Artist Blog

Joseph C Phillips Jr: To Mixed Music

This past summer composer George Lewis wrote a fascinating New York Times article called “Lifting the Cone of Silence From Black Composers.” In the article he wrote of composer/performer Nathalie Joachim’s wonderful Grammy-nominated album Fanm d’Ayiti (“Women of Haiti,” 2019 New Amsterdam Records) that she brings “musical Minimalism home to the African diaspora from which it has drawn so much” (Ibid). Musical minimalism (or probably more accurately post-minimalism), while only a part of my overall compositional voice and inspiration, is also probably my ur-language. Dr. Lewis’s framing of Joachim’s music could also be said about a lot my own music beginning in the late 1990’s and the beginning of my ensemble Numinous in 2000, to my albums The Music of Joseph C Phillips Jr (2003, Numen Records), Vipassana (2009, Innova Recordings), Changing Same (2015, New Amsterdam Records), and into today with my latest album, my monoopera called The Grey Land (2020, New Amsterdam Records).

Much has been made of the earliest adherents of musical minimalism being drawn to and inspired by jazz music and musicians. It is well known that composers Terry Riley, Steve Reich, and Philip Glass have all discussed drawing inspiration from many jazz figures such as John Coltrane, Kenny Clarke, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis (even the later post-minimalist composer John Adams, has mentioned how the music of Duke Ellington and jazz influenced his early musical development). And many of those early minimalists also were drawn to music from various cultures from around the world. Whether from India or Indonesia or Ghana, the early minimalists often gleaned musical ideas and concepts from those cultures into their own music and philosophies. The broader expressions of musical colonialism and questions of power dynamics and control have also always been in the histories of those earliest minimalists: the fine line between inspiration, influence, and theft; what are the appropriate ways to acknowledge and attribute cultural source materials; what limited resources are being consumed in musical circles and who is let in and who is left out of those circles. And these are the difficult questions in new music, and classical music in general, that are often veiled from more public attention and scrutiny (the recent controversy about Steve Reich has brought many of these questions to the surface—the classical music industry, like the country writ large, has begun a reckoning which may bear a long-delayed fruit of inclusion and acceptance of music from the many diverse and powerful voices which have been ignored by the establishment for far too long).1Will Robin, https://soundexpertise.org/steve-reich-and-the-politics-of-race-with-sumanth-gopinath/ So when I arrived in New York City in the late 1990s to become a composer, some of these questions and thoughts were in my mind as I was developing what kind of music I wanted to compose and how I was going to have it heard.

While I was always more interested in and influenced by classical music, I was also always interested in jazz and/or improvised music, as well as popular and film music and sought to bring together those worlds in my music. I love John Adams (both of them); I love Maria Schneider; I love Gustav Mahler; I love Prince, and much more. To me there were clear musical connections between minimalism and jazz, and some popular music as well, but I did not want to compose music that was a pastiche or “third stream,” as most compositions in those veins struck me as a sort of Frankenstein. Although the concept of fusing influences into one style I did find intriguing, that music’s ‘otherness’—neither fully “classical” nor fully “jazz”—while sometimes interesting, I found was also never fully satisfying, musically or aesthetically. So in those early years of my composing, in my mind at least, I thought tongue-and-cheekily if producers Gamble and Huff and their “Philly Sound” of the 1970s sought to “put a bow tie on the funk” and to make it “elegant” 2“Make it Funky” episode (Chapter 8) of the David Espar, Rock and Roll documentary, https://vimeo.com/399998317 then somehow I was going to try to ‘bring the funk to minimalism, to make it turn home again to its African diasporaic roots (this was long before I had heard of composer Julius Eastman who was in the same circles as those early minimalists). Author Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” So I was always seeking something different within my compositions, but back in those early days starting in the late 1990s, I still couldn’t quite articulate or fully realize what that different or something was actually going to be. Nevertheless I continued searching, writing and finding parts of my vision, continually looking for my own way and my own voice, and modifying the above quote to, ‘if there’s music that I want to hear, but it hasn’t been written yet, then I must write it.’ And I do!

My philosophy has changed over the years and has both broadened and become more specific; I now described what I write as mixed music. For my Master’s thesis, The Music Composition Miscēre, the Historicity of Mixed Music and New Amsterdam Records in the Contemporary New York City Mixed Music Scene, I wrote: “…a disparate group…composers and musicians eschewing easy classification in their quest to create music that organically fuses elements of many different styles into something completely personal, different, and new. While terms such as alt-classical or indie classical are used to identify a narrow sub-section of this aesthetic, I created the term, mixed music, as an umbrella term that more broadly describes any type of music that transcends the rigid definition of a singular genre. This openness between genres seems to be de rigueur over much contemporary music: classical composers and ensembles openly flirt with popular music (Nico Muhly, Signal, Alarm Will Sound); jazz musicians either influenced by soul/hip-hop artists (Roy Hargrove, Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer) or contemporary pop and rock music (The Bad Plus, Brad Mehldau, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society); and pop and rock musicians either influenced by classical music (Tortoise, The Dirty Projectors) or actually composing orchestral works (Sufjan Stevens, Jonny Greenwood).” 3“Introductory Statement of Purpose,” Joseph C Phillips Jr, 2011 Masters thesis, page 10

My thesis was in 2011, so in practice, the philosophy, while fundamentally the same concept today, has evolved. In 2013 I described mixed music as, “This miscegenation [between influences/genres] is done not in a post-modern sense of ironic collage, but rather as a genuine search to create an organic fusion of artistic and cultural influences, to create a new personal artistic statement that is more than the sum of its parts.” As LeRoi Jones wrote in his eponymous 1966 essay which my 2013 composition and 2015 album Changing Same borrows as its name and aesthetic underpinning, “New Black Music is also about emotion, but from a different place, and finally, towards a different end. What these musicians feel is a more complete existence. That is, the digging of everything.”4LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), “The Changing Same” (1966) In fact Dr. Lewis’s description of the ‘creole’ in music—“In the late 1980s, the Caribbean writers Jean Bernabé, Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant proclaimed themselves ‘Creoles’: ‘torn between several languages, several histories, caught in the torrential ambiguity of a mosaic identity’…African-American composers have explored what it means — and could mean — to be American, helping to foster a creolized, cosmopolitan new music for the 21st century” —is a very close cousin to my concept of mixed music.

To Mixed Music

Before I moved to New York City to be a composer, I knew that at some point when I got to the city, I was going to have my own ensemble. Inspired by those early minimalists I wanted an ensemble that would perform my music under my direction, because at that point, really who else was going to? I knew my ensemble was going to be called Numinous, to reflect what I wanted to do with my music: to “resonate with beauty, mystery, and wonder in order to challenge, enlighten, and refresh.” 5Joseph C Phillips Jr, https://www.numinousmusic.com/about-numinous.html But I didn’t know what the exact instrumentation would be (although I knew it would be some kind of chamber orchestra with strings), nor how I would find people to play, and most importantly, what kind of music I would write and we would perform. I began Numinous on October 5, 2000 starting with 14 musicians (gradually over the 20 years it grew to the 30 musicians today). Since my interests were more aligned with the contemporary new music scene, in particular minimalism or post-minimalism, and I was also interested in improvisation, jazz (particularly Maria Schneider), and various popular music, I wanted the music for Numinous to reconcile my many influences in order to create something that was none of those things, but also all of them; something that was unique to me—a music sui generis. At the time I was years away from articulating the philosophy and coining the term mixed music to help clarify what I was trying to do, but the seeds of mixed music were apparent from the beginning.

(Vipassana album photos: Joseph C Phillips Jr)

“Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys” premiered in July 2003, however, since 2002 I was already at work on the large-scaled composition that would soon envelope it: Vipassana. It wasn’t until after returning from spending two weeks in the Netherlands at the Steve Reich Festival in December 2003 that I was able to crystallize and synthesize what that large-scaled piece would be (the Festival was essentially a symposium on Steve Reich’s oeuvre, where a number of orchestras, groups, and ensembles performed almost his entire body of work in various venues around Den Haag and Amsterdam, as well as compositions inspired or influenced by him or minimalism—my compositions “To Kyoto” and “Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys” were performed during the Festival). Back in the States, I worked on completing the other movements and in 2005 Numinous premiered the 60-minute Vipassana. We performed the piece at least once every year from 2005 to 2010, recording the composition in 2007, with the album being released in 2009 on Innova recordings. Looking back now, Vipassana probably was the grandest expression of the middle way of my earliest musical philosophy between minimalism/contemporary classical music and jazz—and frankly, it was the last time I was interested in melding the two in any overt way. Actually the last movement of Vipassana, “The Nothingness that is the Source of Everything,” which was also the last of the four movements to be composed, one can hear the same fused elements of minimalism and jazz that are more overt in the other three movements, but they are now framed more orchestrally and begin to point toward a different direction that was more integrated, more subtle, and more directly in alignment with classical and new music thought.

 

“Into all the Valley Evening Journeys” from Vipassana
By Joseph C Phillips Jr
Ensemble: Numinous, conducted by Joseph C Phillips Jr
Soloist: Dave Smith, trumpet


“The Nothingness that is the Source of Everything” from Vipassana
By Joseph C Phillips Jr
Ensemble: Numinous, conducted by Joseph C Phillips Jr
Soloists: Dan Willis, flute; Skye Steele, violin

“Into all the Valleys Evening Journeys” and all of Vipassana you can read more about it: https://www.numinousmusic.com/the-numinosum-blog/category/inside-vipassana

 

By the year 2012, my compositions for Numinous were already moving away from a conscious ‘middle way’ between classical and jazz, and more toward the contemporary classical/new music world proper (years before, my small-group chamber compositions and works for wind ensemble had already moved). And while certainly some jazz elements were still there at times, they were now subsumed in less obvious ways than in my previous compositions. Another change, the ensemble itself, while still essentially a large chamber orchestra, had switched from being a more equal representation between classical and jazz musicians in its earliest days, to now, being filled mostly with musicians coming from the world of contemporary classical/new music. Of course this also affected the music I composed for Numinous; this change, while as I mentioned was hinted at earlier with “The Nothingness…” and other works, really went into overdrive when I was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in 2012 to compose, conduct and perform to film with Numinous, a new score to Ernst Lubitsch’s 1922 silent movie epic The Loves of Pharaoh at the Next Wave Festival. Although only scored for 18 musicians, The Loves of Pharaoh is really a 100-minute orchestral score, fully utilizing techniques from post-minimalism and contemporary classical music.

 

 

The Loves of Pharaoh
Act One, Scenes 1 & 2
By Joseph C Phillips Jr

Ensemble: Numinous, conducted by Joseph C Phillips Jr

 

(Changing Same album art design: DM Stith)

A few months after The Loves of Pharaoh premiere came Changing Same. Commissioned by and premiering at the Ecstatic Music Festival in March 2013, we recorded the work that year and the album was released in August 2015 on New Amsterdam Records. The concept behind the six-movement composition was: “So-called indie classical/alt-classical is a reflection of alternative rock and other vernacular music as a palimpsest for the creation of new contemporary music of an expansive and open definition and vision. I wanted to express similar aesthetic ideas however using Black vernacular music as the main source…[f]rom these musings the gestation of Changing Same began. Musically each movement, with the exception of ‘Behold,’ is influenced by a fragment, motive, or chord progression from various Black popular music influences I grew up with. I, however, wanted to recognize other sources of inspiration as well—a ‘digging of everything’—so almost all the movements are connected to various influential classical music and/or personal and cultural memories during my lifetime…this is mixed music.” 6Joseph C Phillips Jr, https://www.numinousmusic.com/the-numinosum-blog/changing-same The opening piece from Changing Same, “19” really came from a ‘can I make Schoenberg funky?’ challenge question to myself. “19” was featured this August in the New York Times “5 Minutes That Will Make You Love 21st-Century Composers” and there is a link in the article to part of my thesis discussing the musical underpinnings of the composition. And Changing Same’s last movement, “Unlimited,” with its inspiration from my attendance at Barack Obama’s first presidential inauguration in 2009, to the music of both Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra and Gamble and Huff, one could hear it as the musical manifestation of what I wrote earlier about trying to “bring the funk to minimalism.”

 

“19” from Changing Same
Ensemble: Numinous, conducted by Joseph C Phillips Jr
Soloist: Mike Baggetta, guitar

 


 

“Unlimited” from Changing Same
Ensemble: Numinous, conducted by Joseph C Phillips Jr

 

To The Grey Land

Today Numinous is fully immersed in the contemporary classical scene. When I moved to New York City in the late 1990s, I had hopes that my musical world might someday be a part of that scene—but being a newly arrived young Black male with classical orchestral ambitions and also no connections to that world, I had no idea how it could happen. I came to New York to write, and I wrote. I worked very hard, and things were not always easy but I also knew I was incredibly lucky. Over the years, through truly organic developments, experiences, and help and inspiration from many people in my life, I found my way and found my voice in classical music/new music.

This year 2020, a truly annus horribilis, if there ever was one, I have luckily had a bright spot to focus on—The Grey Land. Numinous finished the studio sessions just before all of the lockdowns and I’ve been working remotely ever since, with the engineers and co-producer Oded Lev-Ari, on preparing the album for the upcoming release on November 20th on New Amsterdam Records. The Grey Land is a monoopera, scored for my largest Numinous ensemble to date—30 musicians—and is my most ambitious undertaking yet. The beginnings of my thinking on the opera were in 2011, but it wasn’t until 2014 and the protests in Ferguson, Missouri that The Grey Land really came into focus. The opera, in its 13 scenes, explores universal themes of humanity and identity through the intractable triumvirate of race, class, and power in American society, and comments more specifically on the larger longstanding systemic societal, economic and cultural issues the various police shootings and protests since 2014 have brought to a wider public consciousness.

And while my music no longer overtly references jazz, that musical language has been integrated into my overall voice, whether it’s in my usage of certain rhythmic ideas or some of the various harmonies I use or by occasionally just still allowing space for improvisation in my music. One example of this in The Grey Land is Scene 12 “The Sunken Place.” The last section of the scene I have the six vocalists (Aubrey Johnson, Tammy Scheffer, Sara Serpa, Bogna Kicinska, Emilie Weibel, and Amy Cervini) improvise over their own vocal harmonic pad. While certainly not ‘jazz,’ the same spirit of openness and sound exploration was what I was looking for; and with me assembling and adding an electronic collage of their voices, the composite effect creates the atmosphere that helps to encapsulate the mood behind the meaning of “[t]he sunken place is this metaphor for the system that is suppressing the freedom of black people.” 7Jordan Peele, https://www.indiewire.com/2017/11/get-out-jordan-peele-explains-sunken-place-meaning-1201902567/

To See Things As They Are

So again my music has continued to change with the times, although like the concept of mixed music, the seeds for the change have been there since almost the beginning; it’s only now, with these times that those particular seeds have begun to bud and awaken, evolving again into something different than before. Or perhaps it’s not something else or different, but perhaps just more of myself. As Carl Jung once wrote, “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” 8Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Page 33 This spring, in a response to a Twitter post about Vipassana, I wrote:

In response to the state of the world, the subjects for my recent musical projects have almost all been more focused on these contemporary cultural and societal issues: To Begin the World Over Again (2012/2016), inspired by advocacy for freedom and democracy; Changing Same (2013), explores the richness and complexity of being black in 21st century America; “Never Has Been Yet” (2016), balances love and criticism of America in the Langston Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again;” The Grey Land (2018), a mono opera that is a story of a Black mother trying to survive the reality in this land that doesn’t fully see her or her son; Four Freedoms (2020), a chamber opera updating the unrealized themes of freedom of speech and worship, freedom from want and fear, that are illuminated in President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union speech; and my forthcoming 1619 opera cycle, in which each opera will reflect the predacity of American life and how this country “begins in black plunder and white democracy, two features that are not contradictory but complementary.” 9Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/ This particular moment in our country, I feel, does not afford me, an American Black male, the privilege of being silent about the systemic issues our country has never had the willingness to fully tackle. I don’t know where my musical path will take me next but with the recent protests around Black Lives Matter and police brutality, frankly I have an obligation to myself and to the ancestors to raise my musical voice in solidarity and in truth, and in my own small, musical way, to help illuminate a way toward a better world.


