The first review is in, and it's a big one!

Terry Teachout has written the first review of our album Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider.  Here's what he has to say:

"Julia Dollison has joined forces with her husband, the singer-arranger Kerry Marsh, to create an album of Maria Schneider's compositions for big band in which all of the original horn parts are sung, not played. (Schneider's own rhythm section provides instrumental support.) More than just a technical tour de force, this CD is a miracle of kaleidoscopically varied vocal color that provides an arresting new perspective on Schneider's musical genius. If you've heard Observatory, Dollison's 2005 debut CD, you won't need to be told twice to get Vertical Voices. If not, get them both."

Teachout is the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal and chief culture critic for Commentary.  He is also a New York Times bestselling author for Pops, A Life of Louis Armstrong.  Our CD is mentioned on his ArtsJournal Blog About Last Night as one of his current "Top 5."


A week later, still Vertical

Gotta dig the in-flight wireless.  OK, American one to you for now.  Just don't mess it up.  

No video-of-the-day today, or for a little while, probably.  I've waited a week to add a new entry because the story of the entire week (as it remains) is the release of my debut CD with Julia Dollison, "Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider."   Things are going well early on, as we sold a record number of CDs (for us) at our CD release concert at Sac State, and we've had lots of people go to our site and purchase the album.  We're getting lots of very nice emails from listeners who are digging the project, so there's a real sense of gratification already.  There's much to be done with promotion, though, as we want to get the CD in the hands of every fan of ensemble vocals and every fan of Maria Schneider's music.  That's a pretty big target audience, and we're just getting started.  Huge thanks to those who've gotten on board so far!

This is a big week, and there will be plenty to write, and probably a decent amount of down time in which to write it.  I'm currently in the air on my way to Raleigh, North Carolina, where I'll be serving as the choir master for my 10th Ben Folds symphony concert, this time with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra.  I've got the hang of things now, and we've got six solid arrangements to sing on the gig.  I've chosen eight singers again this time, so I won't be singing the ensemble stuff, but will just sing the classical tenor solo on "Narcolepsy" as I did eight times in the fall.  I particularly like being able to stand outside of the group in the middle of the concert and give entrances and cutoffs, subtly, of course, to give the group confidence.  It seemed to really help the performances when I did that in the fall.

There's one more of these concerts booked at the moment, this time in Denver on October 2nd.  I'll start putting the auditions together for that this summer, to give plenty of lead time for the concert.

After the Raleigh concert, I'll be headed for Salt Lake City, where I'll be meeting up with Julia (flying from Sac) and judging and performing at the Salt Lake City Vocal Jazz Festival.  I believe there will be around ten groups performing during the day, one of which will be selected to perform on the evening concert.  A professional group led by the festival's organizer, Kristie Arnold, will also be on the concert, and I look forward to checking them out.  

And then it's home for a solid seven days of spring break, during which I'll be working on Part Tracks, writing a new commission and recording a few demos.  Should be a really good couple weeks with which to end the month. 

Finally Going Vertical!

Today is the release day for my CD with Julia Dollison, "Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider"!!!

It's going to be a real media blitz for a while, and it's already gotten exciting, starting first with our documentary-style video about the project...

And we'll be sending out our mass email announcement first thing in the morning (if you're reading this and didn't get it, I'm surprised!)

Also, we were really excited to hear a really great story put together by Paul Conley of Capital Public Radio in Sacramento, to be featured on today during Morning Edition.  You can listen to it here...

Finally, here's the full press release:

