May 2020 Newsletter

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Spring greetings!

I hope you are all doing well and getting some sunshine like we are here in Boston. I have enjoyed hiking during this time of social distancing. The header image for the newsletter is from my hike yesterday. It was gorgeous!

I am happy to report that I am feeling completely recovered from my mysterious illness. It has been amazing to have back my energy so I can practice, compose, hike, and finish the spring semester strong.

Today was my last day of classes for the school year. In some ways, it feels like school ended a long time ago. I am sad for all my graduating friends who are not getting the celebrations they deserve. I am sad for all of us who are uncertain they will be able to return to school in the fall. I am sad for all the administrators facing impossible decisions. I am sad for all the faculty and staff whose livelihoods are at stake. I have been reading a lot of articles about how the pandemic has and will continue to impact higher education in the US. Here’s an interesting one I read this morning from the New York Times.

I am excited to share that I set up a little “home studio” and have been making some short, fun videos to get comfortable with the setup. Now that I’m done with the spring, I am looking forward to making more videos and collaborating more with my friends. Stay tuned for more!

Today I released a transcription of John Coltrane’s solo on “Big Nick.” And here’s a video of me playing the first two choruses. I also shared my analysis of the solo with my followers on Patreon. For as little as $1/month you can gain access to exclusive content, early releases, free sheet music, and more!

I hope you all find ways to stay healthy and positive during this unusual time. As always, thank you for your support and encouragement.

With gratitude,
Sam


Featured Sounds

My parody of the Disney song “A Whole New World.” This arrangement is available on SheetMusicPlus: https://bit.ly/3aXuSK0.

Sheet Music For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace and Sheet Music Plus!


Latest From the Blog


More coming soon, sneak peek for the next post available on Patreon 

  • April 2020 Newsletter – Last month’s news. [Read More
    (All of my newsletters are archived here.)
     
  • Encountering Gunther: Celebrating MBS – It was an honor to perform a concert with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra celebrating the life and legacy of Gunther Schuller. … [Read More]
     
  • Encountering Gunther: My First Encounter With His Music – As part of New England Conservatory’s Jazz50 Celebration, the NEC Philharmonia and NEC Jazz Orchestra combined forces to produce the third performance of Gunther’s tour-de-force Encounters (2003)…. [Read More]

April 2020 Newsletter

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Hi friends,

I hope this email finds you well during these uncertain times. 

This time has given me an opportunity to reflect on my life – how things are going and how I would like them to go. I loved my life before the pandemic. New England Conservatory became my happy place; I felt whole when I was surrounded by my peers and professors in our hallowed, historic school. I enjoyed working my four jobs – library aid, Jazz Orchestra librarian, Symphony Hall Usher, and teaching fellow with the Boston Public Schools. It was a lot happening at once and sometimes felt like too much for one person to handle. But I managed, until I couldn’t anymore.

Almost two months ago, I first came down with a cold. It improved, but then I had a fever. Once that improved, I had another fever. That improved and now I am beginning to feel my health decline once again. Being sick is never fun, but this is an especially difficult time. What was a minor cold became a massive infection because I was given insufficient medical advice over the phone and was discouraged from scheduling an in-person appointment until the symptoms became more severe. I cannot even begin to imagine how many people worldwide are facing similar challenges accessing the care they need during this time.

I am using this moment to think about how I want to move toward a healthier, more sustainable life with my music leading the way. How can I use my music to bring healing to myself and togetherness to my community when we are all forced to stay apart?

I have lots of ideas for new videos, online collaborations, expanding my Encountering Gunther blog series, and more. Keep an eye out on Facebook and Instagram for these things!

I am also excited to share that I have launched my Patreon page! For a monthly subscription, I will share exclusive behind-the-scenes videos, music tips, early releases, discounted sheet music, and more. Let me know what kinds of rewards would interest you.

Thank you for your continued support during this uncertain time for us all. I hope we can connect again soon in the physical world, but for now, I look forward to hearing from you on the interweb. 

Hugs from 6 feet away,
Sam


Upcoming Performances

Stay tuned for some online collaborations!


