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).