Saturday, December 14, 2013

Jazz Orchestra Concert Notes

by Jazz Orchestra director Dan Aldag:

I didn't set out to do this, but I realized that the theme of the Jazz Orchestra concert is "Blurring Boundaries." We're playing arrangements of a '60s pop tune, a country song from the '50s, an obscure funk tune first recorded by James Brown, a Cuban pop song from 1912, an '80s French pop song and a couple of Tin Pan Alley standards.

 "Wichita Lineman" was composed by the great pop songwriter Jimmy Webb and made famous by Glen Campbell. The arrangement we're playing was written by John Hollenbeck for his recent album Songs I Like A Lot, and shows the influence of minimalism. Our performance will feature vocals by Jo Kuzelka and the band's guitarist, Kris Lang.

 "I Can't Stop Loving You" was written and recorded by country singer Don Gibson in the late '50s, and then became an even bigger hit for Ray Charles when he recorded it on his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music in 1962. The version we're playing was arranged by Quincy Jones for the Count Basie album This Time By Basie.

 "The Chicken" was written by Pee Wee Ellis, saxophonist and music director for James Brown in the mid-1960s. It was recorded as an instrumental by Brown's band and released as the B-side of a single. It was rescued from obscurity by the groundbreaking electric bassist Jaco Pastorius. Our version further blurs the boundaries by incorporating Afro-Cuban percussion.

 "La Comparsa" was written by the great Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona when he was only 17. Lecuona is sometimes compared to George Gershwin, because both had success in both pop and classical music and both successfully incorporated elements of their native land's music in their classical compositions. Our arrangement was written by Oded Lev-Ari for clarinetist Anat Cohen's album Noir. We will feature Jo Kuzelka and clarinetist Nick Durant.

 "Le Cimitiere Des Elephants" was a French pop hit in the 1980s. The gypsy jazz guitarist Reinhardt adapted it for that idiom, and his version inspired recent HSU grad Dan Fair to arrange it for the Jazz Orchestra.

 Dan also arranged "They All Laughed", a George and Ira Gershwin tune, for our vocalist Jo Kuzelka.

The other Tin Pan Alley song we're playing is Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke's "Polka Dots and Moonbeams". Bill Holman arranged it for trombonist Carl Fontana to play it with the Stan Kenton band. We'll be featuring Josh Foster on it.
 The only "pure" jazz we're playing are classics from the libraries of the two greatest big bands, Duke Ellington's and Count Basie's, and a brand new piece by the young jazz composer Omar Thomas.

 After meeting Queen Elizabeth II during a European tour in the late '50s, Ellington and his partner Billy Strayhorn wrote The Queen's Suite. The Ellington band recorded it, Ellington had a single copy pressed, sent it to the queen, and ordered that it never be released to the public. After Ellington's death, his son Mercer thankfully had it released, because it's fantastic. We're playing the first movement of the suite, "Sunset and the Mockingbird", and will feature pianist Alex Espe and clarinetist Nick Durant.

 Benny Carter was one of the great musicians of the 20th century, excelling as an alto saxophonist, trumpeter and composer and arranger. He wrote several albums for Count Basie, and "The Swizzle" comes from The Legend.

 Omar Thomas is a young Boston-based composer who has just recently released his first album, and we'll play the title track, "I Am."

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