About the Author:

(Photo Credit: Jenny Wohrle)

The compositions of Joseph C. Phillips Jr. are not limited or defined by any one genre but rather are an amalgamation, transmuted into a singular and individual style. Phillips calls his style, mixed music; the term is inspired by mixed race people who have traits and characteristics that come from each individual parent, from the melding of the two, and their own uniqueness. Mixed music is an organic fusing of various elements from many different influences, forming compositions that are personal, different, and new.

He has received a Brooklyn Arts Council Arts Fund grant, NewMusic USA project grant, a American Composers Forum Jerome Foundation grant for New Music, a Meet the Composers Creative Connections grant, an American Music Center CAP grant, two Live Music for Dance commission grants, two Puffin Foundation grants, and was a finalist for both the Sundance Institute Film Composers Lab Fellowship and the Opera Company of Philadelphia Composer-in-Residence. In addition to the worldwide performances of his works, including the Steve Reich Festival in The Hague, Netherlands, new works have been commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Next Wave Festival, the Kaufman Center and Ecstatic Music Festival, Maryland Opera Studio, pianist Lara Downes, the NextNow Fest for the Invoke String Quartet, Simone Dinnerstein and the Neighborhood Classics Concert Series for Face the Music, Dave Douglas and the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT), the Rhythm in the Kitchen Festival, Concrete Temple Theatre Company, St. Olaf College, University of Maryland, University of Denver, the Fieldston School, Edisa Weeks and the Delirious Dance Company, Take Dance Company, Maffei Dance Company, and a number of other musicians and ensembles.

Currently Phillips is working on various commissions and new projects including recording The Grey Land, a monoopera exploring universal themes of acceptance, ostracization, authenticity, and identity centered around intractable issues of race, class, and power in American society. The Grey Land will be released November 20, 2020 on New Amsterdam Records. He is also beginning work on 1619, an opera cycle inspired by the 2019 New York Times series The 1619 Project and the 2014 Ta-Nehisi Coates The Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations.”

Header Image Photo Credit: Jenny Wohrle

Footnotes

Will Robin, https://soundexpertise.org/steve-reich-and-the-politics-of-race-with-sumanth-gopinath/
“Make it Funky” episode (Chapter 8) of the David Espar, Rock and Roll documentary, https://vimeo.com/399998317
“Introductory Statement of Purpose,” Joseph C Phillips Jr, 2011 Masters thesis, page 10
LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), “The Changing Same” (1966
Joseph C Phillips Jr, https://www.numinousmusic.com/about-numinous.html
Joseph C Phillips Jr, https://www.numinousmusic.com/the-numinosum-blog/changing-same
Jordan Peele, https://www.indiewire.com/2017/11/get-out-jordan-peele-explains-sunken-place-meaning-1201902567/
Carl Jung, Letters Vol. 1, Page 33
Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/
Artist Blog

Brian Krock: Zen and the art of fishing – How I learned to combat writer’s block

“I know that there’s a thing called ‘writer’s block,’ but, just that term—if it becomes kind of a reality, if you believe that term—you could maybe get writer’s block. Fearing it, you would bring it to yourself. All it means is, the ideas are not coming. You’re out fishing, your hook is in the water, you’ve got bait on it, but you’re not catching anything today. It just means that: you keep fishing. You’ve got to have patience.” -David Lynch

Last week, I released a new music video of my big band, Big Heart Machine, performing “Unblock the Stoppage,” the first track from our newest album Live at The Jazz Gallery. I composed this piece in January of 2018 in the midst of the worst bout of writer’s block that I have ever experienced. I’m sure you, dear reader, have been in a similar situation: fretting about an impending deadline, wasting hours sitting at the piano, staring impotently at a blank piece of manuscript paper (or computer screen, or whatever), pacing around the apartment leveling silent invectives at your delicate inner self.

I’d had writer’s block before, but never in such a crippling way. In retrospect, I think I know why I couldn’t write. At the time, I had just finished recording my first album of large ensemble recordings. I was a budding composer. Not even, really. I was aspiring to become a budding composer. I had never had any real deadlines before. Nor had I ever had any real expectations for my music. But now, with a studio recording under my belt, I was certain that I would never again be able to match its success. I wanted everything I was writing to be “better” than my previous efforts. I was sure that my band would be disappointed in my lack of creativity. I was, clearly, lost in my own head.

Releasing “Unblock the Stoppage” to the world last week got me thinking again about writer’s block. My hope is that sharing a simple strategy for dealing with the inability to compose will be of use to you. You can actually hear this strategy at work in “Unblock the Stoppage”; in fact, that is exactly what I’ve come to love about the piece. Let me explain.

“Things’ll come to you”

From: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGu0ao_rdAk

I love what MF Doom has to say here, and if you find that you can’t write—and don’t have an impending deadline—I strongly cosign his advice to “leave it alone, do something else.” By all means: read, play with your children, sit in silence, go on a walk. These are certainly better ways to spend your time than sitting alone ruminating, and, as an added bonus, you may be struck by an idea when you are least expecting it.

But what about when a composition or arrangement is due soon? Maybe in a couple days? Tomorrow morning? You have to be able to deliver something at a professional standard if you’d like to build a good reputation and get more work. (Even if you don’t have a deadline, I think it’s a great idea to create artificial deadlines for yourself. Doing this will force you to at least write something. For example, scheduling a reading session with your friends is a great low-stress way to force yourself to finish writing something.)

In the case of “Unblock the Stoppage,” I took the advice of my former teacher, Jim McNeely (who incidentally wrote a beautiful essay for this very blog not too long ago). In a private lesson, Jim once told me to focus simply on filling as many pages as I could with notes. He instructed me to spin ideas out in any and every way imaginable without impeding myself by worrying about whether or not those ideas might be good or bad, useful or useless. I remember him saying, “Get a pencil in your hand, get your hand moving, and enjoy the process of exploration.” John Cage put it another way: “Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.”

So, years after that formative lesson, I took Jim’s advice to heart. I filled many pages with sketches of ideas. As it turned out, generating the raw material wasn’t the real issue for me; the problem was that all of my ideas were totally incoherent. I couldn’t find a common thread. I couldn’t imagine a form that could contain such a weird admixture of nonsense. Despite my best efforts, I was still blocked up.

Looking at my sketches today, it’s clear that I was grasping at straws. A lot of my first ideas are just geometric shapes, random sequences of notes, and vague instructions to myself.    

On the third staff of this first page of sketches, I wrote a note to myself: “Vibes and piano have retrograde rhythms… one a composed accelerando, one a [ritardando].” This vague kernel of an idea would eventually become the culminating section of the entire piece! Except, instead of using only vibraphone and piano, I had the entire rhythm section slowing down while the horns simultaneously sped up, creating a novel and discombobulating effect.

On a subsequent page, I was further experimenting with temporal illusions. Look at the bottom left corner of the following page. I wrote to myself, “Each section [of the band] at [their] own pace.” This unclear instruction is followed by three staves of ideas that I spun out from the interval series of the composition’s main melody. Ultimately, I ended up freely presenting these at three structural junctures in the final version of “Unblock the Stoppage.” At these moments, the conductor cedes control of the band; sub-groups within the orchestra are instructed to listen to one another at proceed at their own unique pace, disregarding any musicians who are not in their indicated group.

On the same page, you’ll find a decidedly conventional harmonization of the main melody for the saxophone section. This bit made it into “Unblock the Stoppage” as well, in a moment where nostalgia for the classic big band sound is distorted by slow, microtonal undulations.

The following page just has a lot of scribbles and the instruction (in all caps) “THINK ABOUT MINGUS MEETS MESHUGGAH. SLOPPY GESTURES & TEXTURES.” I don’t know if I achieved the former, but I nailed the latter!

The point is, I had a plethora of ideas, but I hadn’t the slightest clue how they might work together as a lucid piece of music. Previously, my process had been more linear; idea A would generate the material for idea B, and these ideas would be clearly related by some common thread. The form would be obviously extrapolated from the inherent necessities of the material. But, in this case, I was a fisherman lost at sea, desperately searching for any beacon of light.

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”

As my deadline approached, and my desperation peaked, I was struck with the most obvious idea. Why not just paste together all of the pages of random musical material strewn about my studio? Why not simply embrace—nay, exploit—the incoherence of my ideas? That, in and of itself, could make for an interesting formal device.

As it turns out (completely unbeknownst to myself at the time [which is so often the case]), I was not the first composer to build an entire piece of music around disorganized, unrelated materials. In fact, one of my favorite contemporary composers, Andrew Norman, reached the exact same conclusion in dealing with his writer’s block while writing his orchestral composition “Unstuck.” In that piece’s program notes, Norman explained:

I have never been more stuck than I was in the winter of 2008. My writing came to a grinding halt in January and for a long time this piece languished on my desk, a mess of musical fragments that refused to cohere. It was not until the following May, when I saw a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and remembered one of its iconic sentences, that I had a breakthrough realization. The sentence was this: “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time,” and the realization was that the lack of coherence in my ideas was to be embraced and explored, not overcome.

I only discovered Norman’s composition while researching this essay, and I was excited by a number of eerie resonances shared by our compositions. Most obviously, our titles are uncannily similar. Looking more closely, I discovered that Norman- who is ten years older than me- wrote “Unstuck” exactly ten years before I wrote “Unblock the Stoppage.” It seems that we both had a moment of crisis in our late twenties due to impending deadlines and lack of cogency in our pre-compositional ideas. And we both ended up with musical works whose raison d’être was, essentially, lack of coherence.

Upon further reflection, I realized that these commonalities are in no way surprising. In fact, it’s safe to assume that this very thing happens to people in all sorts of creative endeavors: after some initial career success, the desire to better oneself results in a lot of second-guessing, hemming-and-hawing, and stressing out. These emotional barriers make the act of creating something new all but impossible.

Norman and I found the same solution to our problem with compositional ineffectiveness. We simply embraced our impotence! In Norman’s case, it seems that through wrestling with an overabundance of seemingly-random ideas, he stumbled onto a mode of composition that resonated not only with himself, but with the modern zeitgeist of short attention spans and overwhelming streams of competing information. His recent orchestral masterpiece “Play” inhabits the same sound-world consisting of an immense amount of discreet ideas deployed in rapid succession.

In my own case, since those anxiety-ridden weeks during which I composed “Unblock the Stoppage,” I truly haven’t had an issue with generating new music. I hope I’m permanently cured, but most likely, I’ll find myself blocked up again. I’m afraid it might be the case that we must go through a dry spell or ten in order to learn for ourselves how to deal with writer’s block- just as Norman, McNeely, Cage, MF Doom, and Lynch have all done. Maybe my experience will save one or two of you from such a fate, but as I sit here typing, I admit I’m doubtful.

So, when that inevitable moment arrives (if it hasn’t already), I leave you with this advice: it ain’t that heavy, my friend. We have to stop putting unnecessary pressure on ourselves to write the Next Great Piece. Instead, I suggest that a more effective goal would be to just write Something. Anything. Then, do it again. And again and again and again. In other words, have patience and keep fishing.


About the Author:


“Perhaps you’ve heard about a new big-band resurgence in New York. Near the center of that wave is this 18-piece ensemble led by a Midwestern-born multireedist and composer named Brian Krock.” (Nate Chinen, WBGO) Known mainly as the brain behind the behemoth band Big Heart Machine, composer and multi-instrumentalist Brian Krock writes music that simultaneously embraces and transcends the diverse array of musical genres he works within. A fierce and probing improviser on the alto saxophone, he has also had the opportunity to make creative music in New York’s classical, theater, and pop music scenes playing all of the woodwind instruments.

A recipient of a Master’s Degree in Composition from the Manhattan School of Music, Brian was a student of world-renowned jazz composer Jim McNeely and acclaimed opera composer Dr. J. Mark Stambaugh. Highlights from his long list of awards and honors include the Aaron Copland Recording Grant, the Manhattan Prize in Composition for his “String Quartet No. 1,” two ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Awards, a composer-residency at the Bloomingdale School of Music, and most recently commissions from the New York Youth Symphony and the Metropole Orkest with Grammy-winning R&B vocalist Lalah Hathaway. Krock’s music is notable for its seamless incorporation of contemporary classical techniques, heavy metal aesthetics, and free group improvisation. In this way, he hopes to continue the tradition of saxophonist/composers such as Anthony Braxton, Steve Coleman, Tim Berne, and Henry Threadgill. For Krock, composition is a daily practice that challenges him to continually rethink the norms of the jazz tradition whilst paying tribute to the daring iconoclasts who paved the way toward creative freedom.

Artist Blog

John Hollenbeck: You are your biggest influence! – An email discussion about arranging with John Hollenbeck and Matt Horanzy

This blog consists of an exchange of emails between Matt Horanzy, when he was a student at USF, and I discussing my approach to arranging for the albums “Songs I Like a Lot” and “Songs We Like a Lot.” Matt has agreed to share this email conversation with the ISJAC community. In the time since we had this conversation, I finished and recently released the album “Songs You Like a Lot,” so I have included an addendum to our original exchange to give you an explanation of the final album of arrangements. In rereading our emails, I felt I needed to include some clarifications to my original thoughts. These clarifications are labeled and appear in italics.

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From: Matthew Horanzy
Subject  – Research Project question
Date: February 5, 2018 at 4:48:23 PM EST
To: John Hollenbeck

Hi Mr. Hollenbeck,

I’m currently working on a research project focused around your music, specifically your arrangements from the Songs I/We Like A Lot albums. My topic is going to be on your influences from wind ensemble music/composers. Having heard you speak extensively on this topic, I was wondering if you could point me to a few pieces or composers that you believe played a great deal of impact on your music for these two projects?

Can’t wait to listen to the new album!

Best,

Matt Horanzy

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On Feb 6, 2018, at 9:09 AM, John Hollenbeck wrote:

Hi Matt,

I appreciate the interest and question. I have to stop you at your premise unfortunately, because I do not believe that you need to be influenced by something to do something. I hear too much of that in fact. When I write, I try to let the material itself influence me and guide me. While I sometimes do answer the “influences” question, I am increasingly hesitant. I know it is harder to start at “nothing” and not get a head start from another person’s work, but that is how I work the majority of the time. I know it does not make for a good paper, but that is the truth.  😀

Feel free to follow up!

LATER CLARIFICATION: I believe influences will always be present and what we do is based on what we take in. But I do not believe it is necessary to look for influences or spend a lot of time trying to get influenced. The process of being influenced and letting those influences flow naturally out can hopefully happen organically without conscious intent. I have always gravitated towards music where the influences are not quickly evident and I get immediately turned off if I feel someone is stealing someone’s music consciously or even unconsciously. I realize the frustration in my answer and the educational value of copying others, but I do want to continually stress the significance of trying to come at your work from “you” and not “in the style of” someone else, as a mature goal.

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On 06 Feb 2018, at 09:17, Matthew Horanzy wrote:

Hi John – I do appreciate the email! I won’t pry at the subject, but I am now curious about how your statement of treating the big band “as a wind ensemble” (something I recall from your ISJAC talk) can be true without some kind of influence by certain pieces or composers from the idiom?

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On 06 Feb 2018, at 15:58, John Hollenbeck wrote:

Hi Matt,

This issue is a big one for me. So let me try to clarify.

The “big band as wind ensemble” concept was an important thought, a “what if” moment for me, not related to a specific piece or composer, but simply what I had NOT yet heard based on my experiences playing big band and wind ensemble music.

It is also just a general goal of mine. If my vehicle was the wind ensemble then I might be thinking of it the other way around, e.g. “try to put ‘big band’ into a wind ensemble context!”

I’m a firm believer of looking within for the answers, not to other people…it is much easier to be ethical and true to yourself if you can deal with just the music and not with what others have done. I realize that this does not lead to good papers or scholarship if you are told to look for influences and write about them. I think this way of educating is emphasized in jazz education to a negative degree.

In the case of the arrangements that I wrote for these recordings, the answers you are looking for can be extracted by analyzing the arrangements, because everything is built on the DNA of the original songs.

LATER CLARIFICATION: I am trying to emphasize that instead of just asking the composer/arranger for the answers, there is much value in actually studying the music first, looking for the answers on your own, and then presenting the composer/arranger with some very specific questions. The process of looking for the answers will often bring up unexpected rewards. I have discovered the first gem of a piece when looking at some other music and having it lead me to a new place, and it should be noted, a new place for the material too!

