Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yule Be Swingin!

An afternoon of seasonal favorites performed by the UConn Jazz ensembles, to put you in the holiday spirit.

Saturday, Dec. 4th, 2010 at 3 p.m. in von der Mehden Recital Hall on the UConn Storrs Campus.

Admission charges have been waived.  Instead, donations will be accepted for W.A.I.M. (Windham Area Interfaith Ministry)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The UConn Jazz Ensemble performs... "the Blues & the Abstract Truth, take 2"

I am really looking forward to the UConn Jazz Ensemble concert this coming Tuesday evening in the von der Mehden Recital Hall. The charts are truly fantastic! I was thrilled when Bill Cunliffe agreed to send me the music from his acclaimed "the Blues and the Abstract Truth, take 2" CD.  I absolutely love what he did with Oliver Nelson's classic compositions.  Bill's subtle modifications are incredibly tasteful.

I have seen so much progress and development in my students' playing this semester.  We have spent a substantial amount of rehearsal time working on improvisation, and I think it shows.  Each student transcribed, learned and analyzed a minimum of two recorded solos.  We discussed and applied a variety of harmonic, melodic and rhythmic approaches to the solo forms.  At various points we spent time listening to rehearsal recordings of ourselves, and then discussed what worked and what didn't.  I believe all of this hard work has really paid off.

The Jazz Ensemble will also perform in Hartford on Friday, November 19th at 7 p.m. in the Aetna Theater of the Wadsworth Atheneum.  They will be the opening act for The Curtis Brothers, with trumpeter Ray Vega.  For ticket information call the Hartford Jazz Society office at 860-242-6688. Sadly, for bassist Alexandra Eckhardt and trombonist, Jon Shelly, this will be their last performance with the UConn Jazz Ensemble.  Both will be out student teaching next semester before graduating in May.  They have been valuable contributors to the ensemble and will be missed.  I take solace in knowing that they will both be excellent, well-prepared school music teachers who will share their passion for jazz with yet another generation of students.

We will wrap up the current semester by going into the recording studio on November 30th.  We'll be preparing a recording to enter in the Downbeat Student Music Awards competition.  Wish us luck!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Blues & The Abstract Truth

On Tuesday, November 9th at 8pm, the UConn Jazz Ensemble will perform at von der Mehden Recital Hall. The seven piece ensemble will be performing arrangements by composer, arranger, jazz pianist, and Grammy Award winner Bill Cunliffe, from his album “Blues and the Abstract Truth, take 2.” This album is a creative remake of “Blues and the Abstract Truth,” originally recorded in February 1961 by Oliver Nelson.

Admission is $7 for the public, and free for students and children. von der Mehden Recital Hall is located at 875 Coventry Road in Storrs across from Mirror Lake with plenty of free, well lit parking. For more information please call (860) 486-2969 or visit the website: 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This coming Monday...

Don't miss the UConn Jazz Faculty group accompanying student trombonist, Jon Shelly. We'll be playing the following repertoire: Yardbird Suite, Come Rain Or Come Shine, Emily, Tripwire (by Jon), Lover Man and In Walked Horace.  We start at 8 p.m.  No cost.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The great Thad Jones

As much as I love the contemporary big band writing of Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, Bob Brookmeyer and others, I think I'd still have to say that Thad Jones is my favorite big band writer of all time.  In my opinion, no one's arrangements swing harder, and the music consistently exudes joy and playfulness.

Because I spend a great deal of time standing in front of big bands, I couldn't help but wonder how Thad conducted.  To what degree did he wave his hands?  Did he use a typical conducting pattern?  Did he count off the band and then retreat to the side of the stage?  How much did he control the band's dynamics through his gestures?  You Tube has answered more questions for me as of late than any other resource.

