Julia and I are excited to announce the plans for next year that we've been working on for a while. In late June, we'll be moving to Greeley, Colorado, where I'm extremely honored to be joining the adjunct jazz faculty at The University of Northern Colorado!
I'll be directing the flagship vocal jazz ensemble, Northern Colorado Voices ("NoCo") and Vocal Jazz Ensemble 2 as well as teaching a few courses within the music department. Julia will be teaching private jazz voice lessons in the Greeley and Denver areas. We're going to continue writing and recording like always and we'll gig when possible, including the still-tentatively-planned Ben Folds symphonic world tour this Spring.
Although leaving Sacramento isn't going to be easy and we'll really miss everyone here, we're excited about our new life ahead in Colorado. We'll be much closer to my folks in Kansas, with whom we're looking forward to spending more time. I'm hugely honored at the opportunity to be involved in one of the heaviest jazz studies programs in the country with its deep and rich history, and I'm humbled to work alongside the great musicians on that faculty.
We want to thank everyone here in our Sacramento community for their support, encouragement and friendship over the years. We hope you'll stay in touch and have us back in town to visit!
Here's a playlist of all the demos of new charts for 2013, with info about the charts below:
1. Centerpiece - Starter Series SSAB Level 2.5
This is the only Starter Series chart I have available at the moment from the new 2013 collection, although I am working on four more charts for this series to be released by August 1st. What vocal jazzer doesn't love "Centerpiece", from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross?! Tons of groups, over the years, have sung it as a swinging blues, but this arrangement goes somewhere else entirely, although a soulful feel is retained and accentuated. The groove is a straight-eighth funk-rock and the chords are all new. Commissioned by Buffalo High School, (Wyoming), Chad Rose, dir. (2012) and dedicated to their former director, Brent Rose
2. Skyfall - SSAATTBB Level 4.5
Adele's powerful hit single from the blockbuster movie of the same name is given an epically lush and powerful treatment in this eight-part arrangement featuring an alto soloist. Commissioned by Folsom High School Jazz Choir, Curtis Gaesser, dir. (2013)
3. Some Nights - SSATBaB Level 3
The 2012 hit from the band Fun is written with slight reharmonization here and there to beef up the complexity for the vocal jazz ensemble while retaining the feel and vibe of the original recording. Challenging solo feature for a high tenor or female voice, but fairly straight-forward vocal parts with careful voice-leading. Commissioned by "Epic Jazz" from Downey High School, Cory Olariu, dir. (2012)
4. Stella By Starlight - SSATBaB Level 5
This arrangement of one of the great jazz standards is irreverent and highly contemporary, with intense modal reharmonization and driving rhythm section accompaniment. The melody is sung wordlessly first, then the lyric enters, followed by a solo section, then a complete reworking of the first part of the melody leading into a D.S. and a drum solo over a vamping end. Commissioned by Millikin University's OneVoice (2012)
5. Send Me On My Way - SSAATTBB Level 3. 5
The earthy, tribal feel of Rusted Root's 90's classic "Send Me On My Way" fits well as a Bobby McFerrin-esque a capella tune with plenty of jazz harmony. Commissioned by "Superscript 7" from Harry D. Jacobs High School (IL), Jake Stouffer, dir. (2012)
6. Rolling in the Deep - SSATB Level 5
Dirty Loops is a phenomenally talented Swedish trio known best for their YouTube music videos in which they wildly arrange (maybe best called "DErangements"!) pop tunes, and they did this very thing with Adele's "Rolling in the Deep". My adaptation is meant to make this work for vocal jazz ensemble. It's important to note that the solo is very intense and requires an exceptionally talented high tenor or female vocalist to pull off effectively, and the rhythm section parts are playable by advanced players who have time to spend learning their parts...they're NOT easy! Fair warning...but the ensemble vocal parts aren't terribly difficult, and the chart is singable by advanced high school and college groups. This one's a LOT of fun, to say the least! Commissioned by "The Onions" from Seattle Academy, Mark Hoover, dir. (2012)
The mind-blowing a capella quintet Pentatonix ("The Sing Off") arranged this already super-cool Imogen Heap tune from "Ellipse", and my job here was to thicken it up and make a few tweaks that helped it fit a larger vocal jazz ensemble. There's some added complexity, compared to their version, but the chart retains their futuristic spirit and nuance. Commissioned by Folsom High School Jazz Choir, Curtis Gaesser, dir. (2012)
8. 100 Years - SSATBaB Level 4