An example is the last section (starting at 8:53) of The Shape of Spirit from the album, Tunnel Vision by Ansgar Streipens and Ed Partyka. This material came directly from analyzing and learning Satie’s Gnossiennes No.1. I do not think the result has a direct auditory or foundational basis in the Satie piece, but I found some “new” material while trying to figure out what the Satie piece was about. This process reminds of all the times I went to a library looking for a specific book or score, did not find it, but instead made an unexpected book/score discovery!

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On 06 Feb 2018, at 18:14, Matthew Horanzy wrote:
 

All too often, I battle the challenge of resisting the temptation to draw from my favorite moments of other music. I’d love to hear how you manage to stay truly original – because everything has to come from somewhere… no? I can’t say that anything I’ve done has been due to “musical spontaneous combustion,” but listening to your music, I would believe if maybe you’ve had those moments!

Back to a stronger paper topic, yes I think perhaps going the direction of how the original works affected your arrangements could be more interesting. I’ll be looking on my own, but if there are any particular ones that you think might have some ideas/techniques that would really stand out in a presentation, I’d love to hear it right from the source!

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On 06 Feb 2018, at 18:31, John Hollenbeck wrote:

“because everything has to come from somewhere… no?”

Yes! From YOU! (:

In other words, from an organic mix of all of your experiences. I’m not sure if one needs to try to, or can, be truly original, but I think the point is to be yourself and to work with the material and let it dictate what you do. This is jazz to me.

Coltrane, Miles, Monk and others are the epitome of jazz because they ended up creating something original by NOT using too many outside influences, but trying hard to create something that had not been done before and was personal to them.

About my SONGS I/We recordings:

Every piece has its own story, so it will be faster if you pick a few that you like or are curious about and then I may be able to help. (Sometimes I remember what I did, and other times it was done in a short period when I was in a zone so then I don’t really remember what happened!)

LATER CLARIFICATION: “Coltrane, Miles, Monk and others are the epitome of jazz because they ended up creating something original by NOT using too many outside influences but trying hard to create something that had not been done before and was personal to them.”

I’m arguing with myself on this a little when thinking of Coltrane because he was totally open to outside influences and looking for as much information as possible and then bringing it into his music pretty quickly. Yet despite that approach, the end result came through the Coltrane filter and therefore did not sound like a copy of someone else’s music.

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Feb 7, 2018, at 1:50 PM, John Hollenbeck wrote:

PS Rick Lawn transcribed the ISJAC talk for his insightful book, so here is more on the “wind ensemble” aspect that you asked about from his transcription:

Hollenbeck: It came down to not calling it a big band and not thinking of it as a big band. It has the same instrumentation as a big band, but it’s just a large ensemble. It could be a large chamber ensemble or a wind ensemble. But thinking of it like that helped me a lot because then I didn’t have to think about styles or conventions.  I just think of it as a group of people, and they play these instruments, and how could [I] deal with that. So that’s one thing that helped me a lot. Within that pretty traditional instrumentation that exists everywhere I just try to find a couple things that make it distinctive, that make it a little different. Having Theo Bleckmann in the band helps me stay away from what a traditional band sounds like.  He can sing like an instrument, he can sing with words, and he can make sounds. Having that one musician really helped me see how to open up the music.  And then having mallet percussion, nothing against guitar, got me excited about writing for the big band. It just wasn’t something I’d heard that much of. I’d heard some vibes before, but this allows me to incorporate things like crotales. It also gets me closer to that wind ensemble-like vibe that I wanted. And I think I haven’t even fully realized this yet. I have like 10 pieces that are sort of wind ensemble pieces.

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On 27 Feb 2018, at 13:53, Matthew Horanzy wrote:

I wanted to get your input about some analysis that I’m doing of a few of your charts. I was wondering if you wanted to provide a small blurb of what you recall regarding your thought process/motivic usage in each of these tracks, as well as anything you might find interesting to share!

From Songs We Like A Lot: Bicycle Race, Close To You, How Can I Keep From Singing, and True Colors.

These are some of my favorite recordings and pieces of music of all time… truly beautiful stuff.

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On Tue, Feb 27, 2018 at 4:34 PM, John Hollenbeck wrote:

At the moment, I’m drawing blanks on these arrangements. It would probably be better for you to ask specific questions and hopefully that will jog my memory. All of those arrangements were written in a short amount of time, so it is difficult to remember anything!

What I can say generally is that I look at the original melodies, sometimes the harmonies but usually just the melodies (maybe the bass lines occasionally) and then generate new material from them. I don’t usually bring new material into the arrangement.

To give you some more specifics, I will usually take the melody, retrograde it and then turn this line into something vertical (chords/harmony). Or I might take the interval set from a melody and process that into more sets and then use that. (ala Bob Brookmeyer)

In True Colors, Theo is singing the original melody, but very slowly, so it ends up sounding like a chant. The piano is also playing the melody and/or some material that was generated from the melody, but much faster, so it also does not overtly sound like the melody, but actually is! The hi-hat part accentuates the piano part and fills in the sub-divisions in a typewriter-like fashion. My goal was to create something that sounds free and not in an obvious meter.

 

The processes when I’m arranging are virtually the same when I’m composing. This article will give you more insight into “the process of processing”:

Click Here to View the Full Article

 

Also, I wrote an extensive analysis of Drewslate, a Claudia Quintet piece, that demonstrates in depth the composition process for this particular piece. It has been published in Arcana VIII, one edition of a series of journals that John Zorn has put together.

I would like to note that with most arrangements, I’m trying to keep the essence of the songs intact while giving them new life, like a new coat of paint or a renovation. The songs are still there but might sound quite different than the original.

LATER CLARIFICATION: The way I look at it, there is a scale of how much something can be arranged. In Imogen Heap’s “Canvas” from Songs I Like A Lot or “Blue” from Songs You Like A Lot, I felt like I just orchestrated the songs according to the players and instrumentation on this project. On the other end of the scale are “Get Lucky Manifesto” from Songs We Like A Lot or “Knows Only God” from Songs You Like A Lot which were arranged to the extreme, to the point of “re-composition,” which is why I re-titled them.

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On Apr 15, 2018, at 11:36 PM, Matthew Horanzy wrote:

Hi Mr. Hollenbeck,

Thank you for writing me several weeks (months?) ago! I’ve been digging deeper into your charts, and your words continue to ring true, with the majority of these works being creative manipulations of the melody.

I wanted to ask some questions that were less technical in terms of analysis, but more conceptual. First and foremost, I wanted to know if there were any differences in your approach when writing arrangements for Songs I Like A Lot compared to Songs We Like A Lot. Did you notice any tendencies when tasked with re-arranging music that was not as dear to you?

And last, what pieces did you also consider for these two albums that did not make the cut? I’m very curious about your thought process when choosing pieces to arrange for projects such as these!

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On Apr 16, 2018, at 9:56 AM, John Hollenbeck wrote:

“First and foremost, I wanted to know if there were any differences in your approach when writing arrangements for Songs I Like A Lot compared to Songs We Like A Lot.”

Not really, it felt similar – the main difference was in how the material was selected. I liked more of the material from the 1st project since I selected most of the pieces! But what I learned in the 2nd project was that I did not need to like a piece in order to make a successful arrangement out of it!

“Did you notice any tendencies when tasked with re-arranging music that was not as dear to you?”

I learned that it might even be easier if I did not like the original piece, because then there was less pressure on myself to do it justice. Also, if I did not like it, I did not listen to it much ahead of time, so it was easier to make it my own.

“And last, what pieces did you also consider for these two albums that did not make the cut? I’m very curious about your thought process when choosing pieces to arrange for projects such as these!”

Many, many pieces, but alas that list was on paper, and while I’m sure I still have it, I’m not sure where it is! For the last album in this trilogy, “Songs You Like A Lot,” we are inviting anyone to suggest a piece that they want me to arrange. We will then have an internet-wide vote, so I’m taking myself out of the selection of pieces!

To re-iterate, the process once I start arranging a piece is the same as my compositional process:

  • Find the core/cell
  • Process it and try to find the “gold” that is hopefully embedded in the material, something that speaks to me and gives the material a new life.

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August 9, 2020

An update to this email exchange: Songs You Like A Lot is done and is about to be released (August 14th) so I can conclude this conversation with Matt by giving you some insight into the whole project with the liner notes to this final album:

 

SONGS YOU LIKE A LOT

with Theo Bleckmann, Kate McGarry, Gary Versace and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band.

This is the final chapter of a trilogy of albums in which I explored and arranged popular songs. The entire project was made in collaboration with vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry, pianist Gary Versace, and the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. For the first recording, Songs I Like A Lot, I selected the majority of the songs for the album. Many of the songs I chose were from my childhood, and as I started to really listen to them again, I was surprised by how well I actually knew them. The second recording, Songs We Like A Lot, is composed primarily of songs that Theo and Kate liked and chose for me to arrange. Uri Caine held down the piano chair on this recording. And for this third and final recording, Songs You Like A Lot, we asked listeners to nominate their favorite songs for me to arrange. We then had an internet-wide vote on a list of nominated songs, and I chose (with the help of Kate, Theo and Gary) from the top 20 most popular songs.

This project brought up questions I asked myself numerous times: What is arranging? Why arrange? Why arrange popular songs? Is it still a “pop” song if it was not “popular”? Must the original still be recognizable in the arrangement? What can you arrange and what must be left intact so that the original is still there? When does it stop being an arrangement and transition to being a re-composition or original-composition-based-on-another-piece? And, do you have to like a song or composition to be able to create a good arrangement of it? Going into the project, my answer to this last question was “yes,” but now at the end of this project, my answer has changed to a definite “no.” As it turns out, for this recording, I was able to enjoy arranging pieces that I did not know or, in some cases, even like. This brought up subsequent questions: What does it mean to “like” a song? Is it possible to know a song so well, so completely, that even though you don’t really like the song, you realize that because you have heard it so much and know it so well, you end up kind of liking it anyway? (Yes!) And finally, how do you arrange something that you really do like, that you’re not sure you should even try to change?

What I do know is that above all, I want the listener to be reinvigorated and have their interest in the original versions of these songs revived! Through the course of this entire project, I have come up against many listeners that are so attached to the originals that any changes are considered blasphemy! I understand their feelings, but I also believe that this could be a great lesson in non-attachment? The Buddhists would say non-attachment is the key to happiness, so for the “poo-poo’ers” out there, consider this a path to enlightenment!

My arrangements may also highlight facets of these songs that were not obvious to the listener in the original, perhaps revealing hidden and exciting new layers. I sought to emphasize material that is present in the original, but not featured or in the foreground. I also tried to rewind what I perceived may have been the original compositional process to then figure out what I would do from that same point of departure. This approach always brought me down a much different path than the original composer. Throughout the course of this entire project, I also learned new methods of arranging that center in on how to change the original as little as possible while still achieving something “new.”

To give you some specifics on my process: in “Down by the River to Pray”, I let each verse exist organically in its own “room”, culminating in the last verse where all the “rooms” come together simultaneously. Keeping in mind the deep meaning this piece has to Kate, and many others, including myself, I tried to be very careful in not forcing the material, but allowed it to be what it wanted to be.

The Refuge Trio, a collective trio I have with Theo and Gary, was originally formed to perform in a Joni Mitchell tribute concert in New York City. In fact, the name of the band comes from her song “Refuge of the Road”. Having performed her work extensively, I knew that Theo could make “Blue” come to life in his singular way. I tried to do as little as possible with this one and mostly orchestrated the original piano part.

“How Deep is Your Love?” is a nostalgic tune for me. All of the Bee Gees tunes remind me of what was on the jukebox in the local bowling alley where I would bowl on Friday afternoons as a kid. Looking at the song many years later, the title’s question “How deep is your love?” took on an even deeper meaning to me and I heard an urgent intensity in these words, which I chose to emphasize.

The classic “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor was one of the most challenging pieces to arrange because I’m simply in love with the original and was reluctant to even touch it. I imagined how Kate would bring her own magic and then subtly shaped the original by accentuating certain qualities that were present but not explicit.

The Kate Bush/Peter Gabriel pairing in “Don’t Give Up” seemed very suitable to Kate and Theo, but in order to get away from the original, I thought it would be interesting to have them switch parts. This concept of switching is explored also in the last section of the song with an escalation of intense vocal hocketing. While the original version of this song fades out like a gentle pat on the shoulder, I chose to end this arrangement with a coach-like fervor, imploring: “DON’T!” (GIVE UP)

“Kindness” doesn’t officially belong on this album of arrangements because it is an original, but I love this magical poem by Naomi Shihab Nye and want more people to hear it!

“Pure Imagination” was arranged with Gary Versace and Theo Bleckmann in mind. These two musicians embody pure imagination to me, so I created a musical fantasy world as described by the lyrics for them to explore and make magic in!

The easiest solution to arranging extremely popular songs like “God Only Knows” (which was #1 on the voters’ list), is to simply re-orchestrate it. I chose instead to challenge myself to re-cast this classic in a new light. I had such a great time re-arranging the lyrics that this became the key to finding what often sounds like a completely different piece, which I call “Knows Only God.” Perhaps after several listenings of both versions, you will start to hear that “God only Knows” is still totally present and intact!

Songs You Like A Lot along with my other albums can be found on Bandcamp (the most friendly platform for musicians) in physical or digital formats. Because I know it is a challenging time currently for musicians and composers, if you would like a digital copy of SULAL but can not afford it right now, please write to: flexatonicarts@gmail.com with  “SULAL ISJAC SPECIAL” in the subject and we will send you a free download code.

In the years since this conversation, Matt Horanzy has moved to Washington DC where he enjoys staying busy as a guitarist, composer, and educator. He’s currently a member of the BMI Composers workshop, and his latest quarantine project entitled “Quartz” can be heard here:

 

I hope this article clarifies a process that is often mysterious and solitary.

John Hollenbeck


About the Author:

It’s traditional, when paying compliment to drummers, to draw comparisons with the octopus, implying agility beyond the means of a paltry pair of human hands. But when considering John Hollenbeck, the multi-limbed creature that seems most appropriate to invoke is the mythical hydra; for while Hollenbeck is certainly no stranger to rhythmic intricacy, it’s ideas that seem to spring forth like so many heads, two more arising as one falls away.

Hollenbeck is a composer of music uncategorizable beyond the fact of being always identifiably his. A conceptualist able to translate the traditions of jazz and new music into a fresh, eclectic, forward-looking language of his own invention, intellectually rewarding yet ever accessibly vibrant. A drummer and percussionist possessed of a playful versatility and a virtuosic wit. Most of all, a musical thinker – whether putting pen to paper or conjuring spontaneous sound – allergic to repetition, forever seeking to surprise himself and his audiences.

The prolific and unpredictable nature of Hollenbeck’s output has been evident since he first emerged as a leader in late 2001, releasing four completely different albums within a matter of months. Three of them (Quartet Lucy, the duo CD Static Still, and no images, featuring several different configurations) introduced the partnership of Hollenbeck and iconoclastic vocalist Theo Bleckmann, who continue to collaborate in a variety of offbeat settings. Along with keyboardist Gary Versace, they form the Refuge Trio, as boundary-free a small group as one is likely to find.

The last of that initial burst of creativity was the self-titled debut of the Claudia Quintet, Hollenbeck’s longest-running ensemble. Over the course of its eight CDs, Claudia has cemented its reputation as one of the most innovative and adaptable units in modern jazz, so deftly attuned to one another that Hollenbeck’s most dizzying compositional leaps are taken with an air of playfulness and skewed humor. Claudia’s latest release, Super Petite, is a potent package that condenses virtuoso playing and a wealth of ideas into ten compact songs.

Claudia has received grants from the Chamber Music America New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program to compose a suite which was recorded for 2009’s Royal Toast, and from Arts International and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation to travel to Brazil, Nepal, and Canada for performances. The quintet was commissioned by the University of Rochester to set the work of Kenneth Patchen as part of their 100th birthday celebration of the ground-breaking poet, which can be heard on the 2011 release What Is the Beautiful?, featuring vocals by Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling. The Claudia Quintet can also be heard performing the theme music to Poetry Off the Shelf, a weekly audio program on PoetryFoundation.org.

