Sunday, May 31, 2015

BMI: Disregarding A Legacy

The following letter comes from Deanna Witkowski, the pianist in the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra. I urge you to sign the petition she has initiated following BMI's decision to abandon the Jazz Workshop's current structure, thereby disregarding the legacy established by Bob Brookmeyer, Manny Albam, Roger Kellaway, Mike Abene, Jim McNeely and Mike Holober.

 Bob Brookmeyer, co-founder of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop

Dissolving the professional big band which read the new works by the hand-picked, professional participants, is nothing short of deplorable. 
It has come to our attention as current band members of the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra that there are core components of the current configuration of the workshop that are about to be dropped (namely, the professional jazz orchestra). Many of us have performed in the orchestra for over a decade; some have been here since the workshop's inception in 1988. Many of us are not only performers: we are composers who have participated as writers in the workshop. Furthermore, some of us are BMI-affiliated writers and publishers.

All of us are aware of the one-of-a-kind experience that the workshop affords us as a community-- most keenly, to the composers who are able to study big band writing free of charge with the most respected large ensemble composers writing today. Many of the workshop composers have gone on to receive significant awards and accolades and credit the workshop as a key part of their development. As band members, our monthly playing in and of itself provides a sounding board for composers to hear what works and what doesn't. Both the composers and the performers are vital parts of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.

To be a longtime affiliate or supporter of a performing rights organization- one whose mission is to serve composers not only by collecting royalties but by providing opportunities for their musical development (and, in turn, providing performance opportunities for performers)- and to be a longtime member of the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra, where we provide services mostly free of charge for the entire year- is a commitment that all of us take extremely seriously.

To come to a final reading session and to not be met by BMI's director of jazz, or, frankly, anyone on senior management and then to be told that the professional reading band will not be used after next month's concert does not show any of us the same respect that we have faithfully given to BMI.

We ask that Patrick Cook mee t with the current workshop composers and band members to discuss his vision that seems to disregard the vibrant community of jazz composers and performers that have, in conjunction with the legacy of artistic directors including Bob Brookmeyer, Manny Album, Jim McNeely, and Mike Holober, made BMI attractive as a creative home for jazz musicians.

Finally, we realize that the dissolution of the jazz workshop as it has been known for the past 26 years does not merely affect us as current band members and composers: we realize that it affects those composers coming after us who are losing the opportunity to learn this idiom in this environment, and it affects the public who will have fewer opportunities to experience progressive big band music. 
That's why I signed a petition to Patrick Cook, Director of BMI Musical Theatre and Jazz, Charlie Feldman, VP, BMI Writer/Publisher Relations, New York, and Michael O'Neill, CEO, BMI, which says: 
"We urge BMI's senior management to seriously consider the legacy and the uniqueness of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop as they plan for the workshop's future. We also ask that Patrick Cook meet with the workshop composers and band members in person to explain his vision that does not include the professional big band that has been an integral part of the workshop since 1988."

Will you sign the petition too? Click here to add your name:
Deanna Witkowski 

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