Archive for the ‘Jazz Arranging’ Category

Long and McQuade Reading Clinic 2013 - New Music for Jazz Ensemble

On August 21, 2013 I directed a reading sessions of new big band arrangements and compositions for Long and McQuade Music here in Vancouver. This big event has held over several days and included reading sessions for new music for wind ensemble, jazz band and choir along with several related workshops. The main point of these reading sessions is to expose and promote ensemble music aimed at music educators.

The band in front of me that day was made up of teachers, students, big band enthusiasts, a couple of hired guns and their task was to sight read all the music in front of them, some of it quite challenging. I didn’t choose the music myself, that was up to the Long and McQuade folks, particularly Greg Passmore. We read through a huge range of styles, tempos and levels of difficulty. While new music reading sessions have been going on for many years, this particular year marked an important event - this reading session was combined with the annual Northwest Musical Services reading session. Northwest Music, founded by the late Bill Stonier in the very early 1970s, had just been sold to Long and McQuade Musical Instruments, marking a major change on the music retail and music education scenes. Not long after Bill established his business, he started the yearly Northwest Music new music reading sessions, always in late August, to promote new publications for concert band, jazz band and choir. These sessions were a big hit with educators. Besides the exposure to newer music, Bill also added a big social element - there was the hang at the store, the hang at the venue, a harbour cruise and a barbecue at Bill’s home. On top of the socializing between the educators Bill also made sure to bring in the composers and arrangers of the new music and they were always a big part of the hang. I worked for Bill at these events for 2 summers in the mid-1970s right after I graduated from UBC and I remember the reading sessions vividly and through those experiences I was able to meet some wonderful writers and educators. They were great fun for everyone. Bill was, and still is I think, a major figure in the music retail business. You could say he helped revolutionize the music retail business. Many of his ideas have been successfully incorporated into other music stores.

Anyway, many of the teachers who attended the reading session, and some that did not attend, have asked for my thoughts on the music we read through on that Wednesday morning. So, I thought I might post my notes here. I don’t know how helpful they will be, as they are very informal. I didn’t mean for anyone else to read them, they were notes I made for myself in preparation for the reading session. There are some excellent charts in this collection so I’m sure everyone should be able to find a few things that will fit their program. Besides my short notes, I should note that most publishers have mp3s of their publications that can be streamed or downloaded for study. A few allow you to look at the full score.

The 2013 L&M Jazz Ensemble Reading Clinic
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

1.) Things Ain’t What They Used To Be - Mercer Ellington/Rich Sigler Grade 2 Belwin

Rich Sigler is jazz trumpeter and current music director for the USAF Airmen of Note.

  • Med Blues in Bb with some reharmonization.
  • Simplified melody (missing part of the initial triplet)
  • Playing pickups - m.1- m.4 especially with other sections picking off the last 1/8th (trbs) can be a little difficult for some students.
  • Awkward phrasing in m33-34 (tenors/trbs). While the phrasing does work I found the students were able to better understand the phrase by making the 1/8th on beat 3 (m.33) and beat 1 (m.34) long
  • Have fun with the length of the fall. Students often short change falls. Have fun playing falls of different lengths, but remind them to keep the air moving to sustain the sound.
  • The solo section - Alto 1 (2 choruses), Trpt 2 (2 chor)
  • M.79 the trbs shifting between voiced support of trumpets and the Bb plunger notes is a little awkward, especially for smaller students. The plungers can be omitted, which makes the phrase a little easier to play.
  • You can add solos. Maybe some piano off the top. If you use a piano solo as the intro start playing the written intro as the last 2 and a 1/2 bars of the 12 bar blues form. That is, all the horns will have a 10 and a 1/2 bar rest.
  • I used this very nice chart with 12 to 15 year olds at the 2013 UBC Summer Music Institute with great success.

2.) Top Dog - Greg Yasinitsky Grade 2 Kendor

Saxophonist Greg Yasinitsky is the Coordinator of Jazz Studies and Regents Professor of Music at Washington State University.

  • Med Up Blues in F
  • Some nice simple tutti writing that can really roar, especially the forte pianos.
  • M.10 the anticipation followed closely by a downbeat can feel a little awkward as the tendency is want to play the next note as an anticipation as well. I think of these as rhythmic speed bumps.
  • Nice stop time chorus
  • Solo space for trpt 2 (2 chor) which can be opened up. Try adding improvised bkgs based on the blues scale
  • Sax soli - manageable

3.) It’s Just You and Me - Fred Stride Grade 2.5 Sierra

  • Written for the UBC Summer Music Institute
  • Ballad - alternating between swing and even 1/4s
  • Work on shaping of phrases, blend, tuning, releases, time (hard because of slow tempo), dynamic range
  • Solo space for piano - written or changes
  • The short 4 bar interludes can be improvised. I’ve used vibes as the soloist. Could also be guitar or even a harmon muted trumpet - D Dorian/Eb Dorian

4.) It’s Only a Paper Moon - Michael Sweeney Grade 1.5 Hal Leonard

  • Medium swing
  • Classic Harold Arlen standard
  • Trombones have the melody :)
  • Nice sectional contrasts through chart
  • Solos - Trb, Trpt
  • DS
  • Nice ending, a bit of a surprise with some new material and a crescendo to the end.

5.) Old Devil Moon - Rick Stitzel Grade 1.5 Hal Leonard

  • An accessible, very short, medium easy latin (bossa nova) and swing chart
  • The change to and from latin and swing can be a challenge for younger players without changing the tempo
  • Solo space is for trpt 2. You could also treat this as a trumpet soli. But be careful, as the of return of the tutti may tire the trumpets, especially trpt 1.
  • To lengthen the chart a little you could add solo space by using the DS twice (horns would not play m.68 the 1st time. On the first DS maybe add a piano or guitar solo. Solo down to m.68 then do the DS again as written, this time playing m.68.
  • Bkgs are not necessary, or even desirable, for piano solos. However, the trb/bari figure at m.53 to the down beat of m.59 might be nice behind a guitar solo. The trb. bass line at m.59 would be better behind a guitar or horn solo.