This arrangement of the hit from Five For Fighting is aggressively reharmonized and has a driving energy throughout. Commissioned by "Scat That!" from Glenbrook South High School (Illinois), Stevi Marks, dir. (2012)
9. Shape of My Heart - SSATBaB Level 5
A thick vocal jazz reharmonization and re-imagining of Sting classic pop hit. Commissioned by Hutchinson Community College (2012)
10. Sunday Morning - SSATBaB Level 3
The funky Maroon 5 mega-hit from 2004 is arranged here for six-part a capella vocal jazz with (preferably) a baritone male soloist. Just a touch of reharmonization gives the tune some new life in this version while still preserving the original song's flavor, making it a sure audience favorite! Commissioned by Santa Susana High School's Jazz Choir, Bevin Abbe, dir. (2012)
11. Everybody Wants to Rule the World - SSATB Level 3
The Tears For Fears hit from 1985 updated for vocal jazz ensemble. Approachable and fun 80s nostalgia! Commissioned by Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School (2012)
12. Crazy (Gnarls Barkley) - SSATB Level 4
The super-funky Gnarls Barkley (Cee-Lo Green) is brought into the vocal jazz world, featuring a tenor or alto soloist. The groove and chord changes are mostly like the original until an ending section suddenly kicks in a samba feel with scatting through to a strong finish, making this an effective closer. Commissioned by Valencia High School Vocal Jazz, Christine Tavares, dir. (2012)
13. I Want To Be Happy - SSAA Level 4
Inspired by the Kitty Margolis arrangement of the tune from her album "Left Coast Life," this arrangement is a burning swing and playfully aggressive version of the sweet and simple tune. Written for women's vocal jazz ensemble. Commissioned by "Age of Guinevere" from Fairview High School (CO), Janice Vlachos, dir. (2012)
14. What Is This Thing Called Love? - SSAATBaB Level 5
Cole Porter's classic from the Great American Songbook is arranged for mostly six and sometimes seven part a capella vocal jazz ensemble in a sort-of Take 6 style, swinging, with a couple moments of reharmonization, but generally just thick, jazzy voicings and some scat solo space. A soli section is featured as well. Check it out! Commissioned by The University of North Texas Jazz Singers, Jennifer Barnes, dir. (2012)
15. Lullabye - SSATB Level 4
Beautiful and interesting tune that turns intense in the solo section, featuring a soprano soloist with vocal improv space in the middle. Commissioned by Folsom High School Jazz Choir "A", Curtis Gaesser, dir. (2012)
16. Smooth Criminal - SSAATBaB Level 3.5
An aggressive a capella treatment of the timeless Michael Jackson pop hit. Not a solo feature, per se, but there's a bit of "MJ" improv stuff at the end of the tune as a comes to an exciting finish. Commissioned by Vocal Motion from Burlington High School (WI), Penny Yanke, dir. (2012).
17. Hallelujah, I Love Him So - SATB and SSAB Level 3 with horns
A funky and driving arrangement of the Ray Charles classic with lots of flexibility in the voicings and instrumentation to fit a broad range of groups. An exciting option for a concert closer! Commissioned by The Foxboro High School Jazz Choir (MA), David Piper, dir. (2013)
19. Nature Boy - SSAA - NEW DEMO with Part Tracks now available for this voicing!
20. Zemabia - SSAA - NEW DEMO with Part Tracks now available for this voicing!
21. Mr. P.C. - SSA NEW DEMO with Part Tracks now available for this voicing!
22. Don't Stop the Music - SSAA - NEW DEMO with Part Tracks now available for this voicing!
23. Spooky - SSAA - NEW DEMO with Part Tracks now available for this voicing!
24. September - SSAA - NEW DEMO with Part Tracks now available for this voicing!
Like I kind of anticipated, I ended up getting to busy at the Jazz Education Network conference on its second and third days to write blog entries like I did for day one, so I'm only now catching up to make mention of the highlights, as I saw them. I'll start here with notes on Friday. As a JENeral note, though (aren't I the best?), a personal reflection from the conference is that it was really oustanding, as a whole. The hang was incredible (although managable, as opposed to IAJEs past during which the hang was impossible and exhausting, and you always felt you were bailing on someone or something important because there was no time), including the opportunity to spend time with some brand new friends as well as old ones. It's pretty cliche and tired to write that, but, you know...it's true, and one of the more noteworthy things about the experience. Another general note (done with the cute for now) is that the quality of clinics and performances was high, on average, with a few serious standouts that will resonate with me for a long time. And the fact that the Rush Stage thing will let us stream much of the conference afterward (although most of the content still isn't uploaded or licensed for streaming yet) is just awesome.