Featured Sounds

Performing MBS with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra and special guest George Schuller. Read more about this performance here.

New Scores For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace  and Sheet Music Plus!


Latest From the Blog

Encountering Gunther: Celebrating MBS – It was an honor to perform a concert with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra celebrating the life and legacy of Gunther Schuller. … [Read More]

Encountering Gunther: My First Encounter With His Music – As part of New England Conservatory’s Jazz50 Celebration, the NEC Philharmonia and NEC Jazz Orchestra combined forces to produce the third performance of Gunther’s tour-de-force Encounters (2003)…. [Read More]

February 2020 Newsletter – What I was up to a couple months ago …  [Read More]


Encountering Gunther: Celebrating MBS

It was an honor to perform a concert with the New England Conservatory Jazz Orchestra celebrating the life and legacy of Gunther Schuller. We were joined on a couple pieces by special guest George Schuller, Gunther’s youngest son. This video is of George’s composition MBS, in memory of his mother (Gunther’s wife and pillar of strength and inspiration), Marjorie Black Schuller. After reading Gunther’s autobiography, A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty, it was clear to me that he would never be satisfied with a celebration of his life that didn’t acknowledge his cherished counterpart. It was a great honor to be featured on this moving memorial to a strong woman.


Learn more about my Encountering Gunther blog series.

Encountering Gunther: My First Encounter With His Music

Last semester was the first time I ever performed music written by Gunther Schuller. As part of New England Conservatory’s Jazz50 Celebration, the NEC Philharmonia and NEC Jazz Orchestra combined forces to produce the third performance of Gunther’s tour-de-force Encounters (2003). The piece was originally written to commemorate the centennial anniversary of Jordan Hall, NEC’s prized historical concert hall.

There were many challenges involved with putting together Encounters. The first is the sheer number of people required to perform the piece, approximately 150 musicians (comprising an orchestra, a jazz orchestra, three jazz soloists, and a 6-piece jazz choir). It was difficult to schedule sufficient rehearsals for the full ensemble and to fit everyone and their instruments comfortably on stage.

Further, Gunther calls for the use of some more obscure instruments such as Heckelphone, Bb Contrabass Clarinet, Bass Trumpet, and a Quarter Tone Piano. At first, I thought this to be somewhat excessive, but as I became more familiar with the piece, I came to appreciate the unique colors that only these instruments could provide to the piece. Through reading his autobiography, I learned of Gunther’s passion to create repertoire for underrepresented instruments. I also admire Gunther’s ambition to take advantage of the resources he had. He knew that NEC had access these rare instruments and was teeming with many students and faculty eager to play boundary-busting new music. Gunther puts it best in his program notes:

One doesn’t have an opportunity very often (if at all) to write a work for a “symphony” (classical) orchestra and jazz orchestra (“big band”). My earlier Third Stream pieces in the 1960s were either composed for one or the other, or for a classical group with jazz soloists (e.g. Modern Jazz Quartet). I must say that the chance to write for the two just-mentioned types of orchestra was most inspiring, to the point that it caused me to write various things (gestures, phrases, instrumental combinations, “classical” ideas played by jazz musicians and vice versa, etc.), that is, musical ideas which A) I would probably never have thought of had I only had one or the other orchestra at my disposal, and B) ideas which I could only have had if both types of orchestras and musicians were available to me.

Source: http://www.musicsalesclassical.com/composer/work/32660

Each group of musicians rehearsed separately at first. Once we were ready to rehearse as a full ensemble, new challenges emerged. We had to learn how to balance and blend our sounds, how to come together as one unified orchestra. Us jazz musicians struggled at first to follow the orchestral conducting style, being ahead of the beat (customary for orchestral conducting), went against much of our training. The classical musicians were not accustomed to accompanying improvisers. We navigated these challenges together, with patience. This was an opportunity for us all to learn new musical customs and be exposed to new sounds.