6.) Mack the Knife - Kurt Weill/Rich deRosa Grade 1 Belwin

Rich DeRosa is an associate professor at the University of North Texas where he is the director of jazz composition/arranging studies

  • Scored for 5 saxes and 6 brass. Will work for 2 altos, 1 tenor, 2 trpts and 1 trb.
  • Medium swinger, begins with the big intro and settles into a nice 2 beat feel. The hi hat technique is suggested on the score (part?) but is incomplete. The hi hat is always played open-closed-open-open-closed-open. IE - only the down beats of 2 and 4 are closed, the “ands” are open. This gives the HH more sustain and keeps the groove moving forward
  • Nice open 5 part sax voicings at m.37
  • Solo - Pno (16) Trpt 1 (16), Alto 1 (16), Drs (have player improvise own but be aware of the ensemble ins and outs. Think of solo fills as rhythmic connectors. Each fill needs to come out on a beat to make the next horn entrance clear.
  • This chart could use a few more rehearsal markers (the score has them every 16 bars).

7.) Misty - Erroll Garner/Terry White Grade 1 Belwin

Terry White, a veteran music educator in the Portland Maine area, is also an active a trumpet player and arranger/composer.

  • Slow swing ballad.
  • Scored for 5 saxes and 6 brass. Will work for 2 altos, 1 tenor, 2 trpts and 1 trb.
  • Intro is a borrowed from a Tadd Dameron tune - On A Misty Night - a very subtle connect via tune titles.
  • Melody is set in a Li’l Darlin’ soft tutti style
  • Avoid playing this too slow.
  • This chart provides opportunities for working on dynamic contrast, as the melody moves up and down in register, blend, tuning and pulse.
  • Solos - Alto 1 (8), Trpt 1 (8)
  • I suspect the 1st trumpet note at m.58, the second note, should be a written G (see Alto 1).
  • A nice ensemble chart, it is probably better suited to a grade 2 or 2.5 level band due to the slow tempo and slightly more advanced swing rhythms in the melody.

8.) Jive Samba - Nat Adderley/Terry White Grade 1 Belwin

  • Scored for 5 saxes and 6 brass. Playable by 2 altos, 1 tenor, 2 trpts, 1 trb.
  • Simple latin (bossa with ride) or light rock type feel.
  • A re-harmonized arrangement, changing the funky F7(#9) chord of Nat Adderley’s original to the lighter and lower D Dorian. The lower key and dorian mode makes it a little more playable by young players.
  • Melody for small group Trpt 1, alto 1 and tenor 1 - then a change to trpt 2 playing lead over both altos and tenor 1. After the familiar tutti phrase trpt 1 plays over the 3 saxes.
  • There are 2 solo sections - #1 is assigned to Tenor 1, but the solo is also cued for alto 1. Solo section #2 - is assigned to Trpt 1, but is also cued in Trb 1.
  • There is no additional ensemble writing. Strictly melody and solo space.

9.) Mood Swings - Lennie Niehaus Grade 3 Kendor

Lennie Niehaus, a prolific arranger and composer, was lead alto and soloist in the 1950s with Stan Kenton. He has also been involved with film scoring, notably with Clint Eastwood.

  • Medium swing - to slow rubato (a cappella) - to jazz waltz. The shift to the jazz waltz will take a little preparation. Drs give a 1 bar setup (fill).
  • The ride cymbal pattern is written as 1/4-dotted 1/8-16th, but should be played as if seeing 1/8ths
  • M.3 and m.7 are challenges due to the downbeat after the anticipation.
  • Lennie loves sax solis (m.55). This one will be a challenge.
  • The chart returns to 4/4 at m.55.
  • The saxes are followed by a brass soli with Trpt 2 on the lead (m.69). Trpt 1, and Trb1 re-enter with the powerful tutti at m.71
  • Solos - the solos section is long - 32 bars. The solos are open. Bkgs are behind the second A and the bridge.
  • Big strong tutti at m.111
  • Piano solo at the bridge. Lennie suggests guitar or bass could possible solo on the bridge.
  • The rhythm section parts contain only chord symbols. No written bass or piano parts.

10.) Stuck in a Groove - Lennie Niehaus Grade 2 Kendor

  • Another easy feeling medium swinger by Niehaus.
  • Tutti intro with a nice inner moving Trpt 2 line which is not easily audible on the demo recording. To strengthen the line maybe write out those 6 bars for Alto 1. The written Alto part is duplicated in the trbs.
  • Alto 1 and Trpt 1 have the melody.
  • Lots of ensemble throughout.
  • The solo section is long (32 bars). For younger players, for which this chart is designed, the solos could be shortened to 8 bars each. You could even have soloists trade 4s.
  • the RS parts are written out

11.) Gentle Rain - Kris Berg Grade 4 Belwin

Bass player, composer, arranger Kris Berg is the Director of Jazz Studies at Collin College near Dallas, Texas. Has his own big band - Kris Berg & the Metroplexity Big Band.

  • Pretty bossa nova arrangement of the Luis Bonfa classic. Has a ballad-like attitude.
  • The melody is played by an outside soloist - flugel on the demo recording.
  • Calls for 4 flugel horns throughout. These can be covered with the trumpets pointing their bells in the stands (not too close) this will take the edge off the sound of the trumpets.
  • The trombones need bucket mutes throughout. Again, pointing into the music stand will take off a fair amount of brightness.
  • The guitar comping rhythm is notated with chord symbols. The piano and bass are written.
  • This is a wall to wall feature requiring a strong soloist.
  • The ensemble writing beginning at m.92 is beautifully written.
  • This chart never gets too loud, but maintains a lightness throughout.