Here is the Thad-Jones / Mel Lewis band playing "Groove Merchant", probably in 1969. (A year before I was born.)  The roster is as follows:

The reed section: Joe Henderson, Jerry Dodgion, Jerome Richardson, Eddie Daniels, Pepper Adams.
Trumpets: Snooky Young, Danny Moore, Al Porcino, Richard Williams.
Trombones: Eddie Bert, Astley Fennell, Jimmy Knepper, Cliff Heather.
Rhythm: Mel Lewis, drums; Roland Hanna, piano; Richard Davis, bass.
Conductor: Thad Jones.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

University of Connecticut Jazz Combos

On Monday, Oct. 25th, the UConn Jazz combos, directed by Bill Reynolds, Gregg August and me, will step onto the von der Mehden stage for the second time this semester. Here is a brief video montage from the last concert:

Additional dates for your live jazz calendars:

Nov. 9th (Tues.):  The UConn Jazz Septet performs Bill Cunliffe's remake of "Blues and the Abstract Truth".  von der Mehden Recital Hall, UConn. 8 p.m.

Nov. 15th (Mon.): The Jazz Lab Band, directed by John Mastroianni. von der Mehden Recital Hall, UConn. 8 p.m.

Nov. 19th (Fri.): The UConn Jazz Septet performs as the opening act for Sean Jones and the Curtis Brothers at the Wadsworth, Atheneum in Hartford. 7 p.m.  (Sponsored by the Hartford Jazz Society)

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Earl MacDonald presents... trombonist, Jon Shelly

Monday, November 1st, 8 p.m.
von der Mehden Recital Hall,
University of Connecticut, Storrs

Jonathan Shelly - featured, student trombonist
Earl MacDonald - piano
Gregg August - bass
Bill Reynolds - drums

Friday, October 15, 2010

UConn Jazz Combos

Expect the upcoming UConn jazz combo concert to be a fun filled show with plenty of variety.  On the evening of Monday, Oct. 25th, six different groups will perform ---  the UConn Jazz Septet, the Savoy Syncopaters, the Mysterious Jazz Mystics, the Herbie Hancock Tribute Ensemble, the Modern Jazz Quintet, and the Jazz Prophets.

I direct the Herbie Hancock Ensemble and the UConn Jazz Septet.  The Hancock group, comprised entirely of freshmen, will play two selections from Herbie's 1962 "Takin' Off" album.  The Septet has prepared arrangements by Grammy Award winner, Bill Cunliffe, from his album “Blues and the Abstract Truth, take 2” (a remake of Oliver Nelson’s classic album “Blues and the Abstract Truth”).

My students have impressed me with the strong work ethic they have demonstrated this semester.  They have been busy transcribing, memorizing and analyzing recorded solos.  They have eagerly devoured the improvisational concepts I have shared.  In just two months, I have witnessed tremendous growth in this dedicated bunch.  This is a concert you won't want to miss.

Monday, October 11, 2010

13 Excellent 2010 Jazz Releases

Stumbling upon Phil Freeman's list of "13 Excellent 2010 Jazz Releases" from his blog "Running The Voodoo Down" has renewed the bounce in my step and got my week off to a great start.  Here's his list:

Carlos Bica, Carlos Bica + Matéria-Prima (Clean Feed)
Regina Carter, Reverse Thread (E1)
Decoy, Vol. 1: Spirit/Vol. 2: The Deep (Bo’Weavil)
Marc Edwards/Weasel Walter Group, Blood of the Earth (ugEXPLODE)
Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh, Radif Suite (Pi)
Fight the Big Bull, All is Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed)
John Hébert Trio, Spiritual Lover (Clean Feed)
Dave Holland Octet, Pathways (Dare2)
Lawnmower, West (Clean Feed)
Earl MacDonald, Re:Visions – Works for Jazz Orchestra (Death Defying)
Dan Pratt Organ Quartet, Toe the Line (Posi-Tone)
David Weiss & Point of Departure, Snuck In (Sunnyside)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Are the rules of professional etiquette being taught to young musicians?

When I was in my teens and early twenties, several older musicians took me under their wing, and over time, taught me the unwritten rules of professional music etiquette.  They were quick to correct me when I made poor judgments, and when consulted, they were happy to share their insights and opinions.  I will be forever grateful for their guidance.