While the process of putting Encounters together was intense, it was a rewarding pursuit. When I stumbled upon the video of our performance (embedded below), I enjoyed listening and watching, reminiscing about the experience. While we may have not perfected every minutia, I would like to think that Gunther would have still found delight in knowing that his music continues to bring together young musicians of two streams (“jazz” and “classical”) together to create something monumental.

NEC Philharmonia + NEC Jazz Orchestra: Encounters
October 30, 2019

Learn more about my Encountering Gunther blog series.

February 2020 Newsletter

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Greetings, friends!

I can’t believe we are nearing mid-February in this new decade. Time seems to be slipping by so quickly, but I work hard each day to feel like the time was well spent. January was a whirlwind of school, work, research, and setting the building blocks for a great year.

A few weeks ago, I finished reading Gunther Schuller’s autobiography entitled A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty. I thought it was important for me to have a good understanding of the person who established the jazz program I am in at New England Conservatory. While the book does not cover Gunther’s time as president of the Conservatory, I still learned a lot about him and about American music from the 1920s-1950s. I became fascinated with Gunther’s stories and he brought a lot of curiosity out of me so I began doing some research and started a new blog series about it.

I started my second semester in New England Conservatory’s Jazz Studies program. It has been great to continue learning with my classmates and from my professors. I am excited to be having a piece performed by the Jazz Composition Workshop Orchestra at the end of the semester. It has been an important experience to rehearse my piece with the band and learn about being a leader. I am also looking forward to several performances with the NEC Jazz Orchestra. For one of our performances, I will be playing five instruments – Alto Sax, Flute, Clarinet, Alto Flute, and – this one is completely new to me – E-Flat Clarinet!

I have continued my teaching fellowship with the Boston Public Schools, always a highlight of my week. I enjoy sharing my passion for music with the students and helping them see the potential they have. I am proud of their progress and perseverance.

One more update – I am excited to be making more of my large ensemble music available for purchase on my new Sheet Music Plus store! These will be in downloadable PDF format. I will still be keeping up my store on Noteflight Marketplace, where my small ensemble works are available for purchase as adaptable Noteflight files. Both are great platforms with their own advantages for music creators and buyers. Keep an eye out on social media for when I upload new scores.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a fabulous February!

Cheers,
Sam


Upcoming Performances

2/27- Cosmosis: The Music of Dave Holland with Jim McNeely, More Info

3/3 – Ester Wiesnerova’s Senior Recital, More Info

4/16 – Invisible Choir: The Music of Ken Schaphorst, More Info

Look out for announcement of more performances!


Featured Sounds

Manuel Kaufmann Jazz Orchestra, September 2019

New Scores For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace  and Sheet Music Plus!


Latest From the Blog

  • Encountering Gunther: Charlie Parker’s Lament – He played so convincingly that I could not imagine that he would rather be playing another song, another note than the one he was playing right in that moment. Bit it was only an illusion. … [Read More]
     
  • Introducing Encountering Gunther – Gunther’s narrative opened more questions for me than he answered and this has inspired me to conduct some of my own research. … [Read More]
     
  • January 2020 Newsletter – How I ushered in the new year [Read More]

Encountering Gunther: Charlie Parker’s Lament

It is no secret nor surprise that Charlie Parker is one of my greatest musical heroes. I’m well acquainted with the classic recordings, have transcribed numerous solos, and try to emulate his stylings in my own playing. So then it should be no surprise to the reader that one of the most intriguing parts of Gunther’s autobiography is his final encounter with Charlie Parker.

This took place in 1955, months before Parker’s untimely death. The two had a chance meeting at the Baroness’s (Kathleen Annie Pannonica de Koenigswarter) apartment. The conversation started with Parker’s lament about the current state of jazz. He was frustrated by the stagnation perpetuated by the continual use of convention forms such as 32-bar tunes from the Great American Songbook and the 12-bar blues. Gunther recounted:

. . . Bird began expressing his extreme frustration with where jazz was going; he felt that it was stuck in a rut, in routine and stifling formulae. . . . with a lot of pain and anguish in his voice, he asked if I realized how many thousands of times – and ways – he’d played the blues. He’d had enough of that. He felt that there had to be something else out there. It wasn’t just the blues; it was, he said, the exhaustion of the thirty-two-bar song form, the increasing codification and delimiting conformism of harmonic changes, the boring, fettering, stereotypical standardization of jazz performance and form, i.e., the head, followed by a series of improvised choruses, and repeat of the head.