Hollenbeck has been acclaimed for his unique twist on big band music – most notably through the work of the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, which trades the gale force blowing of most such bands for a multi-hued palette of tonal colors and rich, evocative atmospheres. Their third album All Can Work, pays tribute to the Large Ensemble’s late trumpet player Laurie Frink, a key force in the group and the jazz community. The JHLE received GRAMMY nominations for all three of its releases: All Can Work in 2018, A Blessing in 2005, and eternal interlude in 2008. John was nominated again in 2013 for his arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” from the album Songs I Like a Lot, commissioned and recorded by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, featuring vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, and pianist Gary Versace. That album and its companion piece, 2015’s Songs We Like a Lot, puckishly reimagine pop songs by the likes of Cyndi Lauper, Daft Punk, Queen and Burt Bacharach with big band arrangements, transforming familiar songs with surprising insight and audacious wit.

The composer’s large-band pieces have also been recorded by Austria’s Jazz Bigband Graz on 2006’s critically-acclaimed Joys and Desires. In 2010, the CMA/FACE French-American Jazz Exchange Program awarded Hollenbeck a grant to develop work with Daniel Yvinec and the Orchestre National de Jazz of France, resulting in the release of Shut up and Dance (Bee Jazz, 2011), which includes the GRAMMY-nominated composition “Falling Men.”

If these projects can safely be termed “jazz” (at least by those comfortable with the label’s more progressive interpretations), they should by no means be taken as indicating that Hollenbeck’s output is limited to even that genre’s most elastic borders. His growing body of commissioned compositions relate just as obliquely to the “new music” tag, exemplifying his ability to not so much defy categorization as to evolve beyond its necessity. One of Hollenbeck’s earliest appearances on record was as the composer of “The Shape of Spirit,” a piece for wind ensemble issued on the Mons label in 1998. The following year he composed “Processional and Desiderata” for wind ensemble and orator (released by Challenge Records in 2001), written for and featuring the voice and trombone of John’s mentor, Bob Brookmeyer.

John’s piece “The Cloud of Unknowing,” commissioned by the Bamberg Choir in Germany, fit comfortably alongside works by J.S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky & Paul Hindemith when it was released in 2001 on the Edel Classics label, while his 2004 chamber piece “Demütig Bitten,” commissioned by Germany’s Windsbacher Knabenchor, was released on the Rondeau label along with works by Giovanni Gabrieli, Josquin des Prez and J.S. Bach (again).  In 2002, his IAJE Gil Evans Fellowship Commission piece, “A Blessing,” featuring Theo Bleckmann’s stunning vocals, was performed to critical acclaim at the IAJE Conference; and in 2003 his IAJE/ASCAP Commission, “Folkmoot,” was premiered in Toronto, Canada.

In 2009, John compiled several recordings of his chamber pieces on the CD Rainbow Jimmies, made possible by his 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship. The disc includes commissions by Bang on a Can and the People’s Commissioning Fund; Ethos Percussion Group funded by the Jerome Foundation; Youngstown State University; and a piece written for the Claudia Quintet’s cross-cultural educational journey to Istanbul, commissioned by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. Hollenbeck’s other notable works include commissions by Melbourne Jazz Festival; Edinburgh Jazz Festival; University of the Arts, Philadelphia; and Ensemble Cairn, Paris, France.

Hollenbeck received degrees in percussion and jazz composition from the Eastman School of Music before moving to New York City in the early 1990s. He was profoundly shaped by the mentorship of two hugely influential artists: trombonist/arranger/composer Bob Brookmeyer and composer/choreographer Meredith Monk. His relationship with Brookmeyer reached back to the age of 14, when he attended the SUNY Binghamton Summer Jazz Workshop, and continued at Eastman, through NEA-funded composition study, and finally on the bandstand with Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra and in the studio with Brookmeyer and trumpet great Kenny Wheeler. For Monk, Hollenbeck composed and performed the percussion scores for five of her works: “Magic Frequencies,” “Mercy,” “The Impermanence Project,” “Songs of Ascension” and “On Behalf of Nature.”

Hollenbeck’s awards and honors include five GRAMMY nominations; the 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, the 2010 ASCAP Jazz Vanguard Award and a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship; winning the Jazz Composers Alliance Composition Contest in 1995 and 2002; Meet the Composer’s Grants in 1995 and 2001; and a Rising Star Arranger win in the 2012 and 2013 DownBeat Critics’ Polls as well as in 2011 for the JHLE as Rising Star Big Band. John was a professor of Jazz Drums and Improvisation at the Jazz Institute Berlin from 2005-2016 and in 2015 joined the faculty of McGill University’s Schulich School of Music.

Artist Blog

Quinsin Nachoff: Reflections in the Looking Glass – The Pursuit of a Musical Language for Strings

Down the Rabbit Hole

Pivotal Arc (Whirlwind Recordings), coming out in a few days, features my evolving language composing for string instruments. It explores the connection between classical and jazz idioms with a Violin Concerto, written for soloist Nathalie Bonin, and a String Quartet written for the Molinari String Quartet. The Concerto was developed over a decade, working closely with the soloist, whereas the Quartet was composed right before the recording session, meeting the performers for the first time at rehearsal. A common thread between them is a focus on imaginative musical risks and finding connections between genres.

 

Early Inspirations

Near where I grew up in Toronto, Canada, there was a great reference library that had a large vinyl collection of music covering a diverse range of genres and styles. In high school I was getting turned on to so much music by taking out twenty records (the library checkout limit) every few weeks and listening to something new nearly every night. As a budding saxophonist, I was getting clued in to John Coltrane’s music, the 60’s quartet and beyond, thanks to my private teacher, Alex Dean. I had picked up the complete Bartok String Quartets by the Emerson Quartet at the library around the same time. Even though the instrumentation and approach was very different, in many ways I heard a deep connection between them: the intensity, vibrancy, immediacy, melodic elements, rhythmic development and some of the harmonic approaches. Even though Bartok’s music was fully notated, it still has a feeling of improvisation and spontaneity. And even though Trane’s music was highly improvised, it has a deliberate sense of development and form. They both have a vibrant blend of intellect and emotion.

This inspiration from these two sources grew into two of my first albums. Magic Numbers (Songlines), recorded in 2004, incorporates a String Quartet led by Nathalie Bonin with saxophone trio of bassist Mark Helias, drummer Jim Black and myself on tenor and soprano sax. Horizons Ensemble (Musictronic), recorded in 2005, was with pianist John Taylor, improvising cellist Ernst Reijseger and violinists Nathalie Bonin and Parmela Attariwala. For both of these albums, I wanted the strings to be another voice within the ensemble, interjecting and steering the conversation, not always, or even often, in a background role.

In preparation for composing, I dove into the Bartok scores, and also found the Debussy and Ravel String Quartets really helpful. I highly recommend them, in particular for composers coming from a jazz background, as the harmonic language is familiar and the writing and development is quite clear. You get a good sense of the ranges of the instruments and combinations of the four voices. From there I found it easier to then go back to Beethoven Quartets and move ahead to Shostakovich Quartets and beyond.

By digging into the literature, doing the homework, listening and checking out scores I learned a lot, but this is only one key element. As Jim McNeely (via Bob Brookmeyer) mentions in his recent blog post, doing it is also critical. By writing the music and then having the opportunity to hear how the players responded to it, how the registers sounded in real life and how the overtones interacted and resonated, helped immensely to focus and clarify my imagination: so what I was hearing in my mind would better match reality. (I had the good fortune to study with Jim on and off for several years: a great learning experience from one of the best.) This crucial element comes into play later in the story. From these experiences, I was able to take what was effective and discard what was not.

 

To the Present

Nathalie had been integral to both of those early albums. She had a strong classical background, but was also interested in improvising and worked in a wide cross-section of styles and ensembles. After a performance, we started tossing the idea around of writing her a concerto that would showcase some of her diverse interests. The commission came about in 2008, thanks to the Canada Council for the Arts. Writing for a specific person and working with her to develop the language was a growing experience. I knew some musical settings she was really good at that I wanted to showcase, such as the abstracted Tango of the first Movement, the moody ballad of the second, with room for her to improvise a cadenza into the third movement. But I also wanted to push her and challenge her with some new directions (it is a Concerto after all!) For example, by incorporating some of my own improvised language coming from the perspective of a jazz saxophonist, or some of my own interests at the time, including exploring Balkan music which manifested in the beginning of the third movement. The Concerto was completed in 2013, demoed in NYC in 2014 and recorded in 2018 in Montreal. (Raising funds to record large ensemble works is no small feat as I am sure many readers here can understand.)

In contrast to the Violin Concerto, which was developed in collaboration with the soloist over several years in addition to a long working relationship, the String Quartet was composed over a short period of time. I had not worked with the Molinari String Quartet before and did not know any of them personally. We were supposed to workshop some of the material together, but because of unexpected delays, the final score was delivered four weeks before the downbeat and I did not have the opportunity to hear any of it before our first rehearsal. Everything needed to work, as there would not be time to revise parts or rewrite sections. I had checked out the Quartet’s previous recordings that included works by Kurtág, Schnittke, R. Murray Schafer, Gubaidulina and knew they were working on an upcoming album of John Zorn’s music. I was confident that they were comfortable dealing with a complex notated language. They are not improvisers, so this would be a fully notated work. This would be a companion piece to the Violin Concerto, so to maintain some unity, I decided each movement would be a mini-concerto for one of the four players, in this order: Violin II for Movement I, Viola for Movement II, Cello for Movement III and Violin I to close out the work.

In writing the piece I still wanted to push myself and take musical risks, but calculated ones. At the first rehearsal, after only hearing the first few measures, I was very happy, and extremely relieved (!), to discover that all of the effects/extended techniques I imagined worked! Theoretically I knew these all should work and imagined what they would sound like, but sometimes in practice the dynamic balance does not quite work or executing a concept can be technically problematic. Thanks to earlier experiences of writing and working with strings my internal imagination was now much more matched with reality. While listening to the quartet play, I became fascinated with how much liberty each player would take in their featured movement. Each time we ran through it in rehearsal or did a take in the studio, they would subtly change the emphasis or push and pull the time in a different way – keeping it really fresh and with a sense of improvisation.

 

Translating the Thought Process

Rather than settling on a single element, I will discuss one short section from each movement of the Concerto and String Quartet, drawing some parallels to my background as a jazz saxophonist or revealing some of my thought processes.

 

Violin Concerto – Movement I – Opening Violin Cadenza

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As a saxophonist, playing standards in a solo format or in duet with drums is an important part of our practice. (Think Trane and Elvin Jones!) With this in mind, for the beginning of the Concerto I wanted the violin to set the form and tone of the movement. It is a Tango, but the clave has been expanded to a 3-bar structure. One of the string instrument effects that I asked her to use was grind where she applies extreme bow pressure to get an uglier, crunchy sound for rhythmic effect. As well, some standard string effects were used: sul pont. (sul ponticello), where the bow is kept near the bridge to bring out the higher harmonics, producing a strident, nasal quality and sul tasto, where the bow is kept over the fingerboard to produce a softer, thinner tone. There is also some fancy finger work where she plays one note and plucks other notes with her left hand: the +s in m23 for example.

Violin Concerto – Movement II – Ending Transitional Cadenza

 

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At the end of the second movement I gave the violinist the start of a written cadenza to use as a launching point for her improvisation that would connect to the third movement. I have found this can be quite an effective strategy for combining composed and improvised material. It helps to set the tone and direction of an improvisation while still allowing the soloist to freely express and personalize it.

The final measures that launch into the cadenza incorporate double and triple stops, where a string player will use a different note on each of their strings to play 2, 3 or 4 notes at the same time. To have a better understanding of these, I learned to play some mandolin, as it has the same open strings as the violin. This way I was not just intellectually figuring out what could work but got to feel it in my fingers, albeit at a snail’s pace.

 

Violin Concerto – Movement III Excerpt

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Another standard effect for strings are artificial harmonics, where the player will finger a note and then lightly touch the same string farther away with a different finger to play a higher harmonic instead of the fingered note. ‘Touch four’, touching a fourth away from the depressed note, produces a note two octaves higher than the depressed note.

This excerpt is from the final movement, near the end of the piece. At this point in a traditional concerto the soloist usually displays all of their most flashy, virtuosic work. I had already explored this direction extensively, so I decided to go for a contrast. There are several exchanges between soloist and orchestra, where instead of bravura from the soloist, everything drops out, the time becomes more floating and the violin is melodic, intimate and whisper-like high in the stratosphere. In some aspects this is even more demanding, needing to maintain a tremendous level of focus and control. The double stop harmonic at [OO] is particularly challenging and delicate as one false move and the notes will not speak properly.

String Quartet – Movement I Excerpt

 

 

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The first movement features Violin II as the more prominent voice. At the beginning I incorporate a lot of glissandi and some quartertones to embellish the melodies. As jazz musicians, the blues is a fundamental element. It has a lot of microtones, gliding and ornaments that inform how we interpret melodies and express ourselves. (I was tuned into this idea at a master class with James Newton.) I was also inspired here by how Johnny Hodges would interpret melodies in Ellington’s band: a lot of gliding around the melody, but for powerful emotional effect.

The first violin is in their own universe at the beginning, gliding quietly in the stratosphere, creating some ambient sound so that they can appear suddenly at [A].

String Quartet – Movement II and Movement III Excerpt

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On the saxophone, practicing harmonics is a fundamental part of developing a mature sound, as well as being used in improvising as effects or coloration, from Lester Young to Michael Brecker. We practice all kinds of torturous exercises to get more and more control over the upper partials (often sounding like a Wookiee in the early attempts!) Stringed instruments are also very capable of producing beautiful harmonics and effects. At the end of the second movement I have the cello and viola in counterpoint in controlled harmonics, creating an ethereal texture to which the two violins have their own contrasting commentary.

The third movement is a showcase for the cellist. At the beginning of the movement, the bow is set aside and the player digs into solo pizzicato material that is reminiscent of a jazz bass solo, with some gentle accompaniment from the other players.

 

String Quartet – Movement IV Excerpt

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One of the themes returns at [AA]. At m380 (and again at [BB]) I am using quartertones for a different goal, to make the response to the theme sound transfigured, twisted and abstracted. Integrating quartertones into my saxophone improvising has been a focus over the past several years. My aim with this, and similarly how I approach extended string techniques, is to weave them seamlessly into the language of what I am expressing musically. I find it most interesting to integrate effects into the flow of the pieces, often coexisting with more traditional writing. This lets me explore contrasts and commonalities.

Given the setting for this article, I have focused more on how my jazz background has influenced my string writing, but in reality everything is much more fluid. A working relationship with an individual performer over time comes with many rewards, allowing you to grow together. However, developing the skills to work with new collaborators is equally important. If you are inspired to write more for strings, do your homework, study scores and try to gain experience by doing it with real musicians. Look for common threads or connections between elements, either literal or abstract. I encourage you to take calculated risks, as it is how we best learn to develop our own language and realize what we are hearing in our imaginations!


About the Author:

Photo by Evan Shay

NYC-based saxophonist and composer Quinsin Nachoff has earned a reputation making “pure, bracing, thought-provoking music” that is “cliché-and convention-free” (Ottawa Citizen). His music moves fluidly between jazz and classical worlds and is soul-stirring yet intricately cerebral. His passions reach into both arts and sciences, with physics or astronomy concepts sparking inspiration for exhilarating compositions.

A state of constant unpredictability is vividly captured in Nachoff’s group Flux, which features the talents of saxophonist David Binney, keyboardist Matt Mitchell, and drummers Kenny Wollesen and Nate Wood. The band has earned critical acclaim during performances throughout Canada and the US. Their JUNO-nominated second release, Path of Totality, thrives in the spaces between genres, styles and inspirations, and garnered numerous yearend best-of lists including DownBeat’s The Year’s Top Rated Albums (4.5 stars): “Path of Totality is a stunning, deep dive of an album, the sort of music in which one could spend hours submersed.”

