Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Arranging for the Westchester Jazz Orchestra

I was hoping that a real writer would review last Saturday's Westchester Jazz Orchestra concert.  Because nothing of the sort has surfaced, I will share my observations.  This clearly can't be read as an unbiased, objective review, as one of my arrangements was featured.  The program was entitled "the Music of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles".  The following music was programmed:

Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing

Stevie Wonder, arranged for WJO by Tony Kadleck

Isn't She Lovely
Stevie Wonder, arranged by Bill Holman

Creepin'
Stevie Wonder, arranged for WJO by Tony Kadleck

Hit the Road Jack
Percy Mayfield, arranged for WJO by Earl MacDonald

---- intermission ----

America the Beautiful
Samuel A. Ward, arranged for WJO by Alan Broadbent

Too High
Stevie Wonder, arranged by WJO by Richard Sussman

Georgia
Hoagy Carmichael, arranged by John Clayton

One Mint Julep
Rudolph Toombs, arranged by Billy Byers

It was clear after the first tune that the band was "on".  They were well rehearsed and sounded inspired.  All the soloists were impressive.  Real standouts were tenor saxophonists Ben Kono and Walt Weiskopf, trumpeters John Bailey and Marvin Stamm, trombonist Mike Christianson and pianist Allen Farnham.  As a pianist, I tend to be critical of my piano playing counterparts, but I have no beef to pick with Allen.  His playing was solid, mature and tasteful.  This was my first time hearing Walt Weiskopf live and did he ever impress!  Taste, style and chops all wrapped up into one.  I'd hire him in a second.

The arrangers all did terrific work.  Tony Kadleck's arranging was especially dazzling.  He's no lead trumpet lughead.  For him to play and write so well is a true testament to his musicianship.

I chuckled upon seeing Richard Sussman listed as one of the other commissioned arrangers.  His new jazz arranging textbook is currently on my beside table, and has been keeping me up late at night.  I enjoyed chatting with him briefly backstage after the show.

Here is my commissioned piece; an arrangement of "Hit the Road Jack":


I described the process of writing it in my last post, and received the comment that sharing insight into my process was insightful and appreciated.  At the risk of appearing slightly neurotic, I will expand on this, and provide a list of things I  am now considering tweaking, after having heard the recording a few times:
  • the trombones ending 2 consecutive phrases on an A flat bothers me at 0:30 and 0:33.  I will subtly change something here.
  • at 2:30 I might eliminate the trombone hits to create more "space".
  • I really missed the sax section in the ensemble passage at 2:53 through 3:21  Adding them to the brass will help to "fill up" the ensemble sound here.
  • 3:46 through 4:33 is somewhat problematic for me.  There are certain Count Basie charts where the rhythmic figures lay perfectly and you get a good feeling of ease and contentment from the rhythmic swing.  I didn't experience that joyful sensation in this instance.  I felt "on edge" during this portion of the chart.  There probably needs to be more space/"breathing room" here.
  •  I also want to achieve a more obvious, orchestrational color change when bouncing between sections in this same passage.
  • Looping the ending 3 times from 4:34 to 5:08 was Mike Holober's idea, which I liked very much.  I might orchestrate these repeats differently to achieve more contrast/interest.
So there you have it... additional insights into the mind of a slightly obsessive (aren't we all?), and very grateful jazz arranger.  It was truly a thrill to have my music performed by this terrific band.  As you can see, it was an experience from which I am continuing to learn and grow.  When I have revised the chart I will give a finalized version to the band in hopes that it's life has just begun.  I suppose that is every arranger's hope.

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