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.