Shadows and Whispers

When I was in music school, I was in a few saxophone quartets. At the University of Miami there is usually a freshman quartet, with the four freshman jazz saxophone principles assuming the four chairs in the group. It’s a great way to focus on intonation and blend. I’d never played in a “proper” rehearsing quartet before, and it was a challenging and exceedingly valuable experience.

My senior year, a group of upperclassmen actually put together an advanced quartet in order to tackle some really challenging music. The group consisted of me on tenor, Dan Kinzleman on soprano, Chris Shade on alto and Paul Roth on bari. UM Sax Prof Gary Keller directed us.

. We played a bunch of serious modern repertoire, including a Dave Liebman quartet that was as “out” as out can be. Lieb actually came down and listened to us play it, which was awesome and a bit harrowing. And in the spring, composer Jim Mcneely was the guest artist for the Concert Jazz Band, in which I was playing second tenor. Before the concert, our sax quartet took it upon ourselves to learn the final movement from a Mcneely piece called “Shadows and Whispers; Slash and Burn.”

We recorded it live at Gusman hall in early 2003. Every time I come back to the recording I’m struck by just how incredible Mcneely’s writing is, and how advanced the music was. His big band writing is equally cool, but something about the purity of the quartet really brings out what he does so well.

A (fantastic) student of mine named Ben is applying to UM, and Gary really likes his playing. Which is so very cool to hear. I saw Gary last week in New Orleans at the JEN convention, and we talked fondly about the Mcneely quartet. Gary went ahead and forward the recording along to Ben, so I thought I’d share it here, as well.

As you listen to it, bear in mind that there is no improvising in the piece – all of the notes were written. Check out how it goes in and out of focus, going from unison to harmony to rhythmic disjointedness and back. (Update: if you would like to purchase it, it is available via Advance Music.)

“Shadows and Whispers; Slash and Burn” by Jim Mcneely:

Arranging: Writing for Student Ensembles

kirk-lab-band
Good Times.

This past Sunday, my band at The Urban School of San Francisco gave our Spring concert, and it was, by all accounts, a crashing success.  The group I direct there is the beginning group, dubbed the “Lab Band” – the idea is that students develop their skills in my band before graduating to the Advanced Band, led by Urban’s head jazz director, Scott Foster.  This kind of hierarchical setup works really well, both in motivating students to improve, so that they can move up, and allowing those who are just starting out on their instruments not to feel overwhelmed in the early goings.

Continue reading “Arranging: Writing for Student Ensembles”