What’s on Your Playlist: Ken Schaphorst

January 12, 2017

Ken Schaphorst is a composer, performer, and educator currently serving as chair of New England Conservatory’s widely respected Jazz Studies Department. He has released six critically acclaimed albums as a leader on the Accurate and Naxos labels and has been awarded Composition Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and Meet the Composer, as well as commissions from a range of organizations including the Jazz Composers Alliance, Boston University, Lawrence University, and many others.

Schaphorst’s most recent recording, the Ken Schaphorst Big Band’s How to Say Goodbye, (JCA Recordings) is a deeply moving and wide-ranging album that includes homages written in honor of jazz and education visionaries Bob Brookmeyer and Herb Pomeroy and features some of the top performers in jazz today, many of whom worked with Schaphorst either as faculty or students at NEC.

1. Darcy James ArgueReal Enemies

I heard Darcy’s band play this piece recently at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. It’s one of his most convincing large-scale endeavors, fully integrated, yet never letting up, both in terms of invention and momentum. The way he’s been able to incorporate 12-tone thinking into his own approach to harmony is an inspiration. And I enjoy the dramatic series of duets that are sprinkled throughout the piece.

2. Lake Street DiveSide Pony

Lake Street Dive will be performing with the NEC Jazz Orchestra on February 16, 2017 as a kickoff to NEC’s 150th Anniversary. And I’m arranging a couple of their recent songs for that event. I’m proud that everyone in the group is writing, playing and singing at such a high level. And it’s reassuring to know that their talent is being recognized. It gives me hope for the future of American popular music. I also love to hear their jazz roots come through is subtle ways – Rachael’s bluesy turns of phrase, Mike Olson’s trumpet solos, Bridget’s virtuosic bass fills, and Mike Calabrese’s amazing feel.

3. Jason PalmerBeauty ‘n’ Numbers

Based on a Sudoku game, Jason’s recent recording is the first time that I recall hearing him in a quartet setting, giving his trumpet playing more of a chance to shine. A struggling trumpet player myself, I find Jason’s facility and invention simultaneously inspiring and disheartening, knowing I will never be able to play like he does. But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying hearing him.

4. Noah PremingerDark Was the Night,
Cold Was the Ground

I had a chance to work with Noah on some of these arrangements by Delta blues artists while he was working on his Masters degree at NEC. I love the way this recording turned out. Jason Palmer, Kim Cass and Ian Froman all play beautifully. And Noah’s remarkable sound sets the right loose and sincere tone throughout.

5. Sofia ReiDe Tierra Y Oro

I was happy to have Sofia come back to NEC to teach for a semester when her former teacher, Dominique Eade, was on sabbatical. Sofia has been continuously finding new and insightful ways of combining elements of jazz with music from her native Argentina. Her dramatic singing and compelling writing have continued to evolve since we started at NEC together. Former students Josh Deutsch and Jorge Roeder also sound great on this one.

6. Nick Sanders and Logan StrosahlJanus

Nick and Logan have chosen a very NEC-inspired repertoire, ranging from Machaut to Messiaen. My personal favorite is “Thelonious,” demonstrating their love and respect for Monk’s composition by improvising around that structure, those ideas, rather than feeling constrained by them. I always enjoyed hearing Nick play in my Monk class, demonstrating Monk’s logic and imagination, both as a composer and pianist. And it’s nice to hear Logan on tenor, something relatively new for me.

7. Sara Serpa and Andre MatosAll the Dreams

On their latest Sunnyside release, Sara’s and Andre’s collective composing and performing is more integrated and heartfelt than ever. I love the textures they’re able to get through overdubbing, without losing the spontaneity and groove. And Sara has learned to focus her formidable technique to the point that it’s difficult to tell when improvisation begins and ends. Quite a feat!

8. Dan Tepfer Goldberg Variations/Variations

I keep going back to this release of Dan’s. Like Uri Caine, another jazz pianist who had the courage to improvise on Bach’s music, Dan has the ability to play convincingly this cornerstone of Western music without any embellishment. So when he does start to build around Bach’s ideas, it has an added weight and credibility. I’m most impressed by Dan’s ability to construct an equally satisfying system of counterpoint and voice-leading, without replicating Bach’s own language. I always appreciated Dan’s ability to bring that spirit to Steve Lacy’s music, which has the same specificity as Bach, and is equally demanding in its own approach to improvisation, variation.

9. Ryan TruesdellLines of Color

I’ve been closely following Ryan Truesdell’s recent work, unearthing scores by Gil Evans that for one reason or another were never recorded or released. And Ryan’s most recent release, recorded live at the Village Vanguard, is another revelation. My favorite is “Time of the Barracudas,” a piece that I’ve been obsessed with since I heard a version of it on Gil’s Individualism. Hearing bassoon in a big band has always been a thrill, and Ryan has put together an amazing band here.

10. Jeremy UddenBelleville Project

I was happy to have Jeremy on my recent big band recording, How to Say Goodbye, and I’ve avidly followed his own work, particularly his recordings with Plainville. This international collaboration with the French bassist Nicolas Moreaux builds on Jeremy’s ongoing interest in folk music, bravely resisting jazz’s tendency towards over-complication. And hearing a banjo always makes me happy.

Ken Schaphorst’s most recent album, How to Say Goodbye (JCA Recordings) was released on December 9, 2016.

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