12.) Elvin and the Hip Monks - Doug Beach/George Schutack Grade 1 Kendor

Doug Beach is a performer, composer, publisher, educator, arranger, trumpet player, and Grammy Award winner. He is also the jazz director at Elmhurst College in Chicago. George Shutack is a keyboard player in the Chicago area. He has been associated as a writer with both Doug Beach Music and Kendor Music.

  • A funky, boogaloo-styled blues chart.
  • Written with just 4 interchangeable horn parts for bands with smaller instrumentation. This is also an opportunity to work soloing without all the hassle of learning a fully realized big band chart.
  • The solo section, a C blues, is open. Backgrounds are provided, but this could also be an opportunity to make up backgrounds by ear using the C blues scale.
  • There is an effective ensemble chorus at m.56.

13.) Swing State - Doug Beach/George Schutack Grade 1 Kendor

  • Another chart for 4 horns, this time a medium Bb blues Basie-ish swinger.
  • Solo section is open with bkgs provided.
  • There is a 1 chorus shout.
  • The melody returns harmonized at m.69.
  • Effective chart for a small band, or bands with less than a full compliment.

14.) El Castor Loco - Andy Ballantyne Grade 3 Clovertone

Andy Ballantyne is a highly skilled and respected Toronto saxophone player. He plays with most of the top Toronto jazz orchestras and leads his own 11 piece Andy Ballantyne Large Ensemble

  • A latin chart for stronger and more experienced groups.
  • The independence required by the drummer is always a challenge.
  • Rhythms are all notated.
  • Sax soli at m.28
  • Shifts into a boss nova-ish groove at m.44 and continues through the solo section
  • Solo section is a bit long for younger or less experienced soloists. The solos can easily be shortened and divided up. the original latin feel returns in the latter half of the solo section
  • Powerful shout section followed by a horn-drs exchange

15.) Friday Night Special - Christian Overton Grade 2 Clovertone

Trombonist Christian Overton performs with many Toronto ensembles including the nine-piece funk band King Sunshine, The Toronto Jazz Orchestra, and The Art of Jazz Orchestra. Christian is also the featured composer and musical director for The Composers Collective Big Band. On top of his playing he is the owner of Clovertone Music

  • A medium up swinger for younger players. The trumpet range tops out at written B above the staff.
  • The solo section is a 4 bar vamp.

16.) Oclupaca - Duke Ellington/Michael Mossman Grade 4 Hal Leonard

A New York based trumpet player who is is equally skilled as a composer and arranger. Mossman has a special affinity for latin jazz.

  • This is a wonderful, and fun, re-invention of Duke’s classic composition from his Latin American Suite. Mossman adds very little new melodic material but instead re-harmonizes the original material and moves the various musical components around.
  • The challenges are directed primarily at the drums, especially making the shift to and from the 12/8 groove.
  • There are several typos. The most glaring is in the Alto 1 part in m.8-9, which should look like m.117-118. In m.16 trpts 3 and 4 are missing the anticipation (see AS2 and TS 1) and an accidental is missing in trpt 3 in m.43 - the second C should be C# (see AS2).
  • Definitely for more experienced groups.
  • While working on this chart it would be great to spend a little time playing the Ellington original which is available as part of the Essentially Ellington Series published by Alfred Music.
  • Regarding the demo recording - I do feel that the tempo on the demo recording is a bit bright. I found that pulling the tempo back a little, about 10%, really helped it find a great groove and still maintain the wonderful intensity of the wring.
  • This is an excellent arrangement.
  • I performed this during the senior week of the 2013 UBC Summer Music Institute and, while it took quite a bit of work, the students really enjoyed playing it. Everyone had something challenging and fun to play.

17.) Fiesta del Tigre - Mike Story Grade 1 Belwin

  • For very young bands. Written for 5 saxes, 6 brass. Playable by 2 altos, 1 tenor, 2 trpts and 1 trb.
  • Slow majestic intro followed by a latin groove (bossa using the ride cym). This is a nod to the famous Bill Holman arrangement (Stan Kenton) Malaguena
  • An emphasis on the trumpet section.
  • Written solo for trpt
  • This one works well for the younger players and has a nice energetic punch

18.) Matador - Fred Stride Grade 4 Sierra

  • Originally written for the UBC Summer Music Institute.
  • An even 8ths swaggering Spanish flavoured chart.
  • There is a fair bit of independent part writing throughout, so players need to be on their toes.
  • Solo section is for TS 1 or Guitar.
  • The trumpet section is featured in a soli.
  • A short drum solo.
  • The loud tuttis should be big and powerful. The band should “roar.”
  • This piece enjoys a second life as a wind ensemble piece, Parade of the Matadors (the original title), which was recorded by Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble (Trajectories) in 2005.

19.) Chili Pepper Christmas - Doug Beach/George Shutack Grade 3 Kendor

  • A fun latin, mostly samba, Christmas medley of I Saw Three Ships, Angels We Have Heard On High and Jingle Bells.
  • Solo section #1 is open (8 bars)
  • Solo section #2 is also open - 32 bars
  • Drum solo - 8 bars to trade 2s with horns (16 bars).
  • Ensemble to the end.

20.) Ye Jazzy Gentlemen - Peter Blair Grade 1 Belwin

  • A medium tempo, cool swinger for younger players of the very familiar Christmas carol.
  • The melody is passed around for 2 choruses with an 8 bar interlude between.
  • The interlude returns, modulates and is followed by more melody up a step.
  • There is no solo section although one could be added. For example, instead of going on into m.35 go back to m.9 for a couple of solos then continue into m.35. You could also solo over a Cmin7-Dmin7/G vamp, although this could quickly become boring
  • Note the swing phrasing on the parts does not actually follow the common practice of slurring to a downbeat (see trpts. m.4).