Schuller, p. 450

I must admit, this shook me to an extent. For all these years, a decade now, I have been enjoying and imitating Parker’s playing on these standard progressions. I admired Parker for what I took as his insistence on keeping the blues in his repertoire, something that has become, in my opinion, largely lost today. But I was clearly mistaken. This should not have been so surprising to me. It is no secret that record executives were very controlling in their interactions with Parker in terms of the flow of the sessions and distribution of royalties. But I always took Parker’s playing as being so sincere. He played so convincingly that I could not imagine that he would rather be playing another song, another note than the one he was playing right in that moment. But it was only an illusion.

While his frustration with regards to form in jazz was likely largely warranted, I was surprised that he did not become more involved with his peers who were already experimenting with form on a high level – Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, J.J. Johnson, Gil Evans, Jimmy Giuffre, Tadd Dameron, Mary Lou Williams, and surely many others. I wonder what held him back from putting himself right in the middle of this renaissance he was so craving. Perhaps his addictions prevented him from reaching out to those around him for the musical nurturing he desired.

Gunther goes on to share the next level of Parker’s lament:

He told me that lately he had been listening increasingly to modern classical music, mostly on recordings, music of Bartók and Stravinsky, and how exciting and refreshing that was, how he wanted to explore more of that kind of music. He said something like: I know there’s a whole lot of great music out there, I want to know more about that. Can you help me? I’d like to study with you. He said this in such a pleading tone, as if this would be his musical salvation. I of course said yes, I’d be more than happy to get together with him whenever he wanted. He should just let me know.

Alas, that was never to happen. I never saw Bird again. He died a few months later, on March 12, 1955.

Schuller, p. 450

I was somewhat surprised to hear about what Gunther interpreted as Parker having a fairly serious interest in studying with him. I do not know much about Parker’s experience with formal music education. (Perhaps this is something I can research and expound upon in a future blog post.) I am only aware of him studying saxophone extensively on his own, particularly his interest in the Klosé etudes, his collaborative experiments with Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and others of the era, and his on-the-job training playing in bands such as Billy Eckstine’s.

Charlie Parker in the legendary Billy Eckstine’s band

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Charles A. Harris and Beatrice Harris in memory of Charles “Teenie” Harris

After reading Gunther’s unexpected story, I did a little more research and discovered that he was not the sole recipient of a plea for lessons from Parker. Edgar Varèse recounting similar experience:

He stopped by my place a couple of times. . . . He’d come in and exclaim, “Take me as you would a baby and teach me music. I only write in one voice. I want to write orchestral scores.” . . . He was so dramatic it was funny, and I finally promised myself I would try to find some time to show him some of the things he wanted to know. I left for Europe and told him to call me up after Easter when I would be back. Charlie died before Easter.

Woideck, p. 205

Parker also confirms his interest in studying with Varèse in a 1954 interview with fellow altoist Paul Desmond:

CP: Well, seriously speaking, I mean, I’m going to try to go to Europe to study. I had the pleasure to meet one Edgard Varèse in New York City, he’s a classical composer from Europe. He’s a Frenchman, a very nice fellow, and he wants to teach me, in fact, he wants to write [radio static] for me some things for me for a – you know, more or less on a serious basis, you know?

PD: Mm hm.

CP: And if he takes me over, I mean, after he finishes with me, I might have a chance to go to Academie de Musicale in Paris itself and study, you know. And, well, the principal – the prime – my prime interest still is learning to play music, you know. (unintelligible)

PD: Would you study playing, or composition, or everything?

CP: I would study both. I never want to lose my horn.

