Archive for the ‘Jazz Composition’ Category

Ellington Sacred Music Concert #4

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Here we are almost a year later, all set to perform another concert of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Music. We had previously performed the concert in Vancouver in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The 2012 concert is being held in Victoria at the Alix Goolden Hall on Saturday, November 10, 2012. The concert, as with our previous versions, includes vocal soloists Dee Daniels and Marcus Mosely, the Fred Stride Jazz Orchestra, The Sacred Music Gospel Choir, and tap dancer, Alex Dugdale.

You can read about Dee, Marcus, Alex and the Sacred Music Choir on last years post. However, the band this time out is a mixture of Vancouver and Victoria musicians. Coming with me are lead trumpet player Derry Byrne; Mike Braverman, clarinet/tenor saxophone; Chad Makela - baritone saxophone; Leo Bae, piano, Andre Lachance, bass; and Bernie Arai, drums. The Victoria musicians are Tom Ackerman, alto saxophone/clarinet; Gordon Clements, alto saxophone; Phil Dwyer, tenor saxophone; Bruce Hurn, trumpet; Dave Flello, trumpet; Alfons Fear, trumpet and 3 great Victoria trombone players - Ian McDougall, Mark Wilson and Matt McConchie. I’m really looking forward to the concert and sharing this great music with a new audience.

All proceeds from ticket sales will benefit the work of Our Place Society with Victoria’s homeless and people living in poverty. Find out more about the work of Our Place and how you can help at: OurPlaceSociety.com

This concert has sold out each year so order your tickets early!

CONCERT TICKETS: www.eventbrite.com, Lyles Place at 250-382-8422, and Ditch Records & CDs, 250-386-5874, all in Victoria.

Here is Dee Daniels performing Tell Me It’s The Truth at our 2009 concert.

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Of course this concert would not happen without the generous support of:

Our Place Society, the Victoria Jazz Society and:

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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.

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