Nachoff was already blurring the lines between composition and improvisation on his 2006 debut, Magic Numbers, which paired a jazz rhythm section with a string quartet. Since that time he has found success in both worlds. In November 2018 he premiered a Violin Concerto, his first String Quartet (commissioned by Quebec’s Molinari String Quartet) and a large ensemble piece, Pivotal Arc, in Montreal. These are the latest additions to a growing catalogue of compositions for a variety of diverse ensembles. At the 2017 Vancouver International Jazz Festival he premiered his Saxophone Concerto with the Turning Point Ensemble, while his piece Stars and Constellations: Scorpio was a commission from the Penderecki String Quartet that incorporated bassist Mark Helias and drummer Dan Weiss of Nachoff’s Ethereal Trio.

For more info about the author visit www.quinsin.com

Pivotal Arc (Whirlwind Records) is available for download, CD or limited edition vinyl at: https://quinsinnachoff.bandcamp.com/album/pivotal-arc

Artist Blog

Tatiana “LadyMay” Mayfield: Breaking Personal Boundaries & Being a First

Blog curator’s note:

In late May, I had been contemplating who I might solicit to write the July 1 ISJAC blog. I wanted to hear a voice different from the kinds of folks I had previously featured. Then I happened to catch this post shared by my friend Dominique Eade on Facebook: “I am the first African-American to earn a Master’s degree in Jazz Composition from UTA! #BlackHistory.” I thought, now that sounds like a story I’d like to hear, so I was delighted that Tatiana agreed to write something for us. Little did I know that 2 days later, George Floyd would be murdered by police officers not far from where I live in Minnesota and change all our lives (again) so strongly. So, in the midst of all that and this seemingly endless COVID crisis, I can’t think of a more appropriate voice for us all to hear from right now. My friends, Tatiana LadyMay Mayfield.

 

Backstory: Why Go Back To School?

It was February of 2018. I had just released my third album The Next Chapter a few days after my birthday and I wasn’t happy, but I should have been. I wanted to release it in February because of the ties to my personal life; my birthday, Black History Month, and my parent’s anniversary are just a few of the most important things about this month to me. However, I felt like everything about the project fell short except for the music after taking 4 years to complete it.

I spent the next few months trying to figure out what my next move would be while I continued to teach at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas and gig around town. At this point, I had been teaching voice for 8 years after graduating with my bachelor’s degree in jazz studies from the University of North Texas. During the course of that time, I toyed with the idea of going back to school to get my master’s degree several times but fear would always creep into the equation as well as the thought of more financial stress from dreaded student loans. I kept thinking to myself, “You’ve been away from school too long. It will be too hard getting back into the groove. Besides, what would you get your master’s in? Won’t this interfere with performing?” All I knew was that I wanted to open more doors financially for myself so that I could continue making the music that I love and share that passion with others through teaching, recording, and live performances.

After speaking with pianist and educator Stefan Karlsson on a monthly gig we had together in Dallas, I was convinced that I needed to fight my fears and apply for my master’s degree at UTA (University of Texas-Arlington) where he was then teaching piano. He talked to me about program options and I decided on jazz composition because I really wanted to grow musically in this area. I knew it would be the challenge that I needed to propel me forward to explore my creativity in ways that I thought were potentially too difficult for me.

 

My Experience at UTA

I started studying at UTA in fall of 2018. I was really nervous but proud of myself for taking a leap of faith and trusting that I would eventually land on my feet. I was immediately welcomed in the music department and felt comfortable around my classmates. I felt appreciated and was fortunate enough to know most of the instructors from the local jazz scene which gave me both anxiety and comfort, as I had worked with some in the past. Anxiety that they knew me and expected the very best from me, but comfort in that they were awesome musicians that I knew I could learn a lot from. I studied piano with Stefan Karlsson and Sergio Pamies, jazz history with Brian Muholland, conducting with Tim Ishii, and composition with Dan Cavanagh.

Cavanagh was the department chair and professor over jazz composition at the time. He also taught a course titled “Jazz Style and Analysis” which I took in my first semester. Each week we would discuss the jazz style during an era (using the standard narrative of jazz) and submit 3 transcriptions of choice on our prospective instruments. The course started in the 1920s and ended in the present. We also had to write a short essay and present our written transcriptions to the class while listening to the original recording. Since my primary instruments are voice and trombone, I transcribed several vocal solos until I got to the “post-bop” era where I switched to trombone.  At first, I felt like the task was daunting because of the amount of transcriptions and the fact that I was not proficient at writing music on paper quickly. By the end of the course, I certainly got better at transcribing and it made me feel great!

My lessons with Cavanagh were always very open, honest, and full of encouragement. I had done some traditional composition at UNT (small group arranging and big band arranging), but since it was not my primary focus during my undergrad, I had some reviewing and new concepts I needed to get under my belt. I learned new ways to organize my thoughts about composing before even writing a note; I was allowed to always be myself creatively. I explored writing for strings (something I’ve always wanted to do), used different methods for horn voicings, and challenged myself rhythmically while changing time signatures throughout a piece. The difficulty variation was split between the assignments and me. We talked about racism and sexism and the role it’s played in jazz throughout history as well as in academia. We discussed it even more in my “Jazz History and Historiography” class with Brian Muholland. I was told not only that I was the first vocalist in the program, but the first black woman to strive for this degree. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I am the first black American to receive this degree. This is an honor I don’t take lightly and am deeply proud of. I find it interesting that there are still “firsts” of this kind in 2020. I hope that it encourages more black musicians to go forth in getting more degrees in jazz on both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Being Black and A Woman in Jazz

I was taught as a young black child that I had to work 10 times harder to achieve and be noticed in society than my counterparts in order to lead a successful and somewhat comfortable life. Thus, I’ve always put an amazing amount of pressure on myself to be successful in whatever “success” means to me and/or my family. However, I feel even more pressured than ever because of the positive reputation I’ve built both musically and professionally over the years.

As a black woman, musician, composer, and educator it is stressful in ways many don’t or can’t fully understand. I’m in a very marginalized category because I deal with two sides of a difficult coin: one for being black and one for being a woman. Neither those I can change, only people’s perspective of me can. These inferior feelings have almost always bled into how I’ve felt about myself since I can remember. No one ever really told me I couldn’t be great, but societal pressures and subliminal media made me feel this way. On the musical spectrum, there’s often this dismissal from male counterparts on any musical front and on the racial end there’s this assumption that you are probably good but have a bad attitude (“angry black woman” stereotypes). Being a female vocalist also has its own stereotypes that are difficult to break (don’t know any music theory, can’t count off tunes, diva mentality, etc.).  In addition, the jazz industry still doesn’t fully recognize women and women of color for their great work and contributions as a whole outside of a handful of great singers and a few pianists. Representation matters and when it isn’t or is rarely there, sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated.

I used Patrice Rushen as a source of compositional and personal inspiration throughout the course of time writing music while at UTA. Her albums Before The Dawn (1975) and Patrice (1978) are my favorites because they’re a mix of straight ahead, soul, and funk, styles that fit my mindset and musical interest. She is an amazing composer and songwriter with the piano chops and voice to match. I did a lot of research of her and her career and hope to one day make the type of mark she’s made on me on other women in the jazz community. I also appreciate the compositions and arrangements of trombonist and composer/arranger Melba Liston and the contemporary eclectic style of Esperanza Spalding’s work. Other strong compositional/arranging influence came from Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, and Herbie Hancock.

Pandemic Effects, Protests and Life Transitions

COVID-19 hit in March, right in the middle of the semester as I was to begin to finish my last few pieces for my recital. When everything shut down, so did I. I was already having some writers block happening shortly before, but the pandemic completely closed me up creatively. It was then I knew I needed to allow myself time to process, focus, and heal so that I could finish the rest of my required work.

Prior to the pandemic, I was teaching and gigging while attending school. So, that meant going back and forth between Cedar Valley and UTA sometimes on the same day. One semester I was even an adjunct instructor at UNT also. It was insane and a little too demanding but I still had to work. I got engaged in October of 2019 and began planning my wedding with my now husband. My master’s recital was set for April. I was going to graduate in May and we would be married in June on Juneteenth.  I had planned to travel with friends to Jamaica for 4 days and go back to China to teach at a jazz summer program for 2 weeks and perform.

While we are here we are in the middle of the worst pandemic since the 1918 Spanish Flu, the tragic and unnecessary murder of George Floyd happens due to a police officer kneeling on his neck for almost 9 minutes. As if we aren’t dealing with enough collectively as a nation, this becomes the new focus. When the news of this reached me, I was immediately outraged and sick to my stomach. I thought about all the other black men and women who had been killed in recent weeks and years from police and/or racist violence: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and so many others. I thought about when I wrote the protest song “Freedom” on The Next Chapter with my friend musician/producer Jemarcus Bridges and poet Rodderick Parker about some of these very killings. My heart was and still is broken and tired. However, seeing people take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd and the others who have lost their lives gave me a bit of hope for continued resilience like that seen from the 1950s-60s Civil Rights Movement. Despite the pandemic and social injustice fight currently, I find a little bit of peace seeing that there may be some real change happening and from knowing we are all in this together.

I’ve recently started to put pen to paper again charting new ideas about how to express my feelings forwardly and creatively that not only sheds light on this issue, but also leaves hope.

Listening to “Search For The New Land” by Lee Morgan and “Fables of Faubus” by Charles Mingus are just 2 compositions that came to mind to draw from.

What I Learned Getting Through A Master’s Program

Studying jazz composition at UTA opened my eyes to many new ways to think about constructing harmony and organizing musical ideas. I also learned a lot about myself; I’m much more resilient than I thought and I can now write for different types of instrumentation. I enjoyed singing big band tunes with the jazz orchestra, learning how to research a topic and write about it, and speak with my professors about their careers as educators and gigging musicians. I even dug deeper into my roots as a black American and what that means to the music I hold dear and to society. UTA summer jazz camp was where I began my jazz educational journey when I was a teenager so it’s funny how life comes full circle sometimes. Overall, my time at UTA was memorable and special. A time period I will look back on with gratitude and a bittersweet smile.

 


About the Author:

Refreshing and beautiful are how many have described the voice and persona of Tatiana “LadyMay” Mayfield, a jazz vocalist, musician, composer, and educator from Fort Worth, Texas. “LadyMay” (as she has been named) has been singing and playing jazz music since the tender age of thirteen. Since then, she has performed in various venues and festivals throughout the U.S. and abroad, which in turn have earned her rave reviews from listeners and musicians in addition to numerous awards.

In 2017, “LadyMay” was awarded 2nd place in the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocals Competition held at NJPAC in New Jersey. In that same year, she received the “Jazz Innovators Award” from Dallas, TX as part of Jazz Appreciation Month for her contributions to jazz education for young people in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Mayfield was also chosen as one of the twelve semi-finalists to compete in the prestigious 2010 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Vocals Competition that was held in Washington, D.C before a legendary panel of judges. In the summer of 2019, the city of Fort Worth awarded her with a “Legend In The Making” award at their annual “Dr. Marion J. Brooks Living Legends Awards” for her accomplishments in entertainment and education. In addition to several other awards, she is also a 2006 YoungArts winner for Jazz Voice. She has also appeared on Dallas/Ft. Worth’s news television show WFAA “Good Morning Texas” four times since 2011. Mayfield has opened for several well-known artists such as Kirk Whalum, Will Downing, Randy Brecker, Dave Valentin, Bobbi Humphrey, and The Main Ingredient. LadyMay has also performed in 3 concerts between 2016-2018 with the legendary Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. The first concert was a tribute celebrating African-American women in music entitled “I’m Every Woman”, then again for their Independence Day “Patriotic Pops: Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the USO”, and as of late in the “Classical Roots: Under One Roof” concert honoring the diverse history of the historic Music Hall where they perform. Mayfield has also performed with the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina in the spring of 2018.

“LadyMay” has recorded three albums, From All Directions (2009), A Portrait Of LadyMay (2012), and The Next Chapter (2018). The first album From All Directions was recorded while she was still attending the University of North Texas, where she received her degree in Jazz Studies. Jazz journalist Scott Yanow described her voice on her debut album From All Directions (2009) as “attractive” with “excellent elocution” and a “joyful spirit”. On her sophomore album A Portrait Of LadyMay (2012), Harvey Siders, former writer of JazzTimes and Downbeat magazines, describes her intonation as “flawless” and her scatting “as natural as breathing.” In addition to her vocal skills, she plays piano, trombone, composes, and teaches voice and music theory. In May of 2017, she was awarded 3rd place in the “Performance” category of the International Songwriting Competition for her original song “Forgive Me Someday” from her latest album The Next Chapter.

LadyMay’s appeal has also reached listeners abroad in the UK, Switzerland, Germany, France, Nigeria, and Brazil. Her music has been featured on several international radio stations such as “Solar Radio”, “Jazz FM”, “Tropical FM”, and “Premier Gospel Radio” in the UK, “RJM Radio” in France, and “Smooth 98.1” in Nigeria. In November 2012, her song “Real” from A Portrait Of LadyMay reached #1 on the “UK Soul Chart”. In July of 2013, she completed her first tour (LadyMay In The UK) to London where she was widely received on radio appearances, as well as at some of their top performance venues such as Ronnie Scott’s, Pizza Express in Soho, and the Flyover Portobello. UK based record store “Soul Brother Records” labeled “A Portrait Of LadyMay” as one of their “Best New Jazz Releases of 2013”.  As an educator, Mayfield is an adjunct professor of commercial voice at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, TX and has previously taught jazz voice for the University Of North Texas in Denton, Texas. In 2019, she taught in Zhuhai, China for the Golden Jazz Henquin Jazz Week and performed in the “Crossing Music and New Generation Jazz Festival”. Mayfield has a bachelor’s degree in jazz studies from the University of North Texas (Denton, TX) and a master’s degree in jazz composition from the University of Texas at Arlington.

For more information on Tatiana “LadyMay” Mayfield, visit www.tatianamayfield.com.

Artist Blog

Oded Lev-Ari: Love the Band You’re With

Sound and music have always had a great power over me. As a child, music brought me a wild sense of pure joy and an urge to move, and I clearly remember the happiness of singing with friends and listening with family. Music was my friend. In fact, it felt so close that I assumed I could simply sit at our family piano and coax those same feelings, that same sense of joy from it without much preparation. So it was only natural that during my first piano lesson when the teacher asked if I could play a song, I said “Yes!”. I walked to the piano and tapped the rhythm to a well-known song on a single key – my primitive cave painting rendition of the song. I felt great pride until I turned around to encounter a bemused disapproving look on my teacher’s face: “Well, that’s just the RHYTHM of the melody,” she said. Deflated, but still determined, I went back home and started practicing.

While sound in general held considerable power over me, I soon discovered my catnip – the thing that made my mind enter a suspended state of wonder and caused me to place the needle on the LP again and again: counterpoint. In my case, it was Bach Fugues. Completely oblivious to the grand formal design and compositional prowess, I was simply mesmerized by the independent movement of voices. Like waves of electricity messaging my amygdala they came; here’s the beginning of a thing, but then another thing starting while the first thing is still going, and another one, and they go somewhere together, hand in hand, and split again – oh, there’s that beginning thing again – and it all sounds so good together. Again!

This was not the same wave of joy that would bring me to my feet while listening to Ariel Ramírez’s 1960s blockbuster piece “Misa Criolla” (A piece which I dubbed “A Great Joy” while jumping around our living room) – it was more of a slow, trance-inducing burn. In fact, I strongly believe that the effect of complex contrapuntal music on my brain made it impossible for me to properly execute it at the piano – I would just get too distracted. But I digress.

As I started to write music, I found myself chasing this feeling. When I consider how this element factors into my work it seems that what I find so compelling about it, is its potential for ease of expressiveness.

Writing Their Song

I’ve been very fortunate to spend time writing for bands. Bands in the old “touring band” sense. A group of musicians who spend a considerable time playing the same repertoire together. One such example is the vocal group “DUCHESS” for which I serve as arranger.

Duchess is a close-harmony 3 part vocal group featuring Amy Cervini, Hilary Gardner and Melissa Stylianou. When Duchess first got together, they’d perform selections from the vast existing repertoire in this style (Andrews Sisters, Boswell Sisters to name just a few), but then sought to expand it with some original arrangements, which I gladly wrote. The group recorded them on their first album just a few weeks, and in some cases a few days after I wrote them.