It occurred to me that perhaps today’s young musicians are not benefiting from such mentorship.  Do they even know what constitutes a breach in professional etiquette? Are their music schools and teachers conveying practical “street smarts” or are they only imparting skills relevant to the development of musicianship?

I recently hired a twenty-two year old trumpeter who broke professional protocol in several ways.  He agreed to do two rehearsals, followed by two gigs for a fixed sum of money. At the first rehearsal, I was greeted by a sub he had sent, who I did not know.  I had received no notification that he was sending a sub.  (The sub played well, so I “let it slide”, even though I knew it would elevate the stress level at our second rehearsal.)

At the second rehearsal, the hired trumpet player neither showed up, nor did he bother to send a sub.  He gave no notice, and his cell phone was turned off when I tried reaching him.  At first, we waited, giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Eventually calls were made and we hired another player.

I sent him a message after the rehearsal, asking if he was OK.  My fear was that he was in a terrible car accident.  His flippant response was:  “I had a gig in New York last night. Have fun on the 2nd.”

For the benefit of young players who might read this article, please take note: In an instance where another, important professional opportunity presents itself, I believe that the proper thing to do would be to contact the leader to whom you have committed yourself, explain the situation, and ask if they would be willing to find a replacement.  In most cases they will agree and thank you for being up front.  Some “old school” musicians, like the ones who mentored me, would even consider this to be an infraction.  They would argue that if you accepted a gig, that’s the gig you take.  No discussion.

Not even the courtesy of a phone call was extended to me.  His negligence caused much unneeded stress.  Valuable rehearsal time was wasted as nine people waited, and as I scrambled to find a suitable replacement.  How he handled this situation not only affected my perception of him, but the perceptions of nine other musicians. Being reliable is just as important as musicianship when developing one's career. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Video footage of the New Directions Ensemble's Debut Performance

The Hartford Jazz Society is proud to sponsor the New Directions Jazz Ensemble, co-led by noted musician/educators Earl MacDonald and Kris Allen. This 10-piece group features seasoned veterans playing side-by-side with some of the most talented up-and-coming young musicians anywhere. Come hear this powerful band perform original arrangements that showcase the incredible richness of the Hartford jazz scene.

Next performance: Monday, August 9th, 2010. Black-eyed Sally's. Hartford, CT. 8 pm.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Sneak Peek at the Hartford Jazz Society's "New Directions Ensemble"

Upcoming Performances:

Monday, August 2, 2010. Bushnell Park, Hartford. 6 - 7 pm.
Monday, August 9, Black-eyed Sally's, Hartford.  8 - 11 pm.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop Concert

I always look forward to this annual concert which features the finest works created during the year's BMI Jazz Composer's Workshop.  I was a workshop participant in 2004 and again in 2007 when I was selected as a finalist for the Charlie Parker Composition Prize.  It was an incredibly valuable opportunity to meet regularly with Jim McNeely, Michael Abene and Mike Holober --- three of the world's most respected composers for jazz orchestra --- to discuss my music, as it was being written.  It really helped in shaping how I approach orchestration, the development of musical ideas and formal planning.  Several of the pieces on my recently released CD, "Re:Visions, Works for Jazz Orchestra", were developed within the Composer's Workshop.  These include "Bad Dream" and "Jana's Song" for which I have posted audio samples on the right hand column of this blog.

I especially look forward to hearing this year's Manny Albam Commission, written by Sara Jacovino.  I'll be sitting there with my notepad, collecting (stealing?) ideas.  :)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Smoke and Mirrors

Last weekend I had the opportunity to record my latest big band chart, "Smoke and Mirrors", with Tony Hyde's Equinox Jazz Orchestra in Medford, MA (just outside Boston.) The band included such heavy hitters as drummer Vinny Pagano and saxophonists John Mastroianni and Dino Gavoni. It was a treat to hear the piece played by these professionals.

I spent a lot of time revising the work since its debut in May. Many passages were re-orchestrated and I redistributed much of the solo work.