The Hamilton All-Star Vocal Jazz group, directed by Chris McLaughlin, did a very nice set, featuring a stand-out vocal percussionist named Faisel Qasi, who did a feature beatboxing set that was impressive, including the unconventional use of a harmonica. This group is unapologetically essentially a cover band for their favorite professional a capella vocal jazz groups like Sixth Wave (half of which is made up of the rest of Vertical Voices), Real Group, Take 6, and m-pact. They're not squeaky clean, nor would they claim to be, I'm sure, but what they pull off is very cool, especially considering their membership is (apparently) entirely unauditioned and totally non-curricular.
Larry Lapin, in his final of 45 years as the head of vocal jazz at The University of Miami (Julia's alma mater for both of her degrees), gave a somewhat improvised and free-flowing, but still cool and informative presentation originally billed to be about the connection between the rhythm section and the vocal jazz ensemble. Due to the late entry of his group from Miami, JV1, into the convention performance schedule, he decided to include the group and put some new ideas together, gearing the clinic more toward the connection between horn articulation and vocal ensemble articulation - a useful concept for educators, I think. He would have a small horn section from Miami's Concert Jazz Band play a section of a vocal jazz chart he'd written, and then he'd have the singers sing the same bit, and we were to try to notice the simiarities and differences. One basic but very useful thing that I took from the presentation was the idea of giving a big choir a bunch of blues riffs to layer on top of one another...not a revolutionary concept, of course, but I realized that I hadn't done that, at least in a while, and it would be really good to use in clinics on the blues as a great interactive exercise, perhaps while some singers scatted over the top, creating a fun chaos in the room with a blues scale vibe.
I checked out Curtis Gaesser's Folsom "B" Jazz Ensemble...shockingly tight and stylistically hip for a group mostly consisting of freshmen. Always amazing to see what Curtis and the Folsom students are capable of. I'll note here that on Saturday, the Folsom "A" band performed as well, playing Maria Schneider's "El Viento" and Chuck Owen's chart on Michael Brecker's take on "Itsbynne Reel". Both of which are just insanely difficult to play, let alone as senstively as this band played their three charts (I forget the third at the moment, but I believe it was a Jim McNeely chart). Super proud of my good friend and his hard work. Both bands got clinics after their performances.
After the "B" band on Friday was what I'm saying was the hippest, most relevant (to me) clinic I've ever seen in my life...sorry to everyone else in contention, many of whom are my good friends...but Kelly Garner's clinic on "Studio Recording Techniques for Jazz Vocal Ensembles" went well beyond my expectations. The UM doctoral grad assistant brought much of the equipment from her personal recording studio to the convention and set it up in the room so we could see it and so she could demonstrate the subtle differences between various condenser mics, preamps and other gear. It was heavy, y'all, lemme tell you. I learned a lot about tracking, mic selection, room setup, mixing, and got really inspired to continue working on my home studio. That's a video I can't WAIT to watch again on the Rush Stage. Kelly's has a website for her studio, in case you'd like to check it out...Big Dog Studios.
Vijay Singh's Central Washington University Vocal Jazz 1 performed on the main stage, and it was my first time even in that room for the convention by the time they started at 8pm on Friday. Their sound was huge and extremely, extremely balanced, probably to the point of absolute perfection. I've already spoken about the Northwest vocal jazz aesthetic and how it's so different from the rest of the vocal jazz world's approach, and this is not an accident, as I believe the practitioners of that style are very aware that it's a choral-based approach with a huge emphasis on unity of the ensemble, traditional harmonic approaches that seem relatively basic to modern ears, as they're largely coming from Basie-era big band writing (as opposed to groups that employ more modal and other modern harmonic approaches on a regular basis, or to those who use pop music more regularly as source material.), and with improvisation being absolutely essential to this aesthetic, as are lyrics, for the most part. Not a great deal of wordless vocal in that scene, although it's not totally off-limits, I think. Once again, as a disclaimer: I'm not saying that I have any problem with these choices, even though they're very different from my own in what is technically the same sub-sub-genre of music...I'm just observing and trying to deconstruct the striking differences that are pretty plain to those of us who live in the world of "vocal jazz" every day. It's pretty fascinating to me, actually, and I don't know if I could ever make a group sound like Vijay's...even if I had the same singers and the same charts. There's some kind of specific training going on there that I'd love to learn more about, and I expect I will, over the years.