The short time for rehearsals and just a couple of days in the studio did not seem to hurt the recorded output – the album was very well received, and the band went on to tour extensively. While on the road, the arrangements, like a well-worn comfortable pair of shoes, expanded and contracted, got a bit looser and a bit tighter in places. Usually, the adaptations were rhythmic, and most of them stretched the phrases I wrote, in what became the group’s characteristic “laid back” phrasing.

As an arranger, these changes worry me a bit. I’ve been in situations where a misunderstanding, or perhaps a copying mistake has taken the band on a path entirely different than the one I imagined. I remember when I wrote a part for the Harmonium (the European foot pump organ), but got a Harmonium (the Indian hand pump organ). While I thought the choice of instrument was obvious (“the piece is clearly a product of 1920’s Germany!” “the part calls for two hands!”) I can understand how this could happen. My natural response was to try to clarify my intention even further, provide as much detail as possible and not assume anything, in order to guide the performance along the lines I had conceived.

But in this case, these departures from the written parts were not the result of misunderstandings but rather the result of performing the music night after night, in various settings, different venues and at different points in the set. They were also the results of the interaction between the singers themselves, and they as a unit with the band. While not exactly what I wrote, the performances were swinging, interactive, and flexible.

When starting work on Duchess’ second album (Laughing At Life) I had that experience in mind. I let the style of the band – honed over a lengthy period of playing together – inform my writing. In a way, I entered a collaboration, a feedback loop with the group. “How about THIS for laid back” I thought, when I wrote this phrase:

I can’t know for sure, but this doesn’t seem like a phrase I would have written left to my own devices. I wrote it being keenly aware of the way the three singers sang together. When I presented the chart, the ladies of Duchess reveled in the gooey phrase I provided them with, and of course proceeded to stretch it even further to the next bar – laying back my laid back feel. Lovely!

The group’s performances also informed my choice of voicing. I found that in the style of this group, less rapid note changes are easier to sing and tend to swing more. So I’ve learned to prioritize the vocal line over my planned chord changes.

Additionally, I started writing specifically for these singers. This deep familiarity with the group opens a whole new set of creative possibilities; the specific timbre of a singer’s voice, at a specific register often informs my writing, as does the accumulated experience of how their voices sound together. I also find myself considering the personality of each singer when I decide which lyric should be delivered by whom.

I had always focused on serving the song while arranging, and now found myself also considering serving this particular ensemble and interacting with the musicians in a two-way, open-ended conversation.

Love the Band You’re With

In 2016, Anat Cohen and I, collaborators and friends for many years, set out to design a new ensemble for Anat. 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the first jazz clarinet recording (“Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, generally considered to be the first jazz recording), and that gave us a good excuse to consider the history of the clarinet in Jazz, and beyond. We wanted to create an ensemble that would allow Anat – a musical polyglot – to venture into various musical styles with ease.

We hired the musicians and commenced a week-long workshop which served as a lab; we brought everything from re-orchestrated big band charts, lead sheets and unwritten textural and melodic ideas, and explored them with the group. That week established a language for the band and launched us on a journey through two albums and counting, a Grammy nomination, numerous performances in the US and abroad, and some of the most rewarding musical moments we’ve experienced.

The fact that the band’s personnel has remained almost unchanged from those early workshop days, the many performances, and my role as the band’s musical director gave me a great opportunity to integrate my writing to the group more deeply, and continue to consider the interaction between composer, soloist and band.

The band’s repertoire moves between structured, detailed and fully notated selections (Mel Powell’s Oh, Baby! *for example) and completely free, or loosely scripted moments. In my own writing for the band, I use both; the introduction to my composition “Trills & Thrills” could be described as aleatoric. The instrumentalists are asked to play a set of defined intervals using various techniques, growing in intensity, and then relaxing and resolving into a concert A. The following section is fully notated. The solo section that follows and concludes the piece, is labeled “collective improvisation,” resolving into a concert A, as low as it can be played on the different instruments.

After the first hesitation in reading the parts – aleatoric techniques are not something I’d try in a situation where the music needs to be sight-read – and as the texture became more defined for all involved, this section felt organic, and intensely moving. It seemed like everyone had a stake in the musical task they were entrusted with. Musicians were not asked to “play this note this way” but rather to make music within a set of constraints. Of course, playing notated music is not antithetical to making music, but it seems to me that there is a certain excitement, investment and involvement that is sometimes easier to achieve when removing some constraints. Especially when you recognize that the texture I’m after, in traditional notated form, would result in parts that are complex to read.

As we added the piece to our repertoire, the solo section which I labeled “collective improvisation” became a guitar solo (played by Sheryl Bailey,) which dovetailed into a clarinet solo. The trombone (Nick Finzer), trumpet (Nadje Noordhuis), baritone saxophone (Owen Broder), and cello (Christopher Hoffman) then join with melodic lines that serve more as a background to the interchange between the guitar and clarinet. Then, the entire ensemble winds down to a concert A, held for longer than is comfortable. Listening to the soloists and then the band crescendo and then calm things down is always different, and to me, endlessly satisfying. Like watching separate travelers come together, settle, finally rest, and slowly disappear.

The joint guitar/clarinet solo became an audience favorite; true to Anat and my initial mission of exploring all the clarinet can do, it provided a great opportunity to reflect on the place the clarinet can take in a modern setting. When I was commissioned to write a Clarinet Concerto for Anat and the band1Triple Helix: Concerto for Clarinet and Ensemble was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Symphony Center Presents. The World Premiere was given by the Anat Cohen Tentet, featuring Anat Cohen, in New York City on January 12, 2019., I used the solo structure that emerged organically on the road in a more structured setting in the first movement.

During that first movement solo, I again provided the cello, baritone, trumpet and trombone with chord changes and the instruction “Play background – long notes.” It is always a joy to hear the four musicians navigate their respective lines, interacting with each other and the soloists, this time, building the energy up into a drum solo, rather than winding down.

Sometimes these free form instructions summon unexpected results. In that same first movement some musicians are instructed to “answer clarinet” along with chord changes stretched over just two beats of a 4/4 bar. During rehearsals, no one played on these changes. I thought I’d wait to see what would happen. No answer came during the recording, or the live shows. In fact – these bars remain silent to this very day. And that’s okay – silence is also a choice.

So perhaps the thing I find so attractive in contrapuntal settings is echoed in these techniques. Perhaps what resonated with me was not the structured, erudite execution of musical form, but rather that the individual voice is free to sing its own song. To flourish melodically. To express itself without barriers, make music, and interact with the voices around it.

And when writing for bands full of creative, curious and collaborative musicians, one can achieve that by suggesting parts custom made for individual voices and allowing the freedom to chart one’s own path within the collective journey. Love the band you’re with, and if your experience is anything like mine, they will return the love many times over.

 


About the Author:

Across a diverse range of work, GRAMMY-nominated composer Oded Lev-Ari showcases his own, individual soundprint, one of cinematic richness and open-hearted lyricism. He has created and collaborated on music that span recordings, stage, and media, reflecting a genre- bending sensibility, expansive creativity, and unique ability to bring out the best in his collaborators.

In 2019, Oded conducted the premiere of his work Triple Helix: Concerto for Clarinet and Ensemble – commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Symphony Center Presents in Chicago, featuring iconic clarinetist Anat Cohen. The piece was hailed as “an Everest” and “a significant addition to the clarinet repertoire” by the Chicago Tribune. The Anat Cohen Tentet, for which Lev-Ari is musical director, recorded the work on their GRAMMY-Nominated album, Triple Helix.

Last year, Oded made his Lincoln Center debut directing performances of Paul Taylor Dance Companyʼs Company B.

Since 2018, Oded has been collaborating with neuroscientist Beau Lotto to explore the perception of music and sound. The two were featured in the NationalSawdust+ series in Brooklyn, and are developing additional presentations to debut in the 2021-2022 season.

Oded has written more than 1000 arrangements and compositions for chamber and wind ensemble, big band and symphony orchestra, and a variety of jazz combos. In reviews for Anat Cohenʼs album Noir, The Washington Post called the it “one of the finest jazz records of the year, thanks in large part to the arrangements by Oded Lev-Ari, which alternate from lush Gil Evans harmonies to hard-charging bebop to a laconic beauty that could accompany a moody European film;” and NPRʼs Morning Edition chimed in, “The arrangements on Noir are anything but black – they are life-affirming and intriguing.” Billboard magazine labeled his work “outstanding.”

“Putting lightning in a bottle is what Oded Lev-Ari specializes in,” said DownBeat magazine in a feature article on Oded as a producer of albums by the likes of 3 Cohens, Anat Cohen and woodwind sage Marty Ehrlich, as well as rising-star singers Amy Cervini and Melissa Stylianou, and vocal trio Duchess (Cervini, Stylianou and Hilary Gardner). Oded – born in Tel Aviv but a longtime resident of New York City – released his debut album as a leader, Threading, in April 2015 via Anzic Records, the label he has owned and directed for the past decade alongside Anat Cohen.

Born in 1975, Lev-Ari graduated from Israelʼs Thelma Yellin High School for the Arts before serving in the Israeli Defense Force Orchestra. From 1993 to 1996, he was house arranger for the Dan Shilon – Live! television talk show. Lev-Ari is a recipient of the America Israel Cultural Fund scholarship, and graduated with honors from New England Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Tamara Brooks.

Footnotes

Triple Helix: Concerto for Clarinet and Ensemble was co-commissioned by Carnegie Hall and Symphony Center Presents. The World Premiere was given by the Anat Cohen Tentet, featuring Anat Cohen, in New York City on January 12, 2019.
Artist Blog

Rufus Reid: Preparation Is Key To Success! My WDR Big Band Experience

There were many lessons learned from the time I was asked to schedule a timeline to perform with the infamous WDR Big Band in Koln, Germany, with my music. For those who do not know, WDR, Westdeutscher Rundfunk is a German public-broadcasting Institution with the main office in Köln, Germany. NDR Big Band is based in the North in Hamburg, Germany. The HR Big Band is in Frankfurt, Germany. Each of these bands are made up of exceptionally talented jazz musicians, many who are from other countries, including the United States, as well as from Germany. These professional European bands have been around a very long time. I am deeply honored to have been invited this past March to perform my music with the WDR. My dear friend, Dennis Mackrel, was my conductor who made this memorable visit a most successful one on many levels.

(Watch Link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?ref=external&v=576875436374551)

To become a good composer is somewhat similar to becoming a good player. One should have, at least, one significant role model for inspiration. One also has to be persistent, diligent, and consistent with conviction to be taken seriously, so they can be called again and again to play with other good musicians. Composers also want to hear their music played more than once, as well. You can be recommended that first time, but the second time is totally based on that initial performance. When are you ready? Watch, listen, study, and ask questions by seeking out those individuals who inspire you! When it’s time for your music to be performed on the stage, it must sound like it belongs there. How do you know? When people you respect give you an unsolicited thumbs up! Believe me, it will empower and carry you a long way! Begin being truly honest with yourself! Bottom line, the music you compose must resonate with others. The best compliment would be, “I’d love to hear that again!” Ultimately, it’s all on you.

In my many years as a professional improvising bassist, I have had the good fortune to perform and record with some of the greatest players who were and are incredible composers, as well. I have always been intrigued and baffled how they were able to conceive this incredible music. I began a quest to find out what this composition thing was all about.

When I joined the BMI Composers Workshop in 1999, I was thrust into an environment that was completely foreign to me. Intellectually, I understood we would be writing for a big band. I had written a few big band arrangements, but this workshop was about coming up with fresh ideas. Arranging requires its own set of unique skill sets to take a known composition and give it a new look and/or sound. I was asked to write what I wanted to write. I was NOT prepared to write what “I” wanted to write. I had no idea what that was! In that moment I felt completely at a loss to respond in any way. I had never been asked that question before, ever! The music I knew basically was already prescribed for a particular musical setting, i.e. music for film, television, a musical, a wedding, or a myriad of situations. So, the inner search was initiated to find out what actually pleased and satisfied me without being judgmental! HA! Fat chance of that not happening! At the time, the BMI Workshop had three exceptional coaches, Manny Albam, Jim McNeely, and Michael Abene, to help guide all of the individual participants closer to being yourself. In the five years as a participant, I was never told “No, that’s not good!” I was simply asked, “Is that really how you want it to sound?” That sent a huge message for me to return to the drawing board and keep searching! Another was, “That’s pretty good, but try orchestrating this with very different instruments!” We all have our comfort zones and I was asked to stretch and leave mine. I still have to NOT get too comfortable with what I come up with too soon in the process. And that is it! I have grown to love the entire process of composing! The constant search is very mysterious, extremely daunting, and exhilarating when you discover “it!” One of my oldest friends, the late Muhal Richard Abrams, said to never stop listening to all kinds of music. You might be surprised at what you actually like. Eddie Harris taught me not be afraid of any music. So, these past twenty years, I have conscientiously tried to do exactly do as they suggest.

Now, with all that said, one has to learn how to orchestrate so that idea sounds solid, while also “sounds!” It is clearly heard no matter of the density surrounding this idea. Finding the “sweet spots” of all instruments. Manny Albam used to call them the “money notes” because he was always on the clock and it had to sound good all of the time or people were unhappy! Whether you are on the clock, everything written must have a “sound.” The idea sounds. That voicing really sounds! The orchestration truly sounds. Everything is clear with articulations, dynamics, measure numbers, page numbers, chord symbols, and whatever else makes a great sounding chart, etc. etc. etc!

The WDR Big Band experience gave me a real taste of what the BMI workshop prepared me for! That in itself was extremely gratifying. I remember so well being told that you are in a good place when you finish a commission or any project. Now, have the confidence to put the score and parts in a package. Mail the package and do not expect to hear anything, except it was received, the first reading went well, and the music was liked by all! THAT, my fellow readers, is not easy to accomplish, but I am getting closer, I think!

The music I have written and performed with the WDR Big Band will give the listener a glimpse of what has happened in these past years. I was sent guidelines as how to prepare my music to send via PDF. All of the scores and parts had to be prepared by computer software. That made sense since we all use Finale or Sibelius software, but they did not want to see the “jazz font” at all. I had four charts with the jazz font. I know, supposedly, you can designate the change and push a button and that’s it. It isn’t quite that simple. The articulations changed. Then I said to myself, since I’m in this, let me see if I can tweak some parts and the domino effect came in. Oh my, did I mention I had a couple different versions of this chart in the computer and I tweaked and sent the wrong one? Fortunately, I caught most of the proofing issues before sending out nine pieces of music for this project. We rehearsed four days and all of the players were so on it about everything! Specific articulations had to be discussed and finalized before moving on. What one might think is a universal language for “jazz” articulation, is not that simple, particularly to those who do not know you or your music! When you are aware your music is new to everyone, the clearer everything must be at the outset! I had to adjust some measures in a saxophone tutti in one piece and correct some trombone voicings in another. This doesn’t sound like much, but folks, I was mortified! The score and parts matched, which is supposed to be a good thing, but they were wrong! I do not know how any of that could have happened! The computer messed up my parts, I am sure of it! DUH! I am truly happy that out of all the music I sent, this was minor, but it should not have happened at all at this level. If I had truly taken the time to proof and/or have someone else proof, the music would have been sufficient, as it should be.

One of the issues at hand for me at this juncture in my life, is, I am attempting to compose other music outside and away from the jazz mentality or sensibilities. This has required me to become more articulate with literally everything on the music page. When you write for your band or players who are familiar with you, the music should still be clear enough to have a smooth initial rendering. Theoretically, I am well aware of the importance of proofing, but somehow it still eludes me. That’s when it hurts when you get busted for it!

The moral to this story, is no matter how savvy you are with the computer software, one should have another set of eyes and ears to help proof your music. I wish to be asked to return to perform and write for the WDR Big Band again in the future. Hence, preparation is the key to success. “Gots to be more careful!”

