Saturday, December 10, 2011

Jazz Orchestra Director's Notes

The Jazz Orchestra is playing music from a broad variety of genres and time periods, from the 1940s to today. The oldest pieces are "Chelsea Bridge" and "Tippin' On The Q.T." "Chelsea Bridge" was composed in 1941 by Billy Strayhorn for the Duke Ellington Orchestra and is considered to be a huge leap forward in jazz composition because of the sophistication of its harmonic language. Gil Evans, whose music the Jazz Orchestra will be playing in the spring in honor of his centennial, once said, "From the moment I first heard 'Chelsea Bridge', I set out to try to do that. That's all I did--that's all I ever did--try to do what Billy Strayhorn did."

"Tippin' On The Q.T." was written by trumpeter Buck Clayton for the Count Basie Orchestra in the the late 1940s and it was re-recorded by them in the early 1950s, and that is the version the Jazz Orchestra will play.

The two pieces from the 1950s that the band will play are both dedicated to jazz heroes of the Swing Era. John Lewis's "Django", written for his group the Modern Jazz Quartet, was written in memory of the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Lewis utilized the old New Orleans jazz funeral tradition of a slow, mournful dirge meant to mark the deceased's passing, followed by upbeat, swinging music to celebrate his life, and then added to that a return at the end to the dirge to give "Django" a classical music-inspired arch form. The band is playing a new arrangement of "Django" for jazz orchestra by Mike Tomaro.

 Charles Mingus's "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" is dedicated to the great tenor saxophonist Lester Young, who was known for wearing the lid referenced in the title. The Jazz Orchestra is playing the arrangement written by Sy Johnson for the Mingus Big Band, with the addition of the lyrics that Joni Mitchell wrote for the tune for her 1979 collaboration with Mingus. The lyrics are sung by Jo Kuzelka, one of several vocal contributions she will make.

Jo will be featured on "Straighten Up and Fly Right", the old Nat "King" Cole hit in an arrangement done by the legendary Nelson Riddle for one of Linda Ronstadt's '80s albums of standards.

From the 1960s comes the hard bop of Herbie Hancock's "Driftin'", a tune he wrote for his debut album, Takin' Off, in a new arrangement by Dave Mills.

The rest of the Jazz Orchestra's set is music that, while all contemporary, is nonetheless quite diverse. Trumpeter and flugelhornist Kenny Wheeler composed "Gentle Piece" for his landmark 1990 album Music For Large & Small Ensembles. It will feature flugelhornist Justin Bertolini. Beneath its placid surface is a very sophisticated harmonic language.

The rock band Radiohead's influential and sophisticated music has inspired a number of jazz musicians to perform their songs. "Everything In Its Right Place" is a track from 2000 album Kid A that was arranged for jazz orchestra by James Miley and will feature a tenor sax solo from Philllip Sagastume

"Meditation" was written last spring by HSU student Aber Miller for his small jazz group. Its skeletal melody and chord progression was designed to inspire a free and creative performance from the musicians playing it. Nothing was added to the minimal music that Miller wrote for the small group when it brought to the much larger band, so listeners will hear the Jazz Orchestra improvise an arrangement in the performance.

"Energy Generation" is a tune that tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin wrote for his 2011 album Perpetual Motion. After performing here with his quartet in September, McCaslin left a jazz orchestra arrangement of this tune behind with HSU professor and Jazz Orchestra leader Dan Aldag. This performance will feature tenor saxophonist Matt Brogdon.

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