I sometimes visualize dramatic scenarios when composing, with characters interacting with one another.  For this piece I pictured a person in a position of power and influence who was living with a deep, dark secret. If revealed, he knew this secret would derail and destroy every aspect of his life and affect the lives of literally hundreds of people.  After living with the secret for many years, it became public and his worst fears became reality.

“The secret” is musically represented throughout the piece by the following 12-tone row:

Employing 12-tone compositional techniques without the music sounding overtly atonal was my compositional goal and "secret". The row has many characteristics of a tonal melody, with leaps followed by stepwise motion and some melodic sequencing. The row was manipulated and presented in various forms, using transposition, inversion, retrograde, and retrograde inversion – all of which can be found in the matrix below.  P = prime, I = inversion, R = retrograde and RI = retrograde inversion.  These techniques are clearly explained within the Wikipedia entry entitled "Twelve-Tone Technique".

I wish the scenario I described above were imagined. Sadly it is not.  My church pastor (and friend) was living a secret life.  Last year, his secret was revealed and it nearly destroyed the church.  This devastating blow threw a thriving, effective, growing community into a state of mere survival. A capable, inspiring leader was sidelined, and several friends became disheartened and stopped attending. Through this piece of music I have tried to communicate some of what I have observed, felt and experienced through this horrible, sad ordeal.  Despite the mathematical techniques employed, I think I have written a heartfelt, emotionally stirring, musical response.

The piece, "Smoke and Mirrors" will be performed by the Hartford Jazz Society's "New Directions Ensemble" on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6 p.m. in Bushnell Park.  A follow-up performance is slated for Monday, Aug. 9th at the Black-eyed Sally's night club, starting at 8 p.m.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Ultimate Jazz Sacrilege

Jackie's Bag by alto saxophonist, Jackie McLeanI admit it:  I have never been a big fan of Jackie McLean's music.  I simply couldn't get past his abrasive, shrill tone, and his intonation continues to drive me bonkers.

In saying this, I know I have just committed the ultimate jazz sacrilege in Connecticut.  The vast majority of Connecticut-based jazz musicians view Jackie as a deity of sorts.

 Despite my tastes and personal misgivings, it is easy to see Jackie McLean's significant, positive and lasting impact upon the Hartford jazz scene.   Founding Hartford's Artists Collective and the Hartt School’s jazz studies program are just the tip of the iceberg.  So many fine players emerged under his direction --- Jimmy Greene, Kris Allen, Wayne Escoffrey, Steve Davis, Lummie Spann, Josh Evans, Mike DiRubbo etc.  The list could go on and on.

In considering what repertoire the Hartford Jazz Society’s New Directions Ensemble will play, clearly I would be remiss to not include a tribute to Jackie.  I have gone through many of my old albums, trying to decide which of his songs to arrange. After a lot of listening, I have chosen “Appointment In Ghana” from the album, “Jackie’s Bag”.  Here is my transcription: 

sheet music for Appointment in Ghana by Jackie McLean

From an arranger’s standpoint, there is a lot of material within the piece with which to work and develop --- the most obvious being the “hits” and the alternation between solo voice and ensemble. I’m looking forward to orchestrating it for the 10-piece ensemble. In a future update I will outline my approach to arranging it.

As a side note:  Several of Jackie’s other tunes also captured my imagination, and they too may make it into the ensemble’s book at some point.  These include the beautiful ballad, “For Hofsa” and “The Collective Expression” from “Rhythm of the Earth”, and “Melody for Melonae” from “Let Freedom Ring”.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Introducing: the New Directions Ensemble!

About a year ago, I wrote a proposal to the board members of the Hartford Jazz Society suggesting and outlining the benefits of their establishing a band to publicly represent the organization, and to assist in accomplishing their goals for education and audience generation. This proposal was enthusiastically accepted. The 10-piece group, aptly named the Hartford Jazz Society’s “New Directions Ensemble”, will make its debut performance on Monday, 08/02/2010 at 6PM in Bushnell Park.