 


About the Author:

Photo by John Abbott

For the last 50 years, Rufus Reid has been a consistent, formidable, and influential presence in the jazz world as a bassist and educator. His performances and recordings with Eddie Harris, Nancy Wilson, Dexter Gordon, Andrew Hill, The Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra and Quartet, Kenny Barron, Stan Getz, J. J. Johnson, Lee Konitz, Jack DeJohnette, to name but a few, has cemented his stature as one of the great living deans of the jazz bass. His receipt of the 2006 Raymond Sackler Commission resulted in his five-movement suite for large jazz ensemble, Quiet Pride-The Elizabeth Catlett Project. In November 2015, this album received two Grammy nominations, for Best Large Jazz Ensemble and Best Instrumental Composition. Rufus Reid is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow in the field of composition, which resulted in the three-movement symphonic work, Mass Transit. In April 2016 he was named Harvard University’s Jazz Master in Residence, participating in public conversations and also performing in concert with his original compositions. In April 2017, Lake Tyrrell In Innisfree, Rufus’ third symphonic work was debuted in Raleigh, NC by the Raleigh Civic Symphony. May 2017, Rufus Reid was awarded the America Composers Forum Commission to composed, Remembrance, for Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble to be premiered in July 6-7, 2018. In December 2017, Newvelle Records, an all vinyl recording company, will release the Rufus Reid Trio, “Terrestial Dance,” featuring the Sirius Quartet. February, 2020, Newvelle Records release his second vinyl duo recording, “Always In The Moment,” with stellar pianist, Sullivan Fortner. A distinguished educator as well, for 20 years Rufus was Director of the Jazz Studies Program at William Paterson University and was instrumental in building the program’s international reputation as one of the leading jazz schools in the world. He has recorded more than 400 albums and a dozen albums as a leader and authored a seminal text and DVD for bass methodology, The Evolving Bassist. Rufus’ continues to evolve as a composer and “The Evolving Bassist.”

Artist Blog

JC Sanford: A Social-Distance Reflection on My ‘Game-Changer’ Big Band Charts

Hey folks. Your friendly neighborhood blog guru here. Unfortunately, due to COVID craziness, our scheduled blogger for April was, understandably, unable to complete his article for this month. So, I decided at the last minute to step in and throw together a little something that might be of some interest to some of you. I quickly assembled a little playlist of some big band music that I considered “game-changers” for me in my understanding and appreciation of the modern idiom. Many of you will be familiar with at least most, if not all, of this music, but if I’m introducing something new to you, you’re welcome. And if these are all your favorites, like they are mine, you’re also welcome, because what better excuse than now to settle in and listen to these masterpieces again. I could go on and on about each example, but I’m just going to say a few things about each, and maybe little bit about how I happened on it.

“(The) First Circle,” by Pat Metheny, arr. by Bob Curnow

As a junior at the University of Northern Iowa many moons ago, I was just starting to gain some understanding of modern big band music, and I barely knew who Pat Metheny was at that point. So, I was really thrown into the fire my first semester in Jazz I (then directed by Bob Washut) by playing this amazing chart. When I first looked at the music, I couldn’t even understand how you could even count it, much less play it accurately and smoothly. But it was really was an eye-opener how something so complicated and constantly changing could feel so fluid and organic in performance. Yes, this chart is only an imitation of the truly breathtaking original, but I think it does an admirable job.

Bob Curnow’s LA Big Band – The Music of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays, 1994

(Btw, here’s also a version of Pat playing another orchestration of it with the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Jim McNeely in 2003.)

“The Shoes of the Fisherman’s Wife are Some Jive-Ass Slippers,” Charles Mingus

I was already way into Mingus by the time I was a student at New England Conservatory, but I wasn’t all that familiar with his big band music yet, so when Allan Chase brought this into the NEC Jazz Orchestra, I was totally knocked out. The orchestration, the episodes, the incredibly memorable melodic structures were so rich while still managing to maintain the sense of spontaneity that the small group records always had. How could something be so complex and structured while also simultaneously feeling so loose?

Charles Mingus – Let My Children Hear Music, 1972

“Ugly Music,” Bob Brookmeyer

My trombone teacher at the time, John Mosca, hipped me to this whole record Electricity. I was somewhat familiar with Brookmeyer at the time but thought of him as an interesting improviser who wrote some “funnier-sounding” music in the Ray Wright book Inside the Score. Little did I know I’d be studying with him the following year at the beginning of a long and invaluable relationship. This record seemed so out of context for what I understood about Bob at the time. So much of the orchestration is stripped down to 3 voices or less, and the timbre of the 2 synths plus Abercrombie’s MIDI guitar was just so surprising to me. Later, after I had studied with Bob for a while, I thought of this track of the album as the paradigm of the melodic development stuff he was working on with me and his other students. It goes along with his concept that you really can’t develop an idea too much. It just keeps going, and I think it’s so powerful that the main thing that changes in the opening section is Danny Gottlieb changing from brushes to sticks.

Bob Brookmeyer (w/WDR Big Band featuring John Abercrombie) – Electricity, 1994

“Skittish,” Jim McNeely

The summer in between being hipped to Electricity and studying with Bob for the first time, I attended the Lake Placid Institute for its first year hosting a jazz workshop that was spearheaded by Bob. In addition to working with Maria Schneider for the first time (also see “Wyrgly” from Evanescence), I got to play a bunch of Jim’s music with him, including charts like “Extra Credit” and “Sing, Sing, Sing.” But the big thing for me was playing “Skittish,” the 2nd track on the masterwork East Coast Blowout. I had heard the chart and thought the melody was super cool and that there was some neat rhythmic stuff, but I gained a much deeper appreciation of the chart with Jim rehearsing us. And after playing it, I just couldn’t stop listening to the original recording. The Ornette-ish melody is captivating, but the ways that the chart weaves through all of these contrasting ideas and section but are still held together by all kinds of unifying elements, I just feel it’s a paradigm of modern sectional large ensemble composition. Plus, the ways he utilizes the soloists with these back-and-forths with the ensemble is just riveting.

(Check out this great listening session Ethan Iverson and Darcy James Argue have where they talk about this great record.)

Jim McNeely (w/WDR Big Band, John Scofield, Marc Johnson, & Adam Nussbaum) – East Coast Blowout, 1989

 

“April in Paris,” Vernon Duke, arr. Bill Finegan

It’s only fitting that my study with Brookmeyer would not only be transformative by what I learned from him compositionally and improvisationally, but also by the great music he introduced me to. When I would go to Bob’s house in rural New Hampshire to hang, he’d often play me all types of music, but these last two examples were the ones that really affected me long term. The first was this arrangement from the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, an ensemble I’d never heard of before. On this chart, I just got caught up in all the lush colors and motion that I didn’t even realize what tune it was until Florence Fogelson’s sudden statement of the lyrics over the bridge. So much yumminess throughout!

Sauter-Finegan Orchestra – Directions in Music, 1952

“Processional/Desiderata, “ John Hollenbeck

I had heard John Hollenbeck’s superb drumming with Bob’s New Art Orchestra, but on one of these other trips to Bob’s house, he told me about this recording a bunch of folks, led by Ed Partyka, put together to celebrate his 70th birthday (called Madly Loving You). He thought I should hear this certain piece by John, who I had no idea was also a composer. It grabbed me immediately, mostly because of Bob’s deep and paternal voice permeating the whole second half. And the fact that John also had Bob’s trombone playing in the ensemble just did it for me, hearing both of his influential voices simultaneously. Even without that very personal aspect, the colors and shapes John uses here are captivating and surprising in the ways I love so much about his music. (Again, little did I know at the time that I’d eventually conduct three Grammy-nominated records by the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble and would get the opportunity to conduct this work!) Here’s just the second part of the piece.

Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra – Madly Loving You, 2001

 


About the Author:

Trombonist/composer/conductor JC Sanford is a musician of rare breadth, deeply rooted in the traditions of Jazz and Classical music, yet constantly pushing at their boundaries. Equally at home in many roles, Sanford works regularly as a composer, performer, arranger and conductor. A disciple of the legendary composer/trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, Sanford has had his works performed by Danilo Pérez, Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie, Ingrid Jensen, Lew Soloff, and others. His jazz orchestra CD Views from the Inside garnered international acclaim and received the coveted Aaron Copland Fund Recording Grant. The ensemble has also been recognized as a “Rising Star Big Band” in DownBeat Magazine’s Critic’s Poll the past 4 years. As a conductor, he is a member of the twice-Grammy-nominated John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, and also conducts the Alan Ferber Nonet +Strings, the Frank Carlberg Large Ensemble, John Ellis’ Ice Siren, and conducted the Alice Coltrane Orchestra featuring Ravi Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and Jack DeJohnette before her death. He also curated the Brooklyn-based creative large ensemble series known as “Size Matters” for over 4 years. He was a member of the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop led by Jim McNeely and longtime contractor for the BMI/New York Orchestra. In 2017, Sanford founded the Twin Cities Jazz Composers’ Workshop alongside his wife, composer Asuka Kakitani, with whom he also co-leads the Twin Cities-based Inatnas Orchestra. He was recently awarded a 2018 McKnight Composers Fellowship and a 2019 MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant to record his quartet. In 2019 he took over as musical and artistic director of the JazzMN Orchestra.

Artist Blog

Anna Webber: Composer/Performer Thoughts

Composer/performer: someone who both writes and plays. This is nothing remarkable in the jazz world; most of the great jazz composers were also its best instrumental practitioners. However, it’s interesting to consider that, in the history of western music at least, the composer has often been behind a veil, quite separate from the musicians who performed their works. With that in mind, it’s been my long-held opinion that jazz composer/performers are in a unique and privileged position: we have the opportunity to create the perfect vessels for ourselves as improvisers. As both the composition and the improvisation which fits the composition comes from the same mind, we can compose shapes for ourselves that perfectly encompass our priorities and desires as improvisers.

Holding the above to be true, I noticed a couple of years ago that there was a rift between the way that I played and the way I composed. While, as a player, I was interested in extended techniques1A broad term meaning any non-traditional way of producing sound on the instrument. For the saxophone, this would include multiphonics, air sounds, buzzes, slap tongue, circular breathing, etc and the saxophone as a creator of “sound” and not just “pitch”, my compositional world was basically an exploration of cool rhythms with cool melodies and harmonies. Not that there was anything wrong with that! But, as someone who believed that there should be a continuum between my compositional language and my improvisational language, I set out to try to bring those syntaxes closer together. To do this, I turned to studying scores of classical music from the 20th and 21st centuries – composers in the contemporary classical world have been dealing notating extended techniques for a long time, and there were notational precedents for many of the techniques that I was using.

One result of this journey has been a series of pieces called Idiom, of which there are now six. Each of the Idiom pieces focuses on a specific woodwind extended technique which I took from my own improvisational language. I wanted to use the physicality of my instruments as the foundation for these works, and to use timbre as an organizing force that was as structurally important as rhythm, melody, or harmony. Idiom II, from my 2019 septet album Clockwise, deals with ventings on the saxophone (i.e., holding a key open on the instrument while moving my other fingers normally, creating a quirky microtonal melody). Idiom I, III, IV, and V are written for my Simple Trio, which features myself alongside drummer John Hollenbeck and pianist Matt Mitchell. If you’ve seen this band play in the last year and a half or so, you’ve seen us perform these pieces. Idiom VI is for a twelve-piece large ensemble of mixed instrumentation. At sixty minutes in length over six movements (plus four interludes), Idiom VI is the longest of the Idioms, and is likely the final piece of the series. This piece was premiered earlier this year at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, as part of John Zorn’s Stone Commissioning Series.

I’d like to focus a little on Idiom VI, as a way of highlighting both my compositional process and the way I sought to create music that codified and notated my improvisational language.

The instrumentation of Idiom VI is as follows:

  • alto saxophone
  • tenor saxophone/flute/bass flute (this is me)
  • tenor saxophone/clarinet/contra-alto clarinet
  • violin
  • viola
  • cello
  • trumpet
  • horn in F
  • trombone
  • synthesizer
  • bass
  • drums
  • conductor

The specific extended technique I used as the foundation for this work is a series of dyad multiphonics2My multiphonic practice comes from research I’ve done on my own, through trial and error and a study of contemporary saxophone repertoire. There are plenty of books out there, but for anyone who’s interested in delving deeply into multiphonics, I highly recommend a personal cataloguing system based on what actually works on your own horn, with your set up. Additionally, I’d recommend that any non-saxophonist composer who is trying to write multiphonics for the saxophone should take all books with a grain of salt. Always ask the saxophonist you are working with if the multiphonic you want to use works on their horn, and, if it works, at what dynamic range, with what sort of attack, etc. that can be found on the tenor saxophone, all which form small intervals (minor seconds to major thirds). There’s a set of these that occur in the low range of the instrument, and a set of these that occur in the top octave.

These multiphonics manifest both literally and abstractly throughout the piece in a number of different contexts, which I’ll discuss later. However, given that I wasn’t writing a solo saxophone piece, the first step in my compositional process was meeting individually with almost every one of the musicians who would be performing this piece. I did this for a number of reasons. First, I think a huge advantage we have as jazz composers is that we usually play and hang out with the people we are writing for. We’re not writing for “orchestra” or “string quartet” in the abstract, we’re writing for a specific set of people who are our bandmates and friends. Incorporating as much as we can about their specific personalities in our compositions will not only make them feel happy and involved in the process, it will also make the music stronger. Second, there were a number of instruments in this ensemble that I’d never written for before, or hadn’t written for much. I wanted to learn more about these instruments so that I could make more informed compositional decisions, with information coming from real-life experiences rather than from whatever Samuel Adler’s The Study of Orchestration had to say (though I certainly used Adler as a tool as well!). When I met with people, I asked them these questions:

  1. What do you like doing on your instrument? What do you think you sound good doing?
  2. What sounds do you have that sound kind of like X (insert a specific sound I make on my instrument)?
  3. What are some of your pet peeves, ie, what do people always write for your instrument that annoys you?

Pretty basic stuff, but those questions, plus a few extra questions tailored to specific instruments, got me pretty far in creating a list of things that excited me about each specific person and the instrument they played.

The next step was imagining a form for this piece. I knew I wanted to write a set-length composition, but I wasn’t sure I had it in me to write a single-movement piece of that duration. I decided I would conceive of this piece as a loose symphonic form: four movements, sonata form—adagio–minuet and trio/scherzo–rondo/allegro. I know that “writing a symphony” sounds pretentious, but to be honest, the real reason behind this idea was that it’s been a successful way of organizing a longer piece of music for centuries. I officially discarded the symphonic form mid-way through composing, but it unofficially snuck its way back in, and the final form of the piece is sort of double symphonic form. Each of the six movements has a pair. Movement I = Movement IV (and both are very loosely in sonata form), II=V (both are the groovy “dance” movements, an abstract interpretation of the minuet), and III=VI (scherzo and rondo, respectively). The interludes function collectively as the adagio movements.

So, the multiphonics – how did they factor in? Basically, I thought of as many ways of generating material from these as I could. I wrote out pages and pages of ideas. First, there was the literal use of the multiphonics. I wrote the multiphonics into my parts, and I orchestrated the multiphonics across the ensemble, or figured out what made a similar effect to the multiphonic on different instruments. On a stringed instrument, for example, a double-stop sounds like a multiphonic, but the resonance might not totally match that of a saxophone multiphonic unless open strings are used. When I expanded my research to include multiphonics that are possible on other woodwinds, I discovered that alto saxophone multiphonics and bass flute multiphonics actually have a lot of overlap! I also treated the multiphonics as generators of pitch material: I made scales from them, and I created chords. Additionally, by figuring out the frequencies of the pitches in the higher multiphonics in Hz, I figured out the difference tones3Difference tones are psychoacoustic phenomena – you’ve experienced them if you have felt a buzzing in your ears/heard a resultant low pitch when you heard two high-pitched instruments holding notes in their upper register. To find the difference tone of two pitches, you simply subtract the frequency (in Hz) of the lower pitch from that of the higher. created by the multiphonics, and generated more scales and chords from these. I also used the intervals of the multiphonics to generate rhythm: some of the multiphonics created just intervals4I.e., just intonation, as opposed to equal temperament. Just intervals can be expressed as simple integer ratios, such as 3:2, 4:3, 11:8, etc., and so I translated those into rhythm, both on a micro scale (polyrhythms) and also on a macro scale (overall rhythmic grid). I also treated the multiphonics abstractly. I considered a multiphonic conceptually, as two things that combine to make a composite that is more than the sum of its parts. Taken a step further, thinking about a multiphonic as a “naturally occurring sound” on the instrument gave me license to include other naturally occurring sounds/extended techniques, both on my instrument and on the other instruments in the ensemble. This meant worlds opened up wherein I could create mysterious sonic combinations and orchestrations.

