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Billy Harper with Marshall
Vente and the Project 9 Ensemble


Composer/arranger notes:

“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

Marshall,

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.

Tom

You may contact Marshall Vente 
by phone at: (630) 541-3381

Cell phone: (630) 430-5113

or by e-mail at marshallvente@comcast.net

 

Marshall Vente 
P.O. Box 1135
Westmont, IL 60559

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