Monday, October 21, 2013

A Work In Progress

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have rejoined the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop this year, partly as a sabbatical project, but mostly for the purpose of sparking my imagination and pushing myself to try some new things as a composer.

For my first big band piece of the season, I elected to write in the salsa idiom.  It had been a while since I had written in clavé, and I thought this would present some interesting challenges, while being fun.  Before starting, I wrote down a few parameters, goals, thoughts, and questions for myself, to guide the piece's direction.  Some of these included:

  • How can I stretch the salsa idiom?
  • Would "hipper" lines and harmonies work in the salsa style?
  • How important is having a distinguishable melody?  If rhythm is the driving force behind salsa, does the piece doesn't need an obvious, singable melody?
  • Try approaching salsa from a sideways angle/vantage point.
  • Experiment, yet meet the approval of the SALSA POLICE! (avoid cruzado!)
  • Include a mambo section with added layers of complexity.
BMI Jazz Orchestra
Jim McNeely conducting the BMI Jazz Orchestra during the 10/01/2013 reading session.
In my piano practicing this summer I worked on superimposing bebop-ish lines into harmonic situations where their chord tones reflected upper structure extensions and alterations to the given harmony.  I decided to use these types of lines in the chart to give it some edge.  I equate this sound to what saxophonist Eric Dolphy was doing in the 1960s.  I decided to call the piece "Dolphy Dance", picturing Eric playing in a dance band.

We had a "reading session" on Oct. 1st, so I got to hear my experiments sight-read by a full big band of professional players.  It's still a work in progress but here's a taste (note: the music starts 9 seconds into the playback):


If any experienced Latin jazz/salsa players have some suggestions or criticisms to share with me, I'd love to hear them.  I'm questioning and considering how I might expand the piece even further, while not making it tiresome.

I went through the above recording and made the following list of revisions.  Beside each point I will include the corresponding time on the recording, so you can follow along and see what caught my attention:

  • Eliminate flute and harmon trumpet from the intro.  Flute is inaudible until m. 7, then appears to come in out of nowhere, and is uncharacteristic of the expected ensemble sound.  Re-orchestrate melody in m.7 from flute to 3 trumpets and alto. [0.18]
  • m. 6 and 7: the bass line is weak because range prohibits going to the low C in the bari and bass trombone.  Take the D flat up the octave in m. 7.  Have everyone play a half note on beats 3 and 4 of m.6 to break up the line, so it sounds intentional, and not a poor solution to range limitations.  This also better reflects the clavé rhythmic pattern. [0.16]
  • m.17: sound final chord longer.  Tie it to a dotted half note instead of a quarter note. [0.29]
  • m.38:  Simplify the brass hit, to make things more comfortable, and "lock everyone in" rhythmically. [0.55]
  • m.45: change rhythm of saxophone line slightly, so there isn't too much space before the ensemble response.  End phrase with a quarter note on beat 4. [1.03]
  • m. 56 and 64: change half note to a short quarter note to let the backgrounds breathe. [1.17 and 1.26]
  • m.66: change the articulation to an accented tenuto. [1.29]
  • m.81 and 82 (before "J" --- restatement of intro material): add two measures of G/Ab harmony and a melodic bass figure played by the bass, piano, bari sax and bass trombone. [1.46]. Also add this at the 2nd ending. [3.13]
  • copy changes made to the intro into m. 83 - 90. [1.49]
  • m. 42: add the brass hits played during the first repeat. (behind soloist) [1.00/2.26]
  • At rehearsal letters "F" and "G": add a trombone soli (entire section), during the second repeat, so it builds. [2.38]
  • m.109 (4th ending): add 6 measures of G/Ab montuno.  "Double" montuno in the horns the last time, leading to m. 110. [3.44]
  • At rehearsal letter N: saxes enter "p" (quieter) [4.10]
  • At rehearsal letter O: bring trombones 2 and 3 up the octave.  3 up and 1 down. [4.20]
  • At rehearsal letter P:  Only the lead trumpet should play up the octave.  1 up and 3 down.  No optional 8VA on the last note of the phrase. [4.30]
So there you have it.  Tomorrow I head back into New York City where I hope to benefit from the reactions and ideas of the other workshop composers.  The brilliant, experienced composer, Rich Shemaria will lead the discussion, as both Jim McNeely and Mike Holober will be out of town.  I have admired Rich's work for a long time, and look forward to meeting him in person. (Until now we have only corresponded a couple of times through e-mail or Facebook.) I am eager to hear his thoughts and welcome your input too!






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