Woideck, p. 204
Paul Desmond’s Interview of Charlie Parker

The idea of Parker digging into what Gunther and Varèse had to offer is thrilling to me. We can only imagine what glorious creations would have resulted from these unfulfilled encounters. In his book Charlie Parker: His Music and Life, Carl Woideck offers some interesting speculations about Parker’s potential trajectory had he lived longer. Of course, I would imagine that these accomplishments would have been contingent on Parker committing to sobriety. There is no question that his various addictions stifled his productivity musically and otherwise.

Perhaps the best way we can honor Parker is to not do as he did, but rather take music in new directions as he imagined for himself but did not live to fulfill to the extent he desired.


Learn more about my Encountering Gunther blog series.

Introducing Encountering Gunther

When I knew I wanted to attend New England Conservatory (NEC), I wanted to understand the history behind America’s first private music school and the first to have a full-fledged jazz department. I quickly found that perhaps the most influential figure in NEC’s recent history was horn player/composer/conductor/historian/author Gunther Schuller. I wrote a paper about him in my final semester at Berklee College of Music. I then began reading his monstrous autobiography A Life in Pursuit of Music and Beauty over the summer. After being “sidetracked” by my first semester in graduate school, I prioritized the completion of the book over winter break, and just finished it two nights ago. As I neared the end of the book, I realized that my journey with Gunther was far from over.

Gunther’s narrative opened more questions for me than he answered and this has inspired me to conduct some of my own research. As a name for my project, I came up with Encountering Gunther (or #EncounteringGunther in hashtag form, which I also intend to use). I chose this name for two reasons. 1) Gunther used the word “encounter” and its variants frequently throughout his autobiography. 2) Gunther wrote a demanding piece called Encounters for the centennial celebration of Jordan Hall. I was fortunate to be in an ensemble that performed it last year to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of NEC’s jazz department (one of Gunther’s major accomplishments as the president of NEC).

I have many plans for the directions of the research. Some writings will focus on specific musicians or albums while others will be more philosophical or ideological. I look forward to sharing my “encounters” with this American icon and hope others will be as interested in this exploration as I have been.

January 2020 Newsletter

Happy New Year! I hope you had a wonderful celebration surrounded by family, friends, amazing music, and delicious food.

One of my most important New Years Resolutions is to get back into sending out my monthly newsletters and more frequent social media posts. I became very caught up in my first semester of my graduate studies, working as many as six jobs at one time, and countless other commitments. But I am ready to regain focus and clarity!

I am making big plans for this year – new music, more gigs, and more sharing my jazz research and musings on my blog.

So many exciting things happened in the final stretch of 2019. I finished my first semester at New England Conservatory with honors. I was involved in many wonderful performances with the NEC Jazz Orchestra with guest artists including Alan Pasqua, Antonio Sanchez, Carl Atkins, Luciana Souza, George Schuller, and Ran Blake. I met a lot of incredible people, had countless special musical experiences, and settled into my jobs. I have also enjoyed teaching one day a week at a Boston Public School through NEC’s Community Performances and Partnerships department.

I am also excited to share that Jazzhers is being officially incorporating as a non-profit with the mission of creating community for middle and high school girls who play jazz in the Boston area. We had a very special masterclass with Grammy nominated saxophonist Tia Fuller and look forward to offering more great programs this spring.

I’m sorry it has been a while since you last heard from me. I will resolve to do better in 2020!

Have a lovely rest of the weekend,
Sam

Upcoming Performances

2/27- Cosmosis: The Music of Dave Holland with Jim McNeely, More Info

4/16 – Invisible Choir: The Music of Ken Schaphorst, More Info

Look out for announcement of more performances!

Featured Sounds

New Scores For Sale

Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace!

Latest From the Blog

More posts coming soon!
See earlier posts.

Music I Like That ISN’T Jazz

I often get asked if I listen to music that is not jazz. While the majority of my listening is jazz-centric, I also enjoy a lot of music that most would probably not classify as “jazz.” The origins and relevance of the term “jazz” itself is rife with controversy, and what constitutes “jazz music” is ever-changing and expanding. The more I grow musically, the more arbitrary these categories of music seem to me. Perhaps Duke Ellington said it best, “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.”