21.) Backrow Politics - Gordon Goodwin/Peter Blair Grade 2 Belwin

  • A simplified version of Gordon Goodwin’s funky chart.
  • As with the original this version features the trumpet section. Many of the rhythms in Goodwin’s original have been straightened out. However, if your students are familiar with the original it would not take much to return some of the original phrasing.
  • Solo section is very long for young players. This should be an opportunity to have everyone take a solo.
  • Due to the solo section and the trumpet melody throughout this is a real fun workout for the trumpets.

22.) Told Ya So - Gordon Goodwin Grade 3 Belwin

  • This is cool school music with a Miles Davis So What attitude. The bridge goes up a minor 3rd instead on a 1/2 step as with the the Davis tune. The tune also has an interlude.
  • Solo section - The solo section is open with changes written for AS 1, TS 1, Bari, Trpt 3, Trb. 1. Piano or guitar could also solo. If a piano solo it would be good to omit many of the background figures. As with many of Goodwin’s tunes the solo section can be a little long for some soloists. Don’t be reluctant to beak it up.
  • The solo section is followed by some extensive and excellent ensemble writing.
  • Excellent chart.

23.) Motor City - Roger Schmidli Grade 1 Brolga

Roger Schmindl resides in Melbourne, Australia where he is a professional trombone player, composer, conductor and music educator. He is currently Head of Brass and Bands at Scotch College, Melbourne where he directs the Senior Wind Symphony and the Scotch College Senior Stage Band.

  • The title Motor City refers to music of Detroit and the styles associated with Motown records. Very simple riff based melodic ideas.
  • Solo section - 14 - 16 bars (m.15-16 are a break). Solo indications and changes for Alto 1, Tenor 1, Trpt 1. Could also have a guitar solo.
  • Playable with optional reduced or expanded instrumentations.

24.) A Moment Like This - Larry Neeck Grade 3 Barnhouse

In addition to composing, Mr. Neeck teaches instrumental music in the Webster (NY) Central School District. He directs concert bands, jazz ensembles, and is co-founder and director of the Willink Middle School Student/Parent Band.

  • A very simple 1970’s pop flavoured ballad. The score is for alto sax 1 but the recorded demo uses a flugel horn.
  • Trumpets use straight mutes.
  • Opportunity to work on dynamics. Ballads are often played at a single volume - soft. This chart has several big loud moments.
  • No improvised solo section - the feature is written out.

25.) March Bopish - Mike Carubia Grade 3.5 Smart Chart/Barnhouse

Mike Carubia is an active trumpet player in New York. He currently teaches at Ward Melville H.S., East Setauket, New York.

  • This chart has more than a passing reference to Benny Golson’s Blues March and some of the big band charts of Thad Jones. The conductor notes state the quarter note accompaniment of the melody is “pseudo corny melodic articulations.” For me this is a little dangerous and may encourage performers to play the chart as some type of cartoon music. Students would be very well served to check out Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers recording of Blues Walk or the Thad Jones recording of A That’s Freedom. These performances illustrate the fun, but serious, aspect of the music.
  • Trumpets are split into 2 harmons and 2 cups. Using the optional/additional flute part on the initial melody brings it much closer to Thad Jones’ music
  • Trombone 1 travels up to the high Ab.
Solo section is open for any soloist. 16 bar choruses.
  • A  very nice sax soli followed by some nice sax/brass interplay a-la Thad Jones
  • A good shout
  • An excellent chart.

26.) Barbeque Sauce - Mike Carubia Grade 3.5 Smart Chart/Barnhouse

  • This is a funk chart with blues infused melodic lines, with a slight nod to the funk charts of the great Thad Jones.
  • Because of the 16th notes in the saxes and trumpets the chart looks harder than it is.
  • The solo section, open for any soloist, is an 8 bar section of alternating F7 and Eb7 chords.
  • Some nice ensemble writing after the solos
  • Fully notated RS parts

27.) Cold Duck Time - Eddie Harris/Eric Morales Grade 3 Belwin

Eric Morales teaches and plays trumpet professionally in the New Orleans area, in addition to maintaining an active composing and conducting schedule.

  • Fun rock-funk chart that begins with a Birdland beat (Open-closed HH with cross stick).
  • A 16 bars solo section with space for AS 1 or Bari.
  • Some nice stop time breaks
  • Solo space later for guitar or trpt 2
  • The final ensemble beginning at m.83 is a long haul, but very well written and quite exciting
  • A possible printing error in trpts 1-2 in m.35 written G should probably be and Ab as trpts 3-4.

28.) Message from Westlake - Mike Kamuf Grade 3 Belwin

Mike Kamuf freelances as a commercial trumpet player in the Baltimore and Washington DC areas. He is currently the Director of Bands and Orchestras and Music Department Chairperson at John T. Baker Middle School in Damascus, MD.

  • This medium up swinger is based on the changes to the classic Bernie’s Tune. Bernie’s Tune was a favourite in the 1950s particularly with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. The voiced ensemble of trumpet, tenor, bari, trb and guitar is typical of the lighter jazz on the westcoast in the 1950s and early early 60s. On the bridge Kamuf uses 3 separate small groups.
  • No hiding in this chart.
  • Cup mutes for both trpts and trbs are important to the sound of the chart.
  • Solo section - Trumpet is up first with a full chorus solo (32). Guitar also has an indication to solo at this point. A written solo for both trpt and guitar is provided, as it is in most charts for student bands. Tenor takes the next chorus.
  • A solo trpt vs tenor exchange.
  • Some very good powerful ensemble writing in places.
  • There is a drum - hrn exchange towards the end.
  • Excellent chart.

A Concert of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music

Duke Ellington 1965

Duke Ellington 1965

Here were are once again, having the great fortune to be able to perform some of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. This will be our 3rd time performing this great music in an effort to support the First United Church and their mission to help the homeless on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. This concert has started to become a yearly highlight for me and I’m sure it is the same for all the other performers and organizers.

