Tuesday, June 14, 2011

ArtEZ Jazz Composition Competition

I just returned from a weekend in the Netherlands where I was one of five international finalists in the ArtEZ Jazz Composition Competition in Enschede.  It was an exhausting, lengthy trip from Connecticut, but overall I view it as worthwhile, despite not being selected as winner.

I enjoyed meeting some fine composers from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Holland.  In our casual conversations we shared stories about our teachers and collaborators, expressed opinions about what music we like and dislike, talked of the leading jazz orchestras in our countries, and discussed our compositional approaches.  It was insightful, healthy and fun discourse.  The connections I made will certainly be helpful as I make efforts to get my big band music played with more frequency "on the other side of the pond".

Each composer was alloted a 45-minute time slot with the orchestra, in rehearsal on Saturday.  Slight aspects of interpretation could be addressed.  I focused primarily on transitions, tempo changes and achieving my desired ensemble blend in one, specific passage. There wasn't time for much else.

On Sunday, the Millennium Jazz Orchestra did a truly impressive job with the music of all 5 international composers.  Ultimately the judges chose American, Alan Chan as winner.  It was undoubtedly a difficult decision because each piece had admirable aspects. The motivic development, power and contrast in German, Jonas Schoen's piece, and the beautiful, sentimental melodic lines and dance evoking rhythms within Italian, Giovanni Savelli's "Kirshrot" were memorable.  Austrian composer, Reinhold Schmölzer's "Hurdles" had a strong sense of drama and an effective use of orchestration, although it wasn't overtly melodic.  It wouldn't surprise me if this young student of Ed Partyka and Jon Hollenbeck received some critical accolades of his own in the future.

The second half of the concert featured the music of the MJO's Henri Gerrits.  It was first-rate material that is scheduled to be recorded this month.  Consistently, the pieces had well-conceived overall shape, solid orchestrations and interesting solo backgrounds which helped guide the soloists.

The Dutch jazz scene appears to be quite healthy.  The festival also sponsored a competition for local big bands.  There appeared to be dozens of groups, most of which sounded very good.  It was amusing to hear several Germans say that the Dutch treat jazz too casually, viewing it as background party music, over which to talk, drink and dance.  I wonder how they might view American audiences.

Although I returned home somewhat disappointed, I am not discouraged.  In addition to having heard some great, inspiring, new music, I return with a slightly expanded world view, having met new, talented individuals who share my passion for orchestral jazz composition.  Ever up and onward.


  1. Hi Earl,

    it was great fun to play your piece. Chrystal clear ideas, beautiful orchestration and perfect treatment of harmony. Thnx a lot for making the trip to Enschede and bringing your music.

    Dirk Balthaus
    (pianist of the Millennium Jazz Orchestra)

  2. Thanks for your kind words Dirk, and beautiful playing.
    ~ Earl

  3. Beautiful composition. I will love to have a copy of this as this can give real inspiration to compose music. Thanks for the wonderful post.

  4. Hi Earl,

    thanks for the blog and the positive feedback.
    Actually, I find the casual approach to musical performance in the Netherlands very relieving. German musicians, venues and audiences tend to have a rather high cultural claim that often seems of no ones benefit. In the end - like so often - the contradiction itself is rather useless ;-)
    @ Dirk: the B Tango is a very beautiful piece of music, enjoyed it a lot! I recorded a CD where I wrote music that tries to express my fascination with Piazzollas music and played the bandoneon.


  5. Hi guys,
    it's nice to hear from all of you. Seems to be reunited in some way. I loved the athmosphere that we managed to create between ourselves in spite of being in such a competitive situation. This is really remarkable and a true victory as human beings. Earl, in his fluent prose, depicted the things exactly as they were. Actually, he is such a good writer .... not only with music :-)
    I do hope in the future,I will have the opportunity to exchange ideas about music composing with such worthy collegues and people of deep humanity.
    ciao Gianni

  6. Hi Earl,

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I was wondering though, how does one apply to this composition competition?


    1. A PDF with the competition rules in English can be downloaded from this site: http://www.ijfe.nl/extramenu/compositie/reglement/