The instrumentation of the group will be alto, tenor and bari saxophones, 2 trumpets, French horn, trombone, piano, bass and drums. Although the instrumentation will be fixed, the personnel will be somewhat fluid from gig to gig, and representative of the rich diversity within the Greater Hartford jazz community. The ensemble will feature seasoned, musical professionals sitting side-by-side with up-and-coming young jazz musicians, thereby providing informal mentorship to serious younger players in the Hartford jazz scene.

It is fortuitous that this new initiative coincides with the Hartford Jazz Society’s 50th anniversary celebrations. It sends a strong message that the institution not only honors it’s past, but has an eye to the future.

I will serve as the group’s Composer-In-Residence and saxophonist Kris Allen will be the Artistic Director. Here is the roster for the debut performance, including links to their individual web sites:

Kris Allen - alto saxophone
Jovan Alexander - tenor saxophone
Lummie Spann - bari sax
Josh Evans - trumpet
Larry Gareau - trumpet
Bob Hoyle - French horn
Allie Bosso - trombone
Alex Eckhardt - string bass

Our follow-up performance will take place the following week at Black-eyed Sally’s in Downtown Hartford, from 8 – 11 p.m.

Leading up to these performances I plan to write regular blog postings describing my work and creative process in composing and arranging the music we will be playing. As always, your feedback and comments will be welcomed.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Amherst College Jazz Ensemble Commission

Earlier this month I spent a very enjoyable weekend at Amherst College in Massachusetts working with the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble.  As a part of the Robin McBride '59 Commission Series, I was asked to write a piece for the ensemble.  They gave me complete freedom to write whatever I wanted.  I wrote a rather dark, lengthy piece entitled "Smoke and Mirrors".

The director, Bruce Diehl did a terrific job preparing the ensemble.  I conducted during the dress rehearsal and had a chance do some "fine tuning" with regards to interpretive aspects of the piece.  The band responded very well.  This part of the process is always the most fun for me. 

The following afternoon, I gave a lecture to the music theory class, discussing my compositional process.  I talked about idea generation techniques (making lists), 12-tone theory, and shared details of the personal, real life scenario which prompted the piece.  They asked some terrific questions.

The song featured Alison Rogers on flugelhorn.  At the rehearsal she told me that it was at a February 1999 Maynard Ferguson concert in Coral Gables, FL that she decided music would be one of her lifelong passions.  I was the pianist in the band that night.  What a small world!  Here is a shot of Alison performing my "Smoke and Mirrors" composition on May 3rd, in Amherst College's Buckley Recital Hall.

And here I am, after the concert, posing with Robin McBride, for whom the commission is named, and Bruce Diehl, the director of the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble.  We are standing next to the plaque which displays the names of all of the recipient composers of the commissioning series.  Dave Rivello, the composer who's work I plan to feature with the UConn Jazz Ensemble next spring, was listed above me. The jazz world just gets smaller every day.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Too Many Hats

With the school year behind me, I now have some time for personal reflection and planning. In my evaluation of the past academic year, I have been considering what went right, what went wrong, what to continue, and what to stop doing, as I chart my course for the future.

I recently made the decision to stop teaching private lessons outside of the university. I have taught privately for 20+ years now, and it is time for a change. At this stage in life, I really feel the need to pull back, and limit my focus to family, and my own musical pursuits. I specifically want to devote more time and thought to composition and arranging.

I take great pride in the accomplishments of the many talented, young musicians I taught over the years, on weekends --- Will Bonness, Bryn Roberts, Paul Schrofel, Aaron Nebbia, Jimmy and Alma Macbride, and many others. It was a real treat to see them progress from week to week and eagerly devour the material I shared. It is very gratifying to see them all doing so well.

Fear not! This decision does not mean that my passion for jazz education has waned. In fact, I have been considering ways in which I can share material more effectively, with a wider audience. When time allows, I plan to post the many lesson handouts I have used in lessons, in the Jazz Educational Resources section of my web site.

Stay tuned, as more changes are ahead.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maynard Ferguson clinic (back in the old days...)

