Billy Harper with Marshall
Vente and the Project 9 Ensemble
“We suffer from an overuse of convenience at the
expense of passion”
– Gil Evans
The days of the touring big bands are nearly gone. Very
few musicians are on “the bus” touring the territory, country or world.
Not only is the bus parked, often so is the music. The audience for
large ensemble music has ears for the music of the “big band era”
from the past but is often intolerant of anything contemporary. When
this is combined with the impossible economics of keeping a large
ensemble employed, the result is the convenience of playing the great
music of the past. Although fine for some audiences, this makes it
tough for composers and arrangers who love the big band (the jazz
equivalent to the symphony orchestra) but wish to bring something
new to the jazz party.
Thankfully, musicians develop their skills in the educational
system, and, against all odds, keep ensemble music alive nearly everywhere
in the world! Big bands are not back, they never left. When resources
are added, the band is established and an audience is developed, new
music has a chance to flourish. This is what is happening here tonight
thanks to Tom Tallman, the ACJE and the MAC. Our passion for composing
new music is given a chance to be heard.
Gil Evans paid more than his share of dues pursuing
his passion for music. Despite his skill and international notoriety,
he described arranging as a “loser’s profession” and that he was “living
proof that one could be poor and famous.” Yet, he was Duke’s favorite
arranger, musical confidant to Miles, mentor to many, left us a lifetime
of music to enjoy, had the vision to give Billy Harper his first “breakthrough”
gig, and, later in the ‘80s, helped me develop my skills as a composer/arranger.
One night a few years after Gil was gone, Billy Harper
and I were both playing on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. Our chance meeting
gave me the idea to initiate collaboration. Fortunately it happened
– nearly ten years later! Our basic agreement is to develop new works
for my Project 9 ensemble (without re-casting standards and other
jazz favorites), and, maintaining urgency, rehearse and perform them
in a couple of days. It would be much easier to play “A-Train” again
– but this is not our goal. Although tonight’s compositions were previously
performed, they were totally revised and expanded from my Project
9 to big band scores.
Saudade de Aranjuez is a little more Brazilian
than Spanish. Saudade is the Portuguese word for “a longing for” and
is often described here as “the blues.” While traveling in Spain,
we stopped for a day in Aranjuez just to experience the charm of the
city that inspired Joaquin Rodrigo to compose his Concierto de Aranjuez
which was later popularized by Gil and Miles.
Moving Forward was one of a few tunes composed
after 9/11. Like jazz itself, the premise is to remember the past,
accept the changes and keep moving forward with your life. The salsa-oriented
coda was a bit of an afterthought and also shows us how modern jazz
and Latin music are fusing to create something new.
Monk’s Still Here is a be-bop-like swinger that
reminds us that the music of Thelonious Monk, along with our other
jazz heroes, continues to influence jazz every day. I had fun incorporating
Monk quotes into the ensemble, listen for them and count them!
Moods of Love is a small suite which combines
the elements of modern jazz harmony, modal playing, samba, straight-ahead
swinging, and different tonal colors for the ensemble. The ostinato
middle section is reminiscent of the exotic non-fusion jazz of the’70s,
which is often overlooked today. Overall, this is a real workout for
everyone on the stage!
Groove from Heaven is a tune that Billy composed
while he was walking down the street, and it just came down to him
from heaven. The ostinato was made for the bass, tuba and piano in
unison. This is a great contrast to the overly harmonic first half
and both sections provide a unique form for improvisation.
To me, Croquet Ballet is one of Billy Harper’s
signature compositions. One of my good friends stated that this tune
represents the creativity of jazz in our lifetime. Billy initially
wrote this for the croquet game in a play based on Alice in Wonderland
and then went on to record it with Lee Morgan. The jazz historians
will probably regard his Black Saint recording as a definitive version,
until you hear Billy play the tune live tonight!
We do not work alone. I am thankful to all who contributed
to this evening of music: my wife Ruth Anne, who endured my long months
composing at the piano; John Blane for his excellent preparation of
the parts for the band; Janie Oldfield and her staff at the MAC; the
support from WDCB; all of the musicians in tonight’s edition of the
ACJE; Billy Harper for his innovative sound and the way he breathes
life into a melody; and, most of all, to Tom Tallman who suggested
and made this concert happen.
Marshall Vente January 2003
ARTS CENTER JAZZ ENSEMBLE
Tom Tallman, Music Director
College of DuPage
McAninch Arts Center
425 Fawell Blvd.
Glen Ellyn, IL 60137
February 14, 2003
Just a note to thank you again for putting together what
I consider to be the perfect type of event for this musical organization
and this school.
Having a composer of your caliber bring in eight arrangements
of mostly original material, professionally copied, and adding the powerful
voice of Billy Harper’s saxophone was a real honor and pleasure for
us all. From the rehearsals to the material I was able to use in a combined
theory class to the final performance, our work together exemplified
everything people in my business like to say we’re about but rarely
get a chance to actually do. Plus, in the words of a friend who enjoyed
the concert immensely, it rocked.
Here’s to more events like this around here. Around anywhere!
I wish you nothing but the best of luck and well-tuned
pianos with this and the myriad projects that you’re constantly attacking.
Without your organizational skills and clear understanding of the goals
for a final product we would have been dead meat, and I love any opportunity
to show the public what a myth the space cadet jazz player is.
Cheers, and thanks again.
You may contact Marshall Vente
by phone at: (630) 968-3339