Duke Ellington described this music: “This music is the most important thing I’ve ever done, or am ever likely to do. This is personal, not career. Now I can say out loud to all the world what I have been saying to myself for years on my knees.” While the centre of this music is the spirituality, it never feels overtly so. Nor does the singing take over, with the jazz orchestra taking a strict accompaniment role. Every performer is integral to the music. This was always one of Duke’s striking compositional traits, everyone contributed to the sound of the music in a deep, meaningful way. The great big band in our concerts, which is made up of some of the finest jazz performers in Vancouver, which in addition to a superb accompaniment role, shines on two instrumental features and provides a generous amount of solo statements throughout the evening. This is a total jazz experience.

For our 2011 concert presentation we are adding, or rather changing around, a few songs for this third performance. New this year are Is God A Three Letter Word For Love and Ain’t Nobody Nowhere Nothin’ Without God, both from Duke’s Third Sacred Concert and Meditation from the Second Sacred Concert. Also on the program are Come Sunday, Praise God and Dance, The Lord’s Prayer, It’s Freedom, Don’t Get Down on Your Knees To Pray, David Danced Before the Lord, In The Beginning (which won the 1966 Grammy award for best jazz composition), Tell Me It’s The Truth, The Shepherd, Ninety-Nine Percent and The Biggest and Busiest Intersection, which is an all out jazz tour-de force for the band.

It was singer Dee Daniels who really got the ball rolling on performing this wonderful music. We had done a concert for Festival Vancouver in 2008 titled Duke, Dee and Me. Dee sang some Ellington songs at the concert, one of which was Tell Me It’s The Truth, from one of Ellington’s Sacred Concerts. In her little preamble before we performed the tune she put forth to the audience how great it would be to perform Duke’s Sacred Music in Vancouver. Someone in the audience contacted her and away we all went. A partnership with First United Church, supporting their mission helping the homeless on the Downtown Eastside, was the final result.

What superlatives can I write about Dee Daniels that hasn’t already been said? I guess all I really need to say is that working with Dee is always a great pleasure. Not only is she a great singer, but she is a very warm person who cares deeply about every single aspect of the concert. For more on Dee click here

Last year was the first time I had ever worked with Marcus Mosely. I had seen him perform a few times over the years and I do remember meeting him briefly at a concert that we were involved with up at Whistler a few years ago. Marcus, like Dee, is also very warm and professional. And man, can he sing! For more on Marcus click here

Tap dancer Alex Dugale joined us for the first time last year. Alex is originally from Seattle and is currently finishing his music degree in saxophone performance at the Eastman School of Music. Alex’s tap techinque, impeccable time and imagination are fantastic to behold. He plays jazz with his feet!

The 12 voice Sacred Music Gospel Choir is comprised of some top level professional singers and they are also great nice to work with. The first year we had the wonderful Phoenix Choir but their busy schedule did not allow them to continue for a second year. However, a few members of that choir, along with other interested and skillful singers, wanted to continue to be a part of the performance. The choir which is managed by Mike Angell and Rob Hollins is: Corlynn Hanney, Crystal Hicks, Erin Hollins, Gregory Ferrugia, Matthew Smith, Miles Ramsay, Mike Angell, Patti Fletcher, Phil Jenion, Rob Hollins, Sara Ramsay, Siri Olesen.

This year we are being joined by the gospel group The Sojourners. The Sojouners are Marcus Mosely, Will Sanders and Khari McClelland. For more on the group  click here

Finally, the orchestra, or rather big band, is made up of some of my favourite Vancouver musicians. Their passion for making music and their individual and collective skill sets are truly world class. I always feel I have the best seat in the house when I stand in front of them.

Orchestra Personnel:

Conductor/Director: Fred Stride
Saxophones: Jens Christiansen, Aaron Hardie, Bill Runge, Mike Braverman, Chad Makela
Trumpets: Derry Byrne, Kent Wallace, Tom Shorthouse, Chris Davis
Trombones: Dennis Esson, Rod Murray, Jeremy Berkman
Piano: Ross Taggart
Bass: Andre Lachance
Drums: Bernie Arai

Our host, as for the past 2 years, is CBC’s Rick Cluff. Rick, like everyone else connected with this production, is also great to work with. He is warm and knowledgeable and a genuine fan of both the music and performers. Since this concert does not take place in a formal concert hall, but in a large church, Dee and I felt that the experience needed a little “help.” Amplification, or microphones are used only on the solo singers, choir and instrumental soloists, while the band is heard acoustically. Staging is also brought in to elevate the performers above floor level, giving us a stage. Finally, the concert is filmed and shown on a giant screen behind the performers, greatly adding the concert experience.

I hope you can join us for this great evening of music and dance and The Sacred Music of Duke Ellington.

For more on First United Church and their great work click here

Purchase tickets through www.eventbrite.com click here

Event: Sacred Music of Duke Ellington

Date: Friday, November 18, 2011 at 8:00 PM (doors open at 7:00)

Location: St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church 1012 Nelson Street (Corner of Burrard & Nelson) Vancouver, British Columbia

The Sacred Music of Duke Ellington concert is a fundraising event for the work of First United Church, a place of refuge for people who are homeless on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For more information, please visit www.firstunited.ca.

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My March 2011 visit to Toronto, Kingston and Montreal - Part 3

March 6, 2011 - Day 5 - Montreal

Sunday was my travel day to Montreal - during a heavy snowfall. Jocelyn Couture drove me, along with tenor player Chet Doxas and trombonist Taylor Donaldson. All I can say is it proved to be a bit of a white knuckle trip. Jocelyn is very good driver, but coming from the west coast where we don’t get a lot of snow, the speed of the trip took me aback. I ended the day by having dinner at my good friend Ron Di Lauro’s place. What a great cook! Jocelyn Couture and Aron Doyle joined us. It was great see to see Aron again. Aron had been a student of mine at UBC when I first started working out there over 2o years ago. Another connection with Aron is that I had worked a fair bit with his jazz pianist father Bob when I was just starting out as a working trumpet player. Bob Doyle is one those all to common unsung great musicians that exist everywhere, but go unrecorded, and often unappreciated. Bob was always very nice to me, as well as encouraging. I guess it helped that I knew more than a few old tunes.