Keith Berry, the band director at Manchester High School (in Connecticut) just discovered this old photo of me with Maynard Ferguson.  It would have been taken at a clinic we gave, probably back in 1998 or 99.  Thanks Keith!  It brings back great memories.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Premiere Performance

My latest composition, Smoke and Mirrors, will receive its premier performance on Monday, May 3rd at Amherst College.  The piece was commissioned by the Amherst College Jazz Ensemble as a part of the Robin McBride '59 Commission Series.  I will work with the band on Sunday evening and will also make a presentation on Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. to describe my compositional process.  It will be a fun way to begin the week!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Congratulations to Jimmy Macbride!

Congratulations to my former student, Jimmy Macbride, for his latest DownBeat Student Music Award in the high school composition category.  Jimmy is completing his freshman year at the Julliard School of Music, where he studies with Carl Allen.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Footloose & Fancy Free

Earlier this month I made several presentations at the Connecticut Music Educator's Association Conference in Hartford.  One of these presentations was entitled "Footloose & Fancy Free" and dealt with using structured games and graphically notated scores as an entry point for teaching beginner improvisers.  I have posted a recording of the above piece, more of my aleatoric / graphic scores, as well as the PowerPoint slides from my other presentations ("Makin' the Changes" and "Overcoming the Rhythm Section Blues") on my web site.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Museum Music

I am a musician and not a reviewer, but all week long I have been mulling over my response to the “One For All” concert I attended last Friday night at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

The guys in “One For All” certainly play well.  Their solos were very impressive.  It just seems strange to me that they have collectively decided to rigidly imitate Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers (specifically from the 1961 – 64 era).  One of their song titles, “Our Father, Who Art Blakey” states this point clearer than I could articulate in several paragraphs.  As much as I love that music, it happened almost 50 years ago.  Isn’t it time to move on? 

In an educational setting I think it is imperative that students study the music from past generations.  I wholeheartedly subscribe to Clark Terry’s catchphrase “Imitate, Assimilate, Innovate”.   In fact, I insist that all my undergraduate students thoroughly study the music played by Blakey’s bands (among many others) --- but it doesn’t end there.  The members of “One for All” are all over the age of 40.  At this point shouldn’t they be past the “imitate” and “assimilate” phases and be onto innovation?

Historically, hasn’t jazz always been synonymous with innovation, experimentation and “pushing the envelope”?  Has jazz really become “museum music” like its classical counterpart?  Have we reached a point where jazz must adhere to strict performance practice guidelines so that there is no stylistic deviation from the designated era a band is copying?

Philosophically, I see no difference between “One For All” playing in the style of the Jazz Messengers and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra playing Ellington and Fletcher Henderson charts.  It’s bass ackwards.  Sure, “One For All” plays original compositions, but it is apparent that the composers are pretending Art is still with us and it is still 1962.  It would perhaps be less confusing to me if they would fully embrace their identity as an Art Blakey “ghost band” and simply play the music of Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Curtis Fuller.

Jazz is art music.  Artistic imitations don’t interest me.   If I want to see cubist paintings, I’ll seek out work by Picasso or Georges Braque, not some present-day mimic.  As well as they play; I’d almost rather stay home and listen to my “Buhaina’s Delight”, “Caravan” and “Free For All” albums.  I think we need originals in an era where jazz is struggling to find and maintain an audience.

Does anyone else agree or am I over-reacting?  Do ghost bands and rigid performance practice guidelines have a place in today’s jazz scene?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hartford Courant Review: 04/09/10 UConn Jazz 10tet Performance

By Chuck Obuchowski, Special To The Courant

(Page 2 of 2)

The UConn Jazz 10tet, directed by Earl MacDonald, began the evening with an exciting, all-too-brief "sneak preview" of material that will be officially premiered August 2 in Hartford's Bushnell Park.

That occasion will mark the debut of the HJS New Directions Ensemble, with MacDonald as pianist and composer in residence. Friday's performance succeeded on its own terms, however, displaying the ample talents of ten University of Connecticut student improvisers.

[Photo courtesy of Maurice Robertson. Click to enlarge.]

