop problems, nor anything else one might encounter on his or her principal instrument.  If you can, at first, stay away from the keyboard and just use your head.  This may seem impossible to some but with practice it’s something I think everyone can develop with varying degrees of success.  At the student level, non-wind players, especially pianists, have the most difficulty in becoming successful arrangers…they don’t have to breathe!  Quite often they tend to overwrite and their work sounds too busy.  Typically the left hand block chords become the trombone section and the right hand becomes the saxes or trumpets.  Space is the key here…let the players and material breath.

“Everything we do in arranging is dictated by tempo.”

Length of introductions, types of voicings, orchestrations, interludes, length of solos, all should be dictated by tempo. The number of measures needed for brass and strings to change to and from mutes and the saxes to change to and from doubles are all dependent on tempo.  So too for the note length of your backgrounds and also number of chord changes per measure.  It seems obvious but this isn’t always considered as a major tenet of arranging but it is.  In general, faster tempos demand longer note durations for your background notation and slower tempos the reverse.  If you think about it, the vertical voicings in a ballad are more strongly reviewed by an audience than those of a fast sax soli… tempo, this is key!  Again, we’re talking about audience perception and the more time they have to dwell on any individual event, the more unique and precise it must be.


About the Author:

Cropped-Square-300x300
John La Barbera is a Grammy® nominated composer/arranger whose work spans many styles and genres. His studies at the S.U.N.Y at Potsdam, Berklee College, Eastman School of Music contributed to his love of writing and strengthened his skills for a career in composition and arranging. He went on to play with and write for many renowned jazz artists and is now one of the most respected composer/arrangers in jazz. His works have been recorded and performed by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme’, Chaka Khan, Harry James, Bill Watrous, and Phil Woods just to name a few. Though his major output has been in jazz, he has had works performed and recorded for symphony orchestra, string chamber orchestra, brass quintet, and other diverse ensembles. Most recently, Mr. La Barbera was chosen from among dozens of applicants to participate in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute at UCLA. As a result, John was one of sixteen composers commissioned by the JCOI to compose new works that incorporate jazz and symphonic music. “Morro da Babilonia” was the resulting work and was recently presented by the American Composers Orchestra in New York City at Columbia University’s Miller Hall.

John’s Grammy® nominated big band CD “On The Wild Side” along with “Fantazm” and his latest “Caravan” on the Jazz Compass® label, have been met with tremendous artistic and commercial success and are on the way to becoming a jazz big band standards. Mr. La Barbera is a Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Louisville. Among his numerous organizational affiliations are Jazz Education Network, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, NARAS, NMPA, American Composers Forum, and a writer/publisher member of ASCAP since 1971.

He is a two-time recipient of The National Endowment for The Arts award for Jazz Composition and has served as a panelist for the NEA in the music category. His career has recently been profiled in “Bebop, Swing and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian American Experience” and in dozens of publications and encyclopedias. John’s published works are considered standards in the field of jazz. education.


Article Copyright © 2016 John P. La Barbera
All Rights Reserved

Artist Blog

John La Barbera On Arranging – Part 1

“…recognizing that an arranger can be as much a creative force in jazz as a composer or an improvising soloist. Like a composer, an arranger gives an original shape to a piece of music, creating unity and contrast through a variety of musical elements, including, harmony, rhythm, form, tempo, texture, and timbre. Like an improvising soloist, an arranger takes existing material… and uses it as the framework of fresh, new conception.”

© 2005 Jeffrey Magee, used by permission.

Most arranging books on the market today don’t really address the actual art or practice of arranging. I have most all of them (beginning with the Lang book from which Duke got a lot of his early techniques) and they are all wonderful references for beginner and pro alike but fall short of the real goal, explaining and teaching how to arrange. This shouldn’t be a surprise because as a true art, arranging is an intangible like painting and dance and a very difficult process to tackle in print. Techniques can surely be addressed but not the true art of expression that make us unique in this art form.

I’ve been asked by more than a few teachers, “How can you teach arranging? Other than transposition, ranges, form, etc., I hit a wall. I play examples from the classic combos (Blakey, Silver, The Jazztet) and big bands (Basie, Herman, Rich, Kenton, Ellington) but that’s where I get stuck.”

As with any discipline in the arts or humanities, one’s success for creating something new or adding positively to the canon, is to know what has been done before. How can you teach someone about color or light variants if they, the aspiring students, haven’t seen the vibrant shades of a Monet compared with the brooding sidelights of a Rembrandt? In music, there is no substitute for a listening background. Plain and simple. If you haven’t listened to a specific genre’ like big bands or combos, you’ll be spending a lot of time reinventing the V7 chord and 4-way voicings. In the art-form of jazz we are fortunate because our art, in recorded form, is a span of less than a century and we can pretty much absorb most of what we need in less time than one exploring the visual arts or other traditional art forms. However, basic arranging techniques are not unique to jazz so one must have a listening background in all forms and genres of music to be successful.

If you’re in this situation as a teacher or, as a student, and want to explore the art yourself, do so by understanding the most important periods of jazz writing. Understand that throughout the decades of small bands and big bands alike, the basic tenets of arranging remain constant: a primary melodic statement is supported with an answer from a voice offering a counter line.

When I started writing professionally all I needed was a box of “King Brand” pencils and a few pads of score paper. A lot has been added to the arranger’s tool box since then but the techniques haven’t changed. At the risk of sounding like I’m leaning toward the Luddite camp, I can still write faster on a score pad with pencil and feel it gives me an edge in hearing the chart. However, today’s technological advances have made certain aspects of our art a little easier and I strongly suggest one embrace every tool available, electronic or otherwise.