CWU has historical connections to everyone who has led the movement of Northwest vocal jazz, and so it's really cool any time you can see them doing their thing (swinging in five out of six charts performed on their 30 minute set, for example, and proudly featuring only writers who have a connection with their school). Since some time has passed now, I can't get too specific, but I won't soon forget the power of their performance of Dave Barduhn's awesome chart on "With Every Breath I Take" from City of Angels. It was also exciting to see three of the members of one of my favorite vocal jazz groups, Groove For Thought, performing with them, with Amanda Kunz leading the way with conviction and incredible talent. GFT was a stand-out group on season 2 of "The Sing Off", led by Kelly Kunz, a great writer and director of a phenomenal vocal jazz program at Pierce College. He brought his group to Sac State a few years ago and they just blew us all away!
Sadly, and very embarassingly, my day ended here, because although JV1 from U Miami performed what was apparently a great set at 11:30 on the main stage, I was doing Friday on only three lousy hours of sleep because of the awful pillows at the Marriott Marquis (SHAME on you, Marriott...such a beautiful hotel and you can't get pillows right!), so I left CWU's gig and headed to my room for what I meant to be a couple hour nap before heading back down to see Larry's last performance with a group at a convention like this...a very big deal to all of us...and I just straight up slept through it. I'll be looking out for that gig to show up on The Rush Stage, though.
Next up: Saturday...a massive finish to an incredible convention!
I won't take time to write this eloquently, but will rather just give some of my notes and thoughts after day one of the Jazz Education Network conference in Atlanta.
Attended Pete McGuinness' early clinic session to start things off, and I made the comment afterward that it's nice to have one's ego destroyed thoroughly right at the outset of the conference! That is to say that Pete, it turns out (and I'm happy to now be a part of a big club of people who know this, including Julia, who has known it for years), is a monster, vicious, insane, brilliant scat singer. He jokes that his nickname should be Chet Faker, since his vocal sound is so reminiscent of Chet Baker's, but that's a modest assessment of Pete's abilities and musicianship. His bebop harmonic language is much deeper than Chet's scatting language, in my opinion, and his intonation (he has perfect pitch, I hear, but that doesn't always necessarily mean perfect intonation for people) was spot on. Pete was entirely, and I mean entirely in A440 throughout his range, which includes high tenor notes that made me blush. He's a total pro, a bandleader and trombonist first, I believe, but a scatter and lyric storyteller of the highest rank. One of those things that made me recommit instantly to practicing my craft with more fervor from now on. Seems like a nice dude, too. I intend to track him down and shake his hand before the conference is over, because I made tracks after his hit to make it to another session. Oh, and perfect mic technique. Almost forgot.
Amazingly, I'd never heard or met Michelle Mailhot, a friend of basically every one of my vocal jazz colleague friends (she went to Western and sang in Gold Company and was in Voices of Liberty at Disney, the latter of which is a connection with Julia, although they didn't sing at the same time) until yesterday morning, and hers was the first performance session. She's an excellent vocal musician, and a helluva technician, which is the thing that had me most excited, because she's a perfect example of how a female singer can use her mixed voice and belt range to great effect in solo jazz singing (and I'm sure she's a phenomenal ensemble singer, of course). Most striking were some of the arrangements in the second half of her set, including a funky, swingy take on "I Ain't Missin' You", the John Waite tune from the 80’s. I was thinking, as I heard it, that I ought to write an ensemble chart on the tune in that style, and right on cue, my new friend Ellen Winters, sitting behind me, asked if either Greg Jasperse (sitting with us) or I were going to run back to our room and write a chart on it. Just might have to do it...might be perfect for the Monterey group and the starter series! Anyway...loved Michelle's set thoroughly.
I won't go into such depth about everything else I saw...this is getting a little heavy, actually. I'll just hit on a few things that followed: Ken Kraintz presented charts offered by Sound Music Publications (along with Frank DiMiero), and I was surprised and pleased that they started the session playing clips of my "I Love You" and "Scarborough Fair" charts that I wrote for them a few years back. They showed off charts from a variety of their writers, although notably absent on this day were charts from some of their long-time mainstay Pacific Northwest writers like Kirk Marcy, Norm Wallen, Dave Barduhn, and those cats that we all associate together in a way (I hope they'd consider that a fair thing to do). I took it as a sign that SMP means to continue to expand their envelope further beyond the Northwest sound for which many of my colleagues know and love them, and there's only good that can come from such a broadening of the catalog. If I could ever catch up with my commissions (and gosh willing I never will), I'd like to write for them again if the timing and the tune is right.