Most of the material was written or arranged by MacDonald, but the students executed the scores brilliantly, offering a sophisticated update of "Birth of the Cool" instrumentation and concepts. Also included was a fascinating arrangement of Thelonious Monk's "Nutty" by Jon Shelly, the group's trombonist.

The UConn Jazz 10tet, under Earl MacDonald's direction, will perform Tuesday, April 13, 8 p.m. at the University of Connecticut's Von Der Mehden Recital Hall, 875 Coventry Rd., Storrs. Details at and 860-486-4226.

Friday, April 2, 2010

re:Visions, Works for Jazz Orchestra

Liner notes, production credits and reviews for my newly released CD, “re:Visions” are now posted on my web site:

The disc is available for purchase at and iTunes.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some Things Never Change

I was in Toronto last week, playing at The Rex Jazz & Blues Bar with my old friends Kelly Jefferson, Brian O'Kane, Jules Estrin, Mike Downes and Joel Haynes.  The six of us all attended McGill University's jazz program together in the early '90s.  Some of them I hadn't seen in almost 20 years.  Needless to say we had a blast, catching up and making music together again!  Below are 2 photos; one from the evening of 3/26/10, and the other was taken circa 1990.  We've come a long way since then, but fortunately, some things never change!

The Earl MacDonald (Canadian) 6 - 3/26/10, Toronto

live at "The Alley", McGill University, Montreal (circa 1990)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Personal Reflections on Teaching

In my preparations for the upcoming semester I did some reflecting and updated my personal teaching statement.  Here it is:

As a life-long learner, my basic philosophy of teaching has evolved over the years‚ and will continue to do so.  I have come to believe that teaching is more than the mere transfer of information from teacher to student.  As a teacher, I aim to instill the mindset of ongoing learning in my students to assist them in reaching their full potential.

Conceptually, my style of teaching is based upon authority, but not authoritarianism.  I take great pride in properly training the next generation in the specific skills of my craft. I treat my students as up-and-coming professionals, making my expectations known, and upholding high standards.  I aim to equip my protégés with knowledge of the fundamental principles and concepts that guide our work, while modifying my teaching strategies to meet the needs of each student. Students are encouraged to identify specific, manageable goals, and then determine the necessary incremental steps required to accomplish each goal.     

As an active and current practitioner, I am able to bring real-world, holistic scenarios and experiences to the classroom.  For example:
1.     Drawing student ensembles into the creative process by having them sight-read and rehearse first drafts of my new composition and arrangements before they are presented to professional ensembles.
2.     Enticing famous jazz artists to come to campus, rehearse their music, and perform with my students (Rob McConnell, Jim McNeely, Rufus Reid, among others).
3.     Assigning jazz arranging projects using the instrumentations of the professional ensembles I lead, with the understanding that if their work is completed at a professional level, it will be performed by the ensemble.
4.     Organizing an annual concert series, featuring selected students with faculty members, as well as facilitating performances by student-led ensembles.

My frequent engagement in cross-disciplinary collaboration illustrates my conviction that pooling creative and fiscal resources is worthwhile and beneficial.  In addition to my own collaborations with colleagues in art, drama, dance and music, I have instigated numerous projects directly involving students.  Jazz arranging students wrote the music for a children’s choir CD, ensembles prepared performance pieces with dance students, and orchestral string players were united with the jazz ensemble to form a studio orchestra for which new music was commissioned.  In the near future, I aim to broaden the scope of my collaborations, by integrating music with the liberal arts.

I have found that my ongoing professional development as a musician (lessons, courses, etc.) has a direct correlation to my effectiveness as a teacher.  In addition to expanding my cache of skills and resources, I am reminded of the challenges and obstacles in learning, thereby making me a more insightful, patient and thoughtful teacher.  My resolve to coherently explain and break down how and what I do is intensified.

Allowing my students to learn from the real-world scenarios I create is fundamental to my teaching philosophy.  My goal is to equip my students to meet their full potential.  It is fulfilling to see my current students meeting their musical goals. It brings me joy to see my former students working successfully in a variety of musical capacities.