Enjoy this list (in no particular order) of some of the artists that inspire me outside of the “jazz” realm.


1. Scott Joplin

While closely associated with jazz as a predecessor, ragtime has its own flavor. I really enjoy listening to Scott Joplin’s “rags.” I also highly recommend listening to the New England Conservatory Scott Joplin Ensemble’s recordings. Gunther Schuller wrote some great arrangements of Joplin’s rags and led efforts to revive his music.

2. Dance Bands

While many would consider this jazz, some would classify this more closely with popular music or as dance band music. This music can be incredibly cheesy at times, but I have fun listening to it. Here are some examples of what I mean.

3. Louis Jordan

I am just starting to get into Louis Jordan. While I was vaguely familiar with his name, I learned more about him while reading the book Swing It: An Annotated History of Jive.

4. Perry Como

As cheesy as he was, I will always have a soft spot for Perry Como because he was my grandmother’s absolute favorite.

Now, to move further from the lineage of jazz/dance band/crooners/rhythm and blues… (depicted in this brilliant illustration below). There might be some surprises in this coming section!

History of Jazz by Mary Lou Williams and David Stone Martin

5. Earth, Wind & Fire

My go-to music for when I need to groove along with something!

6. ABBA

Yes, you read that right! For those times when I just need to be a dancing queen.

7. The Carpenters

I love Karen’s voice and I enjoy the songs and arrangements.

8. Stevie Wonder

He was the soundtrack of my high school life. Memorable melodies with stellar harmonies and hypnotic grooves.

9. The Beatles/John Lennon

I was lucky to grow up around a number of Beatles fanatics. My appreciation for their music grows constantly.

10. Bonnie Raitt

My very first memory in life is dancing to Nick of Time with my mom in the dining room. This music still continues to inspire me decades later!

11. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Tchaikovsky’s fifth symphony is one of my favorite pieces of all time. I was incredibly fortunate to hear The Cleveland Orchestra perform it while I was in high school. His themes are stunning. He has also been a source of inspiration for jazz musicians (check out a previous blog about saxophonist/bandleader Freddy Martin, for example).

12. Maurice Ravel

Ravel is someone who I am just beginning to explore. I am particularly fond of Ma Mère l’Oye.

13. Early rap

It took me a while to come around to this music. I was fortunate to take a class at Cleveland State University that explored hip hop culture, which gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for rap and its potential to build community through voicing shared experiences.


Was there any music on this list that surprised you? Who are you listening to these days?

October 2019 Newsletter

I’ve just completed my first month of studying at New England Conservatory! It has been an amazing experience so far. I am taking classes on saxophone, composition, improvisation, and orchestration and loving every second. I have also been fortunate to work in NEC’s beautiful Blumenthal Library and as a teaching assistant in the Music Theory Department. I am looking forward to more wonderful times at NEC!

I am really excited to share that I am joining the board of Jazzhers, an organization with the mission of empowering female and non-binary high school jazz students. I have worked with Jazzhers in the past, and now we are going to be incorporated as a non-profit! Learn more about Jazzhers on our websiteFacebook, and Instagram.

I have been working on consistently posting on my blog. It has been fun sharing my musings and hearing all your thoughts about my writing.

I also have some new charts available on my Noteflight Marketplace store. I am usually uploading at least a couple new scores every month so check in every once in a while.

I’m so thankful for all the wonderful things going on in my life right now. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

Happy autumn!
Sam
Upcoming Performances
10/17 – NEC Jazz Orchestra with Alan Pasqua and Antonio Sanchez, 7:30 pm, Jordan Hall (More Info)

10/18 – Cecil Taylor Tribute Concert, 7:30 pm, Jordan Hall (More Info)

10/30 – NEC Philharmonia & Jazz Orchestra + Hugh Wolff: Beethoven & Schuller, 8 pm,  Jordan Hall (More Info)
Featured Sounds
New Scores For Sale
Original compositions and arrangements for a variety of ensembles available on Noteflight Marketplace!
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