What should you have? Well, to begin, an up to date computer (these days this means nothing older than 3 or 4 years), notation software (Finale or Sibelius), sequencing software (MOTU Performer, Cakewalk Sonar, Logic, etc.), a good portable digital recording device, MP3 player or CD player and a few other goodies we’ll talk about later.

Let me make some general statements now that I’ll be repeating frequently, like a patient parent, throughout this text. These are things I know to be true and, hopefully, will keep you from getting bogged down in your work and therefore be more productive.

“Arranging Is Telling A Story”

Think about it. When one offers musical ideas to an audience in the form of an arrangement, it is similar to telling an old familiar story or fable but with a unique point of view. I liken it to having a conversation with musical ideas, usually between two persons telling a story and a listener or listeners. Sometimes there can be three talking but usually two, never one. Why?, because the listener can stay focused and not be distracted by extraneous comment or bored by only hearing the one voice. A single idea is fine but is really a speech not a dialogue. Let’s say a couple are recounting their recent trip to Europe. The principal story teller will outline the main content of the trip with side comments from the companion. When the principal storyteller pauses, the companion adds some comments or a rhythmic “yes” and, if they respect each other’s right to comment, the story gets told and understood in a seamless presentation. Yes, sometimes a pause or two and sometimes some minor but minimal repetition but depending on how skilled the speakers are, the listener will have a thorough representation of the trip. Can you see the parallel in a good arrangement? The audience knows the song (an old standard) and it’s up to you to make it fresh and keep it musically alive and interesting. The melody is presented by a principal instrument or instruments and is supported by a counter line. When there is stasis in the melody, the counter line becomes more active to keep the flow of musical content and the two become one. It has been shown scientifically that there is no such thing as true multitasking.1“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that ” for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.” Miller said there are several reasons the brain has to switch among tasks. One is that similar tasks compete to use the same part of the brain. “Think about writing an e mail and talking on the phone at the same time. Those things are nearly impossible to do at the same time,” he said. “You cannot focus on one while doing the other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks,” Miller said. “They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them.” Researchers say they can actually see the brain struggling. And now they’re trying to figure out the details of what’s going on. The brain can only fully concentrate on one thing at a time. So an average audience can only follow a single line and hopefully the musical statements and counter lines will become a seamless stream depicting that single line. Listening to vocal arrangements is a very good way to start, especially Nelson Riddle arrangements for Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald.

HERE is a routine I’ve used to give students an easy roadmap to follow and in doing so, to think about the linear flow of an arrangement. Basically I have them use five (5) different devices to get them going with harmonizing the LAST tool to use.

I break it down to

ECHO Echo the melody.
ANSWER Similar to echo but not as strict.
LINE Guide tone line used under very active melody.
RHYTHM Rhythmic punctuations or pedal points between melody statements.
HARMONIZE Vertical harmonization.

 

I could have had a cute little acronym, HEALR, if the order of use weren’t so important. However, the order of use is important and it really gets students to realize how a simple counter line can add to the strength and flow of a piece and not get bogged down in vertical harmony plodding.

Here’s just a small example of line/counter line from my composition “Roman Notes” from my latest CD Caravan. The echo/answer is obvious:

 

Blog Illustration Revised 7-14-16

Here’s a video of the score & recording. This example starts in the middle of page 4.



Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ArQjAZnQfV0

 

Next time, the real deal: concrete arranging guidance for all styles of music.

Part 2: http://isjac.org/artist-blog/john-la-barbera-on-arranging-part-2


About the Author:

Cropped-Square-300x300
John La Barbera is a Grammy® nominated composer/arranger whose work spans many styles and genres. His studies at the S.U.N.Y at Potsdam, Berklee College, Eastman School of Music contributed to his love of writing and strengthened his skills for a career in composition and arranging. He went on to play with and write for many renowned jazz artists and is now one of the most respected composer/arrangers in jazz. His works have been recorded and performed by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme’, Chaka Khan, Harry James, Bill Watrous, and Phil Woods just to name a few. Though his major output has been in jazz, he has had works performed and recorded for symphony orchestra, string chamber orchestra, brass quintet, and other diverse ensembles. Most recently, Mr. La Barbera was chosen from among dozens of applicants to participate in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute at UCLA. As a result, John was one of sixteen composers commissioned by the JCOI to compose new works that incorporate jazz and symphonic music. “Morro da Babilonia” was the resulting work and was recently presented by the American Composers Orchestra in New York City at Columbia University’s Miller Hall.

John’s Grammy® nominated big band CD “On The Wild Side” along with “Fantazm” and his latest “Caravan” on the Jazz Compass® label, have been met with tremendous artistic and commercial success and are on the way to becoming a jazz big band standards. Mr. La Barbera is a Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Louisville. Among his numerous organizational affiliations are Jazz Education Network, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, NARAS, NMPA, American Composers Forum, and a writer/publisher member of ASCAP since 1971.

He is a two-time recipient of The National Endowment for The Arts award for Jazz Composition and has served as a panelist for the NEA in the music category. His career has recently been profiled in “Bebop, Swing and Bella Musica: Jazz and the Italian American Experience” and in dozens of publications and encyclopedias. John’s published works are considered standards in the field of jazz. education.


Article Copyright © 2016 John P. La Barbera
All Rights Reserved

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. “People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that ” for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time. What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed. Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.” Miller said there are several reasons the brain has to switch among tasks. One is that similar tasks compete to use the same part of the brain. “Think about writing an e mail and talking on the phone at the same time. Those things are nearly impossible to do at the same time,” he said. “You cannot focus on one while doing the other. That’s because of what’s called interference between the two tasks,” Miller said. “They both involve communicating via speech or the written word, and so there’s a lot of conflict between the two of them.” Researchers say they can actually see the brain struggling. And now they’re trying to figure out the details of what’s going on.