"These two are the 'genius' duo. They're going to take over the earth."
- Maria Schneider
When vocalists Julia Dollison and Kerry Marsh first proposed the concept of their new ArtistShare® CD Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider to the multi-Grammy Award-winning composer herself, she immediately thought they were "absolutely insane." Using their two voices via studio multi-tracking, the duo would create a virtual vocal orchestra by wordlessly singing the brass and woodwind parts in Schneider's lush, harmonically deep and rhythmically complex compositions. After listening to a sample portion of "Journey Home" that the pair had quickly recorded in their home studio, Maria generously endorsed the project and even pitched the idea to her own orchestra's rhythm section: Ben Monder, guitar; Frank Kimbrough, piano; Jay Anderson, bass; Clarence Penn, drums.  
While the task of recreating vocal versions of Maria's orchestral compositions may seem daunting to some, Dollison and Marsh are not your ordinary vocal duo.  The married team shares a passion for exploring new and challenging vocal possibilities, eager to push the boundaries of what is thought possible in vocal jazz.  Upon hearing the early rough mixes featuring the layered voice parts, Don Heckman of The International Review of Music described them as "remarkable vocal transformations."  Ottawa Citizen's Peter Hum agrees: "I'm with Schneider on this one. You have to give Dollison and Marsh full marks for their ambition, execution, commitment and musical taste."
Julia Dollison was the first vocalist to perform wordlessly with the Maria Schneider Orchestra at New York's Jazz Standard in 2000, singing "Hang Gliding," "Journey Home" and "Allegresse."   After attending the first of these performances, Washington Post columnist Terry Teachout noted that Dollison "darted in and out of the band's rich chords like a silver firefly at dusk, and all at once everyone in the room realized that something special was happening. The Maria Schneider Orchestra had acquired a brand-new tone color, and it seemed as if 'Hang Gliding' had been meant for a singer all along." Schneider later added this new color to her compositional palette, incorporating voice on her two most recent Grammy-winning albums (Concert in the Garden and Sky Blue), both of which were pioneering efforts through ArtistShare®.
Maria fondly recalls, "I was a bit skeptical at first because of the enormous range of my pieces, the intricacy of the lines and the general extreme demands of the repertoire, but I decided to give it a shot. Julia was extraordinary! Her range, her sound, her ability to blend with the instruments and her absolutely perfect pitch just blew me away! She was nothing short of amazing." Dollison later went on to record with Schneider guitarist Ben Monder on her 2005 debut CD Observatory, described as "fresh and substantive" (JazzTimes), "breathtaking" (Sacramento Bee) and "richly imaginitive" (Wall Street Journal). Maria has since invited Dollison to perform wordlessly with her orchestra at 2006 IAJE conference in New York and the Reno Jazz Festival.
Kerry Marsh, also a beneficiary of Maria's guest artist visits to the Universities of Kansas and North Texas, became one of the very first project participants in ArtistShare® history when he joined the 2003 Schneider recording project that became Concert in the Garden.  Maria's influence on Kerry's composition and arranging techniques during his studies helped earn him a DownBeat Student Music Award for best collegiate jazz arrangement later that same year.
Fans of Maria Schneider's music will be anxious to hear these new interpretations of her compositions, influenced largely by Maria's unwavering guidance and supportive presence in the studio during the rhythm section recording. Also among the exciting elements of this project are the all-new improvised solos featuring Dollison and Marsh, reflecting their own unique and personal vocal character and expression. The result of their combined efforts is an album that is nothing less than a revolutionary musical statement, one that will surely resonate loudly in the jazz world and beyond.
Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider is now available for purchase exclusively online in either CD or digital download format through the duo's ArtistShare® website.  The purchase also includes access to a wealth of behind-the-scenes documentary content, providing a unique and fascinating window into the creative process that led to this extraordinary recording.

Kerry Marsh is a composer and arranger specializing in contemporary music for vocal jazz ensembles.  In high demand as a commissioned arranger and clinician for many of the nation's top educational vocal and instrumental jazz ensembles, Marsh has a large and varied catalog of music performed regularly around the world.  As the director of vocal jazz ensembles at Sacramento State, Kerry and his students have been awarded ten DownBeat Student Music Awards since 2005.  Kerry has most recently worked as a vocal arranger and choirmaster for indie-pop singer/pianist Ben Folds, performing alongside Folds with major symphony orchestras on tour. Kerry's arrangement of Folds' "Selfless, Cold and Composed" was featured on the 2009 Epic Records release Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella.
Since winning the DownBeat Student Music Award for best collegiate vocal jazz soloist in 2000, Julia Dollison and her jazz voice students have earned eight additional DownBeat Student Music Awards during Julia's time at the University of Miami, The New School University in New York and Sacramento State.  As a performer, Dollison has frequently collaborated with Grammy-nominated pianist Geoffrey Keezer, who has since written for and produced Dollison and Marsh in the studio, multi-tracking their voices for an upcoming album mixed and mastered by Joe Ferla.  A classically trained soprano, Dollison has performed under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas and Erich Kunzel as well as with Ben Folds during his performances with the Boston Pops Symphony and National Symphony Orchestra.  Dollison can be heard on the Academy Award-winning Vera Drake film trailer and on film scores for The Stepford Wives and The Corpse Bride.

