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

Click to View PDF

 

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

 

Click to View PDF

 

 

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

Click to View PDF

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

 

 

Click to View PDF

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

Click to View PDF

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

Click to View PDF

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

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.