March 7, 2011 - Day 6

My first day in Montreal was fairly light. I had the morning free to spend a little time reading the new Thelonious Monk bio by Robin Kelley. What a great read! I love the way Kelley weaves the historical-social background into Monk’s story. One of the best jazz musician biographies I have ever read. After lunch I met up with Ron Di Lauro and we made our way to McGill University for some sessions with a couple of the big bands.

Since McGill big bands 1 and 2 rehearse at the same time it was decided that I would spend about 45 minutes with each group. I started out with the schools top big band, directed by Gordon Foote. Gordon had asked me to bring 1 or 2 things with me for the band to read through. One of the pieces I brought along was The Spanish Tinge. This is an aggressive and uptempo number that shifts between 3/4 and 4/4, which at one point has the drummer playing in 4/4 while everyone else is in 3/4. What can I say about the quality of this “student” band? The band read it down like they had been working on it for weeks, or even months. I was quite impressed by their overall musicianship. This is a very professional band in both skill and attitude. There are some great players coming up. I finished off this 45 minute session talking a little about my music and answering a few questions.

I then moved across the hall to spend a little time with Ron Di Lauro’s band, McGill’s number 2 big band. This band was working on 3 student compositions/arrangements. But instead of dealing directly with the band and performance issues, I ended up giving a little critique and advice to each of the writers.

After the big band sessions I met up with the folks that are developing a new virtual music-minus-one - The Open Orchestra. My connection to this research project is through my work as an instructor at UBC, which is involved in the development of the project, and that two of my big band pieces are being used in the project - Something For Ernie and Among The Pyramids (both published by Sierra Music Publications). This is a great idea, which is still in the development stage, a 21st century version of the old “play along” recording. In this case the student sits at computer console and through the use of an additional 3 video screens is actually placed into the band. For example if the student plays first trombone they would see the director and the rest of the band from that vantage point. They would also hear the sound from the rest of the band coming at them from the same perspective - the first trumpet would be coming from behind, the drums to the right and the saxophones in front, just as in a real band. For more info go to click here and click here

The Open Orchestra - The student perspective

The Open Orchestra - The student perspective

I then went out for dinner with Ron Di Lauro, Chris Lane, my old trumpet playing friend, who drove up from Ottawa, and writer/trumpet player Joe Sullivan and his wife. I had a great time meeting Joe and discussing jazz arranging and composition. By the way Joe has a terrific new big band CD out - Joe Sullivan Big Band: Northern Ontario Suite (Perry Lake Records).

Joe Sullivan Big Band

Joe Sullivan Big Band


March 8, 2011 - Day 7

On Tuesday morning Ron picked me up and we made our way to the University of Montreal for a jazz composition/arranging session and a big band rehearsal. Two things concerned me about this visit - the University of Montreal is French speaking school and while I did take 5 years of French in high school like most Canadian students, I do not speak any French. I wasn’t particularly good in my high school French class and I haven’t used the language since. The other thing was they left the approach/topics up to me for the writing session. Well, I should not have been concerned, the students were wonderful and accommodated me by speaking in English. As far as a topic went I thought I might play some excerpts from a couple of my recordings. I started with a few things from my big band CD The Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra: Forward Motion. I talked about the pieces, the inspirations for the pieces and how I set about putting those ideas into a musical form. Then, while the track was playing I would point out a few things. I felt by starting the session this way I would show my creative jazz side. I followed this up by playing a few things from my CBC recording Showboat which is a jazzy orchestral disc. My main purpose in playing things from this disc was to emphasize the importance of a broad technique. I played them everything from straight up orchestral pops, an imitation of Mozart, to a blending of Robert Farnon, Ravel and Bartok in an arrangement of All The Things You Are (Showboat - CBC Records). That particular arrangement, which I originally wrote in 1985 for a CBC project with Symphony Nova Scotia, always gets a strong, positive reaction.

Showboat-2

With the University of Montreal Big Band we worked on Opposition Party and part of the commission I wrote for the 2008 SOCAN/IAJE Phil Nimmons Established Composer Award - By All Accounts: Out There… This piece was premiered at the final IAJE Conference in Toronto in January 2008 and Paul Read’s Orchestra had the “misfortune” to be chosen to play this beast. Maybe I should start writing in 4/4 again? This piece, which is not for the faint of heart, is an uptempo work that avoids II-V relationships and never settles on a particular meter for too long, even changing metre in the middle of phrases. The UofM sounded very good, and its great to see and hear bands that take your difficult music seriously and strive to play it well.

The afternoon jazz composition and arranging session at McGill was very well attended and extremely satisfying. I took the same approach here as I did at the University of Montreal earlier in the day - playing excerpts from the same cds and making comments as the music played. The session ended with a question period. Interestingly, in all 3 writing master classes (Humber, UofM, McGill) I was never asked how to voice such-and-such chord. All the questions were general in nature with a few dealing with esthetics.

March 9, 2011 - Day 8

For my final day in Montreal I met up with clarinetist/tenor saxophonist James Danderfer, who is from Vancouver and working on his master’s degree at McGill. We wandered down a very cold Saint Catharines Street slowly making our way to Old Montreal. I know, I’m a west coast wuss. I’ll take the rain over the cold. We stopped in at a nice bistro for some breakfast then made our way to a museum. I love museums and art galleries and the Pointe-à-Callière Museum of Archaeology and History did not disappoint. The museum is built on the foundations of some old structures, including the Custom’s House which my great-grandparents would have visited when they came to Canada from England in 1906. We then had lunch at another great cafe then walked back to my hotel, then it was off to the airport and home.

While this trip did cause things to pile up at home I am really glad to have visited all the various schools, to have heard some great playing, made some great music with Greg Runions and his big band in Kingston and to visit with some old, and now some new, friends. I have to do this again.