Dollison and Marsh · Vertical Voices: The Music of Maria Schneider
ArtistShare® · Release Date: March 16, 2010

For media information, please contact:
DL Media · 610-667-0501
Jordy Freed ·

Just a day

We have confirmation that "Vertical Voices" will arrive today.  We've finished a sweet new documentary-style video about the CD that I'll post tomorrow in celebration of the release.  For today, here are the three videos we've posted during the launch and creation of the CD...

Highlights from the comments of these videos, to date:

---Just as well I pursued a career other than music. These guys are depressing. How can one measure up to that? At the very least, being able to contribute to these artists' efforts feels like an extremely worthwhile cause. Kerry Marsh's work is the most amazing revelation I've had on YouTube to date.

---This was a great intro by Maria Schneider. Wow, you guys are going to take over the world, musically that is. I believe it. You two are amazing! 

---Wow. I love Maria Schneider, and Kerry and Julia sound FANTASTIC! Wow!

---What's the name of the track playing at the beginng? I'm new to her music, and that is just amazingly beautiful

---I can't wait to experience the whole project. Singers Unlimited on steroids.

---The original compositions of Miss Schneider stand on their own but with this wonderful vocal musical collaboration with Julia & Kerry covering all the horns and strings it has new wings. They're singing is angelic and edgy and cutting edge and improvisationally magnificent. Grammy time!!!!!  Any questions!!! I think NOT.

---Thats gonna be one epic CD

---Normally I can't stand scat signing, but you guys sound really good doing it!

Step of two

TWO DAYS until Vertical Voices launches.  Julia and I will be performing at Sac State on the release day, Tuesday at 8pm, with Jazz Singers and C-Sus opening the show.  All about yesterday below, but here's the VOTD...Maria Schneider's "Pas de Deux," in honor of my little countdown thing, and, of course, in honor of the best composer on the planet...

Julia and I presented a clinic about our project at the California Music Educators Association conference yesterday. We sang "Sky Blue" and "Hang Gliding" in our 9am clinic (!) and talked about the project a bit.  Attendance at the conference seems to be down, in general, certainly due, in part, to the recession, so the room wasn't packed, but we got a great vibe from the 25 or so people who made it.  It was the first time for us to use the new computer setup in a live situation, and it didn't go off entirely without a hitch, as the tracks for "Sky Blue" cut out for a full second RIGHT at the climax of the piece...but we both sang the music about as well as we've ever done it live.  We hadn't gotten much sleep, as we've been working furiously on last minute major items for the CD release.  You'll surely see the products of that on Tuesday.

At 11:45, The CMEA High School All-State Vocal Jazz Ensemble performed. under the direction of our great friend and colleague Greg Jasperse.  The all-staters were absolutely dynamite this year!  They're always great, of course, but it seems that this year's combination of elements just gelled extraordinarily well.  I hope even more California directors will encourage their students to submit auditions next year, because the level of the group's performance this year was extraordinary.  

Greg's programming was very strong with this set:  the group sang his "VoiceDance IV" and "Fields of Gold," Rosana Eckert's "Afro Blue" and "Virou Areia," Darmon Meader's "Charleston Alley" and Jennifer Barnes/Mervyn Warren's arrangement of "Confide in Me."  The amazing Christine Guter, director of one of the very top vocal jazz programs in the nation at CSU Long Beach, was the coordinator of the all-state group, in association with the California Alliance for Jazz.

I had a great time meeting all of the students in the ensembles, who were clearly on a high from their experience over the past few days.  It was also really great to meet Daniel Vu, the talented director of Orange Lutheran High School in SoCal, who had five students in the all-state group.   Finally, Julia and I enjoyed reconnecting with Holly Shaw-Slabbinck and her dad...some guy named Kirby.  You may have heard of him.

After a beautiful day reconnecting and sharing our project, we headed home and worked furiously on the CD release stuff.  More about that on Tuesday.  :)