Rocky Mountain High School performed with guest Judy Niemack sitting in on a few tunes and doing one solo blues using call and response with the audience, Paul Falk, director of "Spotlights", had his girls do a small group feature on my SSA chart on "Precious". Next, Greg Jasperse texted me to say that Julia and I needed to get to the Regency Ballroom toot sweet to catch John Mills' group with the great vocalist Carmen Bradford. This was a big, shocking "wow" moment for us...Carmen's soulful style and amazing voice paired with the intricacy of Mills' grooving contemporary charts for small group with horns was pretty stunning. Sat with Peter Eldridge, Greg and Julia, and we were wide eyed and shaking our heads in disbelief. Siiiick! Sad that I accidentally missed my UNC friends playing with their "7 on 7" group, though, which I heard was fantastic.
Aubrey Johnson was next in the vocal jazz room, and I was really pleased to hear her set. She's got a unique sound and amazing vocal technique, and her set is mostly her original tunes which are modern and esoteric...modal and uber-hip.
Dave Cazier's "Freeform" from Columbia Basin College was in great form, performing some new charts along with a few tribute to their past and to jazz conferences past. Excellent ensemble sound, very swinging, of course...just generally very cool. They're in a different school of vocal jazz sound than I came from...North Texas, Kansas, UNC, Miami...all of my main sound influences are quite different from the Pacific Northwest sound which prioritizes a choral approach over what one might think of as a more soloistic and conversational approach to an ensemble sound (like I'm used to, and like you'll hear in all the demos on this site). No value judgements here...great music is great music, honestly, and Freeform sings with conviction and integrity. One key stylistic thing that I noticed, maybe for the first time, about that approach, though, has to do with ballad singing. Nearly no scooping inflections (or perhaps no other noticable inflections) are built into the ballad...something that's basically unthinkable in the style in which I'm accustomed to operating. Interesting to note it, that's all. Amazing control, huge dynamic range...all good, and well done to Caz and his kids, as always. I worked with his group a few years ago and was quite intimidated to approach the differences in our ensemble aesthetics, thinking I might step on toes, and to the contrary, Caz was eager to have me clinic his students on this other approach, as an alternate point of view. I'd LOVE for my Sac State kids to get a similar clinic from Caz sometime. Get 'em to raise their soft pallates a bit, use taller vowels, and cut out all that scooping...and swing their butts out the building!
Sarah Kervin has a standing-room only audience at the "Conservatory" stage, and well-deserved. You may or may not know that I've published her original chart "Passing Through" on this website, and that she graduated from my alma mater, UNT. She's got a really wonderful, professional and highly musical pop/jazz voice reminiscent of Sara Bareilles, and her songwriting is beautiful and right in the zone. I predict great things for her, as she's got charisma onstage and honesty and integrity in her performance. It was a really, really fantastic set...and as a young jazz singer, for her to be looking out at a lineup of many of the heavies in the vocal jazz world in her audience as she was and not flinching for a second....that was impressive.
I missed the evening concerts for the extended vocal jazz educators' hang, and that was lovely and epic. I heard that Bria Skonberg was burning....would love to have checked her out. I'll do my research when I get home.
But the event that closed the evening for us was well worth missing just about anything. My new friend Dianne Orlofsky, who directs a pretty new vocal jazz program at Troy University in Alabama, brought her group to JEN for the sole purpose of the kids experiencing the convention. They don't have a gig...they just came to be a part of things, and all of us, as vocal jazz educators, were inspired at this idea, and at the students themselves, who are lovely individuals eager to learn as much as they can while here. Diane told me that they've got two of my chartd in their set: "Travels" and "Emily", both tunes that Vertical Voices performs and has recorded for our upcoming CD. She said that "Travels" has been a bit of a centerpiece for the group this year, emotionally, and since all of Vertical Voices are here at the conference and were hanging last night, we, along with a who's whom of the vj education community, made a spontaneous mini-performance/clinic happen with the Troy group in one of the performance rooms that was prepping for a sound check. They sang Travels, and we were all (I think it's fair to say) moved by their sincerity and talent. We gave them some feedback afterward, Julia telling them about her story behind the lyric and the rest of VV giving them a few words of advice and encouragement as well. Really a memorable event, and totally in the spirit of what we're all doing here this weekend.
I may not have enough time to write blog entries of this length about today and tomorrow, but I'll try to check in. Thanks for reading!
Julia and I are spending the next three days in Atlanta at the Jazz Educators Network annual conference. Several vocal jazz groups to see and a few particularly interesting-looking clinics to check out, although it always seems that catching up with old friends is the most memorable part. I'll try to post updates.