Finally, a huge thank you to Greg Runions for making this trip happen in the first place and to Denny Christianson and Gord Sheard at Humber College, Ron Di Lauro at the University of Montreal and McGill and Joe Sullivan and Gord Foote at McGill University.

The case for Bob Graettinger and other musical experimenters of the late 1940s

I wrote this short little essay a few years ago for an email group I belong to, so I thought I might post it here.

When the big bands of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and Harry James were at their height of popularity in the late 1930s and early 1940s they primarily played popular tunes designed for their dancing and light entertainment value. With the rise of other popular forms of music, especially vocalists, and the waning public interest in big bands as entertainment vehicles, some of the surviving bands of the mid-to-late 1940s began to experiment with music that was designed to be listen to. This change in musical direction also accompanied a gradual shift in performing venues, from ballrooms to concert halls. The biggest names to go in this direction were Duke Ellington, Boyd Raeburn, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman and of course Stan Kenton.

Removing many of the necessary musical requirements to please the dancing public composers and arrangers, by the late 1940s, became free to try writing jazz music that incorporated elements such as irregular rhythms, the absence of a bass line or a steady pulse from the drums, original melodies that were not singable, dissonant harmony, different types of ensemble voicings, longer sections for improvisation. While some of the music written during that time is forgettable, or rather more graciously heard as “noble experiments,” there are many memorable pieces including George Handy’s The Bloos and Dalvatore Sally, George Russell’s Cubana Be Cubana Bop, Eddie Sauter’s Hangover Square, as well his exquisite arrangement of Summertime, Ralph Burn’s Summer Sequence, Gil Evans’ arrangements of La Paloma and Spanish Dance, Duke Ellington’s The Tattooed Bride and The Clothed Woman, Bob Graettinger’s City Of Glass and the many compositions and arrangements of Pete Rugolo and Stan Kenton, including the Prologue Suite and Artistry In Percussion. I hear the musical explorations of that time as being very liberating and that these musical experiments, failed or not, deserve to be seriously considered for what they helped to give to the future of jazz arranging and composition. Consider the mere idea of a Fugue For Rhythm Section (Pete Rugolo) let alone its intrinsic value.

While European musical developments after WWII had a long musical history to build upon, or reject, jazz composers had no extensive history of big band music as a form of ‘art music’ and were creating something quite new. Duke Ellington’s large scale work Black, Brown and Beige from 1943 was criticized for its failings in relation to European composition. But, there was no structural model, or tradition, for Duke’s new ideas. The same can be said about the work of Pete Rugolo, Eddie Sauter and Bob Graettinger.

Despite the mixed results of Graettinger’s work for Stan Kenton, I feel that both his compositions and his arrangements of standards are the ultimate in musical liberation for their time, akin to the work of Charles Ives, another musical anomaly. Yes, Graettingter’s music is audacious and sometimes totally overwhelming in sound. However, judged in its place in time it should be, if not loved, appreciated for what it helped bring to jazz composition and arranging.

By the late 1950s this tendency to incorporate concepts of classical composition into jazz music was finally given a label by Gunther Schuller - Third Stream Music. While this term does tend to evoke the late 1950s, the idea is still with us in the present work of Bill Holman, Bob Brookmeyer, Jim McNeely, Maria Schneider and many other contemporary composers and arrangers. These writers have moved away from the formulaic chorus forms of jazz to a more European model of compositional ideal - that of musical development. On top of this they bring the rhythms of jazz, space for improvisation and opportunities for self expression by the performers. With more time (roughly 60 years) modern jazz composers have developed a greater sense of control and balance in their work. Those musical experiments of the mid-to-late 1940s are what we have built many of our present day big band compositional and arranging aesthetic values upon. I am very grateful to our preceding masters for having shown us a way.

Thank You Rob!

I have been very lax about getting off my butt and posting something to my blog. There always seemed to be something else to do, particularly writing music. Well, the recent passing of Rob McConnell has finally caused me to write something.

Thinking about Rob’s passing and listening to his music again has brought a few things to mind.

The day after I heard of Rob’s passing I hauled out my large collection of Boss Brass recordings and spent the entire day listening once again to some of my all time favourite big band arrangements - Just Friends, Body and Soul, Street of Dreams, Out of Nowhere, Portrait of Jennie, My Bells, Easy To Love, Autumn In New York, You Took Advantage of Me, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, A Time For Love, Take The “A” Train, Blue Hodge, Louisiana. In fact, I’m having a difficult time stopping this list. They are all great. Let’s just say that, much like one of my other favourites, Bill Holman, Rob never wrote anything less than a great chart.

I cannot remember when I first heard the Boss Brass. I could have been, and probably was, one the early brass ensemble pop LPs Rob recorded for the CTL label. But, it could also have been a Jazz Radio Canada program. Jazz Radio Canada, a CBC program that ran once a week nation wide in the 1970s, featured Canadian jazz groups in either live or studio sessions. I was addicted to the weekly program. Coincidentally, this was also the program on which I got my first professional writing gig, contributing arrangements for a Bob Hales big band program in 1976.

Listening to the weekly broadcast, it seemed there was an abundance of great big bands in the Canada, at least it seemed that way to me. From Vancouver we heard Bob Hales and occasionally Doug Parker, Edmonton had Tommy Banks. Other names escape me for the moment but I would be sure to have heard bands from Calgary and Winnipeg. From Quebec we heard Vic Vogel. There were groups from the Atlantic provinces and from the Toronto area we heard the big bands of Phil Nimmons and Rob McConnell. This program created a strong sense of Canadian jazz. It made us all aware that there were other players and writers out there creating some great music.

Of all of those bands, the one that struck me the most was the Boss Brass. I was probably 19 or 20 years old and, unlike my peers, I had grown up listening to the old big bands - Harry James, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman (yeah I know, I was a little weird). So the great sense of swing and the strong contemporary sound of the Boss Brass really grabbed me. I was a major fan from the first note I heard.

