NEC Jazz Orchestra Releases New Big Band Album

November 22, 2016

necjazzNew England Conservatory Jazz Studies Chair Ken Schaphorst conducts the NEC Jazz Orchestra in a program celebrating his fourth big band recording How to Say Goodbye. Joining Schaphorst is fellow NEC faculty memberDonny McCaslin, who is also featured on the album. McCaslin has earned wide acclaim for his work on the late David Bowie’s Blackstar as well as his most recent album, dedicated to and inspired by Bowie. The concert, which is free and open to the public, takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 8, at NEC’s Jordan Hall, 290 Huntington Avenue, Boston. For information call 617-585-1122 or visit http://necmusic.edu/event/16453

The program includes a wide range of Schaphorst works along with his arrangements of the music of Donny McCaslin plus Skylark by Hoagy Carmichael and Warszawa by David Bowie, a cover of which is featured on McCaslin’s most recent recording Beyond Now. Schaphorst and McCaslin – as well as faculty member Jerry Leake on percussion and students Julian Loida on percussion and Alexandra Keller on voice – will perform with members of the NEC Jazz Orchestra.  Orchestra members include saxophonists Patrick Noonan Yu Wang, Nigel Yancey, Hunter Smith, and Daniel Sagastume; trumpeters Jeffrey Cox, Tree Palmedo, Massimo Paparello, and Alex Quinn; trombonists Christopher Bassett, Tyler Bonilla, John Cushing, and Blake Manternach; pianist Inigo Ruiz de Gondejuela; guitarist Max Light; bassist James Heazlewood-Dale; and drummer Eladio Rojas.

The concert celebrates Schaphorst’s new recording due out December 2 on JCA Recordings. How To Say Goodbye is a deeply moving and wide-ranging album which pays tribute to some of Schaphorst’s most profound influences. Included are homages written in honor of jazz and education visionaries Bob Brookmeyer and Herb Pomeroy, both of whom went from mentors to NEC colleagues during Schaphorst’s 15-year tenure at the Conservatory. Those compositions join an emotional ode to another formative influence, Schaphorst’s late grandmother, in a richly diverse set that draws on influences from Ellington and Gerry Mulligan to African mbira music.

How To Say Goodbye features an all-star lineup, many of whom can trace their relationships with Schaphorst back to his earliest large ensemble efforts 30 years ago. Veterans of the composer’s True Colors Big Band like tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trumpeter John Carlson, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring and percussionist Jerry Leake sit alongside rising stars like saxophonists Brian Landrus, Jeremy Udden and Michael Thomas who studied with Schaphorst at NEC and played some of these pieces in student ensembles during that time.

The ensemble on the record is also studded with current and past colleagues from the NEC faculty, including McCaslin, Leake, trombonist Luis Bonilla, guitarist Brad Shepik and trumpeter Ralph Alessi, as well as alumni including Hasselbring, trumpeter Tony Kadleck and bass trombonist Jennifer Wharton. More than just a source for collaborators, Schaphorst says that his time at New England Conservatory has played a fundamental role in shaping his compositional voice. “These pieces have been profoundly influenced by my interactions with… many tremendously talented students,” he writes in the liner notes.

Of course, Schaphorst’s music can’t help but be impacted by the many long-lasting musical relationships represented on the album, many of which date back decades. “I’ve worked with almost every member of this band many, many times,” he explains, “and all that history is imprinted on me. I’ve learned so much over the years from hearing these guys, and I think they’ve been influenced by hearing and playing my music. As I get older I realize how important and irreplaceable that is.”

NEC’s Jazz Studies Department was the first fully accredited jazz studies program at a music conservatory. The brainchild of Gunther Schuller, who moved quickly to incorporate jazz into the curriculum when he became president of the Conservatory in 1967, the Jazz Studies faculty has included six MacArthur “genius” grant recipients (three currently teaching) and four NEA Jazz Masters. The program has spawned numerous Grammy winning composers and performers and has an alumni list that reads like a who’s who of jazz. As Mike West writes in JazzTimes: “NEC’s jazz studies department is among the most acclaimed and successful in the world; so says the roster of visionary artists that have comprised both its faculty and alumni.” The program currently has 105 students; 55 undergraduate and 50 graduate students from 16 countries.

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