Riffing on Repertory

Doug Ramsey

Earlier this year Doug Ramsey, recipient of the lifetime achievement award of the Jazz Journalists Association and author of the highly regarded ArtsJournal jazz blog Rifftides, encouraged his readers to check out the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra’s March main stage concert, SRJO Plays Big Band Monk & Mingus. Here’s an excerpt, in Doug’s words:

“If you live in or near Seattle or find yourself in the neighborhood and haven’t heard the SRJO, this would be a fine opportunity to get to know an impressive collection of musicians.”

This prompted prolific jazz blogger Chris Rich of Brilliant Corners, A Boston Jazz Blog to share his perspective on repertory jazz in Seattle, where he once lived and enjoyed the jazz scene. Here’s an excerpt from Chris’ comment:

“To cut to the chase and return to the point. Yes.. If reportorial renditions have a shot at vitality, Seattle is a better place to look than Lincoln Center. Thank you for this..Clarence Acox… oh my.”

Michael Brockman conducts SRJO

Michael Brockman conducting SRJO

Composer, arranger, bandleader Michael Brockman, along with Clarence Acox, is the co-artistic director of the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra. This Rifftide’s exchange prompted him to talk about their collective approach to SRJO’s place in the repertory jazz movement. Michael’s comments are shown here in their entirety. The complete exchange on Rifftides is here.

Hi Chris,

I hope you don’t mind my responding with some thoughts that came to me in the past week as the result of an interview I had with a journalist from NYC followed immediately by some new music/cutting edge jazz concerts held here in Seattle.

The SRJO is trying to do things in a unique way, and through this, we hope to place our own stamp on “the repertory jazz movement” and portray what that means here in the Seattle jazz scene.

One major factor is that we try to feature the leading jazz soloists that our city has to offer (at least, those who are INTO playing in a large ensemble–many great players are not). Featuring these highly visibility players is not easy to do, because they need to be given plenty of room to stretch out. This means that solos are extended well beyond what is traditional in big bands–and we do this because improvisation MUST be kept as the central focus of any jazz performance. And no player is restricted to play in a particular style–each is set loose to present a new, fresh statement with every solo.

That said, we spend a lot of our rehearsal time on encouraging/allowing the players to be vibrant and expressive, rather than providing a perfectly polished reproduction of a classic work. Our renditions contain occasional errors, but they are never without vitality.

Also, we are always trying to broaden what we present to our audiences as the “great repertoire” of jazz. While most of our fans came to us to hear classic works by Ellington and Basie, we have (over the past 15 years) introduced them to many, many other great composers. Our March 2010 Monk & Mingus concerts turned away audience at the door. Go figure! We are trying to present music from the entire 100-year history of jazz, including newly composed things that are perfectly worthy of being considered important repertoire.

My pal Clarence & I are evangelical about this repertory jazz stuff, and we are trying to be part of what draws more and more people to the music–in ALL its forms.

-michael brockman

What’s your take on repertory jazz? From New York City to the Pacific Northwest, there’s a lot of territory, and music to cover. Join the conversation.

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