For starters, I was struck by the sound of Rob’s band. The virtuosity of the ensemble work, led by the stellar trumpeter Arnie Chycoski. Of course I simply loved the beautiful flugel horn playing of Guido Basso, who is blessed with a singular sound and style that is immediately recognizable (by me singling out 2 trumpet players you can probably guess my instrument of choice). No less wonderful were the saxes, playing those seemingly impossible solis, the beautiful trombone section led by Ian McDougall and the great rhythm section, particularly drummer Terry Clark.

I remember catching the Boss Brass on a CBC television special, probably in the mid 1970s, in which they played things like Mr. Tricky Nervous and Come Back To Jesus, Or I’ll Kill You which were never committed to disc. We also heard A Time For Love and That’s Right on the program (to be honest I only remember these exact titles because I recorded the program on cassette).

While all of Rob’s recording are great, there are 5 Boss Brass recordings that stand out to me:

The Best Damn Band In The Land was my favourite easy listening Boss Brass CTL recording, and my first BB disc. Of all Rob’s early CTL LPs this was the jazziest, featuring a wonderful, but short, chart on Louisiana and an exquisite Santa Claus Blues.

The Jazz Album. The first Boss Brass jazz LP was an lp I eagerly anticipated and it didn’t disappoint. Great charts and playing throughout, but Rob’s arrangement of Body and Soul was a standout. This arrangement has it all - a great reharmonization of the original tune, a sax soli using rich 5 part writing, great ensemble lines and a powerful shout. While I think it’s a highlight of the recording I understand, from several sources, that Rob didn’t care too much for this chart. Portrait of Jenny is another great arrangement and features wall to wall Guido Basso.

Big Band Jazz. What’s not to like about this 2 disc recording? This was a limited direct to disc LP set (mine is #01204). While there are a couple of very minor performance glitches, they take nothing away from this great set. I played this disc over and over and over and over and over and… Every arrangement is a gem. I would class this as one of the best big band recordings of all time. The opening track of Just Friends with the unbelievably together stop time tutti, the tricky trombone line coupled with the bass, the solos and the big, powerful shout. Then there is Street of Dreams, Dirty Man, A Tribute to Art Fern, and Porgy and Bess Suite. Writing about the quality of all the arrangements, and the fantastic playing on this recording, could easily take up multiple blogs.

Present Perfect. First of all, the sound of this lp was fantastic. Rob always had first class engineers and the recordings were always sonic delights. You Took Advantage of Me and Smoke Gets In Your Eyes are real high points on another album full of highlights.

The El Mocambo: Live In Digital. This was the first time I saw the band in person and provided a real “ear opening” experience. The band was at this club in Toronto for about 10 days and I was there almost every night. The virtuosity of the ensemble work was as stunning live as it was on disc. The dynamic range, even when I considered my previous experiences listening to Count Basie and Stan Kenton live, was breathtaking. Without microphones I could still hear every woodwind part. The entire band moved and breathed as one single entity.

All the subsequent discs, including those by the tenet, are equally wonderful, but the ones mentioned here are some of the first recordings I acquired so they have a strong place in my own musical identity.

Despite the great tradition of big band music, Rob McConnell managed to develop a big band style and sound that was all his own. Even his earliest recorded arrangement, that I am aware of, for Maynard Ferguson of Come Rain or Come Shine has some of those now classic McConnellisms - beautiful harmonization, great lines, great voicings, a great dynamic range and a superb sense of structure. Rob never wrote simple arrangements, consisting of a melody chorus followed by a long solo section with a few simple backgrounds and a return to the melody. His charts always had something substantial for the ensemble. Rob would often follow his opening melody chorus with some new, often virtuosic, ensemble writing. His charts would often have multiple climaxes. I found the same qualities in his own solo work, within his big band or small groups. Even the wonderful duet recording with Ed Bickert, Mutual Street, is loaded with great musical drama.

Certainly Rob, like all of us that write for big bands, borrowed and learned from the masters. However, I have always been impressed by someone that can create something singular, an identifiable sound, while still acknowledging the past. Rob, like Bill Holman and Bob Brookmeyer, fits this category. However, while Holman and Brookmeyer seem to want to reach beyond their past accomplishments, Rob seemed content to remain within his sense of the tradition. This does not mean that any one of these three writers is better artistically than the other. But rather there is, in my mind anyway, a place for all of them. Good music is good music.

If one had to single out one distinctive feature of Rob’s writing it would probably be his sense of harmony. His harmonic work really reminds me so much of pianist Bill Evans, always full of beautiful tension and release. He also maximizes these harmonic colours by using rich, full ensemble voicings along with a great sense of orchestral colour, especially with the additional french horns and woodwinds.

It’s not only Rob’s manipulation of harmony that allows him to stand out, he also had an equally deft hand with melody. And, although not known as a composer as much as an arranger, Rob’s own tunes, that are scattered throughout his recordings, were always a highlight. Even his larger scale big band jazz originals were always tuneful. Check out the beautiful middle section of That’s Right.

Finally, on top of all of Rob’s qualities as an arranger, composer and player, there was always Rob’s sense of humour, which would often come out of nowhere in the music. A favourite moment is the return of the melody in Louisiana where he changes key after the first bar.

As much as I love the sound of any good big band, it’s the writing that always seems to draw me back repeatedly, to listen over and over. To this day, after almost 40 years, I can still hear the sounds of those early Boss Brass recordings vividly in my mind and I know those sounds have had a very big effect on the big band music I create for myself. I have been told I am a harmonically oriented writer, who loves to write virtuosic ensemble passages. Well, I’ve always known where that came from. Now you do.

I know I will go on for the rest of my life enjoying the sounds of Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass.

Thank you Rob!

Let’s see, where is that CD with Phil Woods?

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