While I assume that most people reading this article have not heard Idiom VI, the core ideas here are things that are important to me, and which I think translate whether people are familiar with my work or not. As improvisers, we generate tons of material all the time, and I feel that it’s selling ourselves short if we don’t use the music that comes out of our own heads and hands as a starting place for composition. This doesn’t just have to mean extended techniques – that’s my world, and my language. My journey with this stuff felt like it began when I realized that the sonic worlds I inhabited as an improviser and a composer were pretty different. I feel like this approach has brought my compositional practice to another level, and that I’ve come closer to finding the center of my musical personality. Another advantage of using my improvisational language as compositional material, is that once I’ve written something down, asked other people to play it, and recorded it/sent it out into the world, it’s pretty difficult to use that language as a crutch when improvising! For me, this has meant growth as an improviser, as I’ve had to push forward into new territory past the language that I once relied on.


About the Author:

Anna Webber (b. 1984) is a New York-based flutist, saxophonist, and composer whose interests and work live in the overlap between avant-garde jazz and new classical music. Her most recent album, Clockwise, featuring a septet comprised of several of the most creative musicians working in New York’s avant-garde, was released on Pi Recordings (February 2019).

Webber’s other projects include her Simple Trio, with John Hollenbeck and pianist Matt Mitchell, and the Webber/Morris Big Band, co-led with saxophonist/composer Angela Morris. This ensemble will release its debut album, Both Are True, on Dave Douglas’ Greenleaf Music in April 2020. She has performed and/or recorded with projects led by artists such as Dan Weiss, Jen Shyu, Dave Douglas, Matt Mitchell, Ches Smith, John Hollenbeck, and Geof Bradfield, among others.

Webber is a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow. She has additionally been awarded grants from the Shifting Foundation (2015) and the New York Foundation for the Arts (2017), and residencies from Exploring the Metropolis (2019), MacDowell Colony (2017 and 2020), the Millay Colony for the Arts (2015), and the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts (2014). In 2014 she won the BMI Foundation Charlie Parker Composition Prize as a member of the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop. Webber is originally from British Columbia.

Footnotes

A broad term meaning any non-traditional way of producing sound on the instrument. For the saxophone, this would include multiphonics, air sounds, buzzes, slap tongue, circular breathing, etc
My multiphonic practice comes from research I’ve done on my own, through trial and error and a study of contemporary saxophone repertoire. There are plenty of books out there, but for anyone who’s interested in delving deeply into multiphonics, I highly recommend a personal cataloguing system based on what actually works on your own horn, with your set up. Additionally, I’d recommend that any non-saxophonist composer who is trying to write multiphonics for the saxophone should take all books with a grain of salt. Always ask the saxophonist you are working with if the multiphonic you want to use works on their horn, and, if it works, at what dynamic range, with what sort of attack, etc.
Difference tones are psychoacoustic phenomena – you’ve experienced them if you have felt a buzzing in your ears/heard a resultant low pitch when you heard two high-pitched instruments holding notes in their upper register. To find the difference tone of two pitches, you simply subtract the frequency (in Hz) of the lower pitch from that of the higher.
I.e., just intonation, as opposed to equal temperament. Just intervals can be expressed as simple integer ratios, such as 3:2, 4:3, 11:8, etc.
Artist Blog

An Interview with Composer/Pianist Satoko Fujii

This interview was conducted by Blog Curator JC Sanford

 

JC Sanford: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience in Japan growing up, and what ended up bringing you to the US?

Satoko Fujii: I was a super shy child who couldn’t go out and play with other kids. I even was not comfortable going to Kindergarten and asked my parents if I could quit. They put me in piano class instead because they thought it would be better for me not to stay at home all day long without any communication with other people. When our family moved to another town because of my father’s work, I was in the second semester of first grade. My mother encouraged me and said, “If you cannot introduce yourself in front of your classmates, they might not accept you. Speak your name clearly and loudly and tell them what you feel.” I did so, and I was accepted by my new classmates warmly and kindly. After that, I started being active and talkative. I have to say that since then, I have found out Japanese society back then wanted to have girls quiet and not to express their opinion. Well, I think probably the whole world is not so different because it has always been a male-dominated society.

Playing music was always my favorite thing to do, but I was not so good. In piano lessons, other students improved faster than me. I was always the last student who could play something. But I liked it very much. I wanted to become a musician even though I was not very good. I was rejected all the time, when I had an admission exam to enter the music high school, music college, etc. In high school, I started to listen to jazz because my classical piano teacher, who I respected a lot, loved jazz. And jazz made me question whether or not classical music is my music that I want to play and express myself through. I was 17 or 18 years old, and I noticed I couldn’t improvise at all if I didn’t have written music in front of me. I remembered I enjoyed improvising when I was little. I was so shocked and felt like I was a well-trained dog that can do anything if he/she was told. I stopped playing classical music and started to improvise. It was not easy. I had to stop playing piano and use my voice to improvise because playing piano itself limited my freedom due to my formal education. I didn’t play piano for a few years, but I went to many jazz clubs in Tokyo to listen to jazz then. One day I decided to go back piano. I love the playing of the great jazz pianist Fumio Itabashi, and his music inspired me to play piano again. I asked him for lessons and was able to study with him for a few years. Around then, I started playing piano professionally at a cabaret in Tokyo. Back then there were many cabarets and clubs that had live music. I played every night in a cabaret big band that had a different singer every night. It was a great training, and my bandmates said to me by doing this I would improve easily. But a year later, I was still the worst piano player in Tokyo! This way didn’t work, and I started thinking about going to some school where I could concentrate practicing. I seriously thought I don’t have enough talent and should quit, but I didn’t because I was not sure if I had worked hard enough yet. I gave myself one last chance. If I didn’t change after a year of school, I would quit. I looked for some schools in and out of Japan. There were not colleges that we could study jazz in Japan then, so I decided to go to Boston to study at Berklee in 1985.

 

JCS: We met at New England Conservatory as students playing in Allan Chase’s “Avant-Garde” Ensemble in 1995, which was a pretty transformative experience for me, although you already had quite a lot of experience in that kind of music before then. Do you recall much about being in that group?

SF: That was a lot of fun playing in Allan’s ensemble with you! I went back to the states to go to NEC after five years back in Japan. At Berklee I practiced and studied to emulate other great jazz musicians. I improved of certain degree and went back to Japan to have a professional career. Then I lost my motivation and started wonder if jazz is a music I really want to play. I mean jazz jazz as a style. I was playing already “free jazz” with [husband and trumpeter] Natsuki at jazz clubs in Tokyo, but I had no confidence what I did. We had heard about NEC and decided to go back to Boston again. I was very happy at NEC where I was encouraged to play music with my own voice. I could focus on not playing like someone else. So that ensemble class was a very good fit for me.

 

JCS: When I was at NEC, there were a lot of different kinds of students who studied with Paul Bley, but you seemed to connect with him in ways that really helped you develop your own personal thing. Can you talk about your relationship with him?

SF: For me, talking to him was a very special experience. I was already a professional musician when I studied with him but lacked something very important. I think that was confidence that I can accept myself as is. I could see myself clearly when I talked to him. This was not like other piano lessons about technique or music theory or whatever about music. I started looking at myself and accepted myself in ways that made me feel much better about expressing myself. He encouraged me to be myself, and this meant a lot for me. Paul Bley, who had been my favorite piano player, encouraged me!!

JCS: I got the chance to play in your big band a few times when you were still in Boston. That was also a really special experience for me, because I was so surprised how interestingly you mixed very simple tonal structures with very atonal ones. And I remembered you having solo changes in parts, but you weren’t really concerned whether or not the soloist stuck to them very closely (and maybe you may have even advised them not to at times?). And having heard your band several times since then, I still sense this as a hallmark of your music. How do you think about combining tonality and “atonality” and how the improviser fits into all of that?

SF: The more I play and make music, the more I noticed that I can do whatever I want. I feel free to go to “tonal” and/or “atonal”, also playing or having rests at any time. I don’t want to limit myself. Many “free jazz” improvisers don’t like playing some simple chords, melodies, and groove. I want to use anything I can use to make music. I like melodies, harmonies, and grove as well as some abstract textures. I would love to be completely free in making music. There are so many limits in society, but in music we can be totally free.

JCS: Obviously, you’re an incredibly prolific composer. Last year when you turned 60, you released one CD a month for the entire year. And I believe you told me you’ve released about 90 recordings over your lifetime. What drives you to continue to produce so many recordings? Do you have some sort of routine which allows you to generate so much material?

SF: If you look at just one project of mine, I am not so prolific. For example, I only released 11CDs of my NYC orchestra over 22 years. I just have many different projects. When I am at home, in front of the piano, I compose 15-20 minutes every day. I am not at my home so often, so this doesn’t actually mean 365 days a year, but by doing this, I can generate a lot of material and ideas that I can use for each of my projects.

 

JCS: Wait, are you saying that you’re disappointed that you only made 11 CDs with your NYC big band in 22 years? If so, wow, I’d say most big band leaders live a lifetime and don’t have 11 big band CDs as a leader! Have you made other big band CDs with your groups in Tokyo, Berlin, etc.?

SF: In my mind, the normal release pace might be one CD per year. 11 CDs by my orchestra NYC, 6 CDs by my orchestra Tokyo, 3 CDs by my orchestra Nagoya, 1 CD by my orchestra Kobe, and 2 CDs by my orchestra Berlin have been released. I push myself….

 

JCS: OK, so can you tell me more about how and why you developed this composing routine?

SF: When I was at Berklee, Chick Corea had a workshop there. He talked about composing training. This was long time ago, so my memory might be wrong, but I remember he said we musicians need to practice “composition skills” just like “piano technique.” Somehow I agreed. Some people think melodies, harmonies, and rhythms are coming down from the sky to talented people. But they don’t come every day. When I compose, I feel like I am looking for something that is already there. There are so many choices to make music, but for me there is only one right note at a particular time, and I look for this right one. Sometimes I spend 15 minutes to find one note. But I really enjoy the process.

 

JCS: Can you talk about some of your compositional influences? Anyone who melds together improvisation and predetermined composition that set you down that path? Or composers in other styles?

SF: I am sure I get influenced by all of the music I have heard, but I especially like [Charles] Ives’s compositions.

 

JCS: Did you take the Charles Ives class [taught by John Heiss] when you were at NEC? Is that how you got interested? That class changed how I hear music and was a huge influence in my writing, as well.

SF: Yes, I took that class. It was great. I noticed music sounds different if we listen to it with someone who loves and understands it well. I love his symphonies, but I’m not a big fan of the songs.

 

JCS: You’ve been an incredible traveler with your music. And you’ve lived in various parts of the country, including Boston, New York, and Berlin, in addition to Japan. And you have versions of your big band in different places using local personnel. How do you manage personnel in that scenario, and how do those different collections of players affect your compositions? I imagine that wide range of musical personalities really shapes your music in different ways depending on where it’s being played?

SF: I lived in different countries and now I somehow know we people are same even there are many differences in the society and culture. My big band projects also allow me to meet many musicians in different countries because I travel with my scores and lead large bands in the places where I travel. I love to hear all their individual voices. If I was satisfied with my music being played in one way only, I wouldn’t need to travel. I know that different kinds of musicians’ own voices make the music richer and more interesting. Last year, I got a chance to bring my large band score “Fukushima” and played it in Kiev, Ukraine, which is close to Chernobyl. Somehow I felt something very deep.

 

JCS: What’s next for you in 2020 and beyond?

SF: Natsuki and I have a whole day concert from 2 PM to 10 PM at the jazz club Pit Inn in Tokyo with five different projects on January 13. We are busy planning it right now. Right after that I tour with Tatsuya Yoshida in Japan for our new CD, Toh-Kichi “Baikamo.” Then Natsuki and I have a tour with our Quartet Kaze with Ikue Mori in Europe. We have five CDs waiting to be released by Natsuki’s trio Gato Libre, our duo, a trio with Ramon Lopez, a new quintet with Rafal Mazur, and my duo with vibraphone player Taiko Saito.

I started getting some new ideas to make a new solo recording, as well as a new Suite for Orchestra Tokyo. I like being busy.

 

 


About the Artist:

Critics and fans alike hail pianist and composer SATOKO FUJII as one of the most original voices in jazz today.  She’s “a virtuoso piano improviser, an original composer and a band-leader who gets the best collaborators to deliver,” says John Fordham in The Guardian. In concert and on nearly 100 albums as a leader or co-leader, the globe-trotting Japanese native synthesizes jazz, contemporary classical, avant-rock, and Japanese folk music into an innovative music instantly recognizable as hers alone.

 

Since she burst onto the scene in 1996, Fujii has led some of the most consistently creative ensembles in modern improvised music. In 2013, she debuted the Satoko Fujii New Trio featuring bassist Todd Nicholson and drummer Takashi Itani, the first piano trio she has led since her trio with Mark Dresser and Jim Black last played together in 2009. The trio expanded into a quartet called Tobira with the addition of her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura, in 2014. The all-acoustic Satoko Fujii ma-do quartet, together from 2007 to 2011, showcased the latest developments in her composition for small ensembles in an intimate acoustic setting. Another acoustic quartet, the Min-Yoh Ensemble with trumpeter Tamura, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, and accordionist Andrea Parkins is dedicated to developing written and improvised music in the collective spirit of Japanese folkloric music. Fujii also led an electrifying avant-rock quartet featuring drummer Tatsuya Yoshida of The Ruins from 2001 to 2008.

Fujii has established herself as one of the world’s leading composers for large jazz ensembles, prompting Cadence magazine to call her “the Ellington of free jazz.” Since 1996, she has released a steady stream of acclaimed albums for jazz orchestras and in 2006 she simultaneously released four big band albums: one from her New York ensemble, and one each by three different Japanese bands.  In 2013 she debuted the Satoko Fujii Orchestra Chicago at the Chicago Jazz Festival. In 2015, she released a CD by her new Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin and worked with orchestras in Oakland, California and Bielefeld, Germany.

In addition to playing accordion in Tamura’s Gato Libre, Fujii also performs in a duo with Tamura, as an unaccompanied soloist, with the international quartet Kaze, and in ad hoc groupings with musicians working in different genres. Her special projects have included collaborations with ROVA saxophone quartet, violinist Carla Kihlstedt, pianist Myra Melford, bassist Joe Fonda, and Junk Box, a collaborative trio with Tamura and percussionist John Hollenbeck. She and bassist Joe Fonda have established a fruitful duo as well.

With 2016 marking her 20th year in creative music, Fujii performed solo concerts once a month in cities around the world, her duo with Tamura performed with special guests, and she presented concerts with her small and large ensembles, past and present.

During her 60th birthday year in 2018, a milestone known as Kanreki in Japan, Fujii celebrated by releasing one new CD a month. In keeping the Kanreki tradition of reflecting on the past while looking forward to the future, the 12 albums included releases by groups that Fujii has led or been part of for years, such as Kaze, Orchestra Berlin, Orchestra Tokyo, and her duo with Joe Fonda, as well as new groups and collaborations with Australian keyboardist Alister Spence; Mahobin, a cooperative quartet featuring Lotte Anker, Ikue Mori, and Natsuki Tamura; a quartet featuring percussive dancer Mizuki Wildenhahn; and others. Her newest working trio, This Is It!, made its recorded debut, as well.

Whether performing with her orchestra, combo, or playing solo piano, Satoko Fujii points the listener towards the future of music itself,” writes Junichi Konuma in Asahi Graph. Fujii’s ultimate goal: “I would love to make music that no one has heard before.

 

(All photos by Bryan Murray)

 

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!

 

 

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#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.

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# 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:

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# 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.

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# 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.

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# 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.

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# 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.

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# 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.

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# 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.

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# 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.

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# 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:

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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

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

The Amsterdam Philharmonic.
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.
See the Appendix at the end of the article for an score excerpt showing the ‘triple lead’ approach.
“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

I guess we don’t refer to ‘cuts’ anymore. ☺
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’.
Impulse! Recording. Engineered by Rudy Van Gelder
it was eventually published so I could check for accuracy.
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.
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.
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 perha