Music

The voice of the congregation

I've recently started putting together some arrangements for my church's worship orchestra, which has been a great way to use my training as a writer as an expression of faith. I'm very grateful to be part of a music ministry that still uses a full orchestra, as it creates so much more opportunity for people to participate —for more on that subject, check out my Music and Tradition post from a few years back.

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On competition amongst musicians

Last week I finally watched Whiplash; as a student of jazz I was kind of nervous to see it at all, especially given the general reaction in the jazz education community.

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Frost Point

In honor of Icepocalypse 2015 here in Dallas, I thought I'd take a moment to share a bit about my latest original work for jazz big band —a sort of tone poem piece I'm calling "Frost Point."

I actually started writing this last fall, round about the time it first got kind of chilly. I've always had a soft spot for winter, particularly when it first arrives —those early chills that seem to silence the world. Perhaps it stems from my childhood in North Dakota, where we actually had real winters, which lasted long enough for us to have to learn what was beautiful about them. Those early chills carry an oddly simultaneous sense of both bitter cold and warm light —an expectation of hard times through which joy is forged and strengthened.

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JOTW #57: Chameleon

A little over a year ago I subscribed to the Facebook group Jam of the Week headed up by trumpeter Farnell Newton. Each week he posts a new tune, and the group members submit videos of themselves playing a chorus of improv over it. Fantastic opportunity to learn new charts and simultaneously get exposure/critique from other players who are in the same boat as you.

Upcoming projects

In my previous post I alluded to some very big projects on the horizon for me as a musician. I thought I'd take a moment to share some more details about what I'm working on, and especially to invite you to follow along as I make progress. This kind of work is a lot more interesting if there are people watching and listening, after all.

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Breaking the silence

You may have noticed quite a few changes to the website recently —what you haven't seen, however, is any new content from me. For some reason, I've been having trouble with words over the past few years. I find myself becoming significantly more introverted with each passing year, and I think that's caused me to be a lot more reserved about public introspection —which is sort of sad, because I've always enjoyed sharing my work with people through this and other mediums.

End Results

In my previous post, I shared a jazz chorale I had written for my arranging class on Mancini's classic tune, "The Days of Wine and Roses." As I mentioned in that post, I'd been planning on writing something for the U-Tubes, UNT's jazz trombone ensemble, and I figured the chorale was a good place to start.

Well, over the past couple of months I've taken that chorale and run forward with it, ultimately resulting in a full-length arrangement; in fact, it was publicly debuted this past Thursday at the U-Tubes's performance in the Syndicate:

My arrangement, featuring solos by Jenny Kellogg (trombone) and Evan Oxenhandler (guitar).

I've had Mancini's tune rolling around in my head for years, ever since running across it in a fake book in high school. Until recently, I never really bothered to look up the lyrics; I always just assumed it was your typical romantic ballad, a beautiful celebration of the joys of love and luxury. As it turns out, the lyrics are much darker than I'd expected:

The days of wine and roses
Laugh and run away
Like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door,
A door marked, "never more,"
That wasn't there before.

The lonely night discloses
Just a passing breeze
Filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you.

The tune was originally written for a 1962 movie by the same name; I haven't seen it myself, but from what I understand it chronicles the lives of a married couple whose lives are destroyed by alcoholism. The title of both song and movie come from a much earlier poem by Ernest Dowson:

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The story behind this song, then, is somewhat different than what I'd always envisioned —it's about lovesickness rather than love, of passions once held but long gone, of beautiful memories lost in painful regrets. That's the story I tried to evoke through my arrangement.

Beyond that, I'll leave the piece to speak for itself —I really enjoyed writing it, and I'm very happy with the end result. Please let me know what you think!

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A Reasonably Successful Jazz Chorale

This past week in my jazz arranging class, we started talking about chorale writing. In jazz contexts, a "chorale" is a work of polyphonic music played without the rhythm section. Removing the rhythm section sort of changes the rules of the game; you can't rely on their persistent improvisation to make up for a lack of rhythmic or harmonic interest in what's going on elsewhere. As a result, chorale writing is driven by melody, not by groove.

My professor started class on Monday by listing off four basic characteristics to strive towards in jazz chorale writing: independent motion, varied melodic registers, reuse of material from the main theme in the counterlines, and a flexible tempo.

With those basic principles in mind, I went ahead and put together a basic jazz chorale arrangement of Mancini's The Days of Wine and Roses. Since I've been wanting to write something for the U-Tubes (UNT's jazz trombone ensemble), I opened up a blank score with 8 trombone staves and set to work. Here's what I came up with:

The Days of Wine and Roses; trombone chorale by Adam Jensen

You can also download the score if you'd prefer to follow along on paper. The arrangement has its problems, but I do think it demonstrates the basic idea pretty well. In fact, I think I'm going to fix it up a bit and then use it as an introduction to a larger chart, which I'll be writing over the course of the semester. Keep watching for more about that piece!

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Ant Bite Blues

You know, no matter how much complex modern harmony they teach me, I do still love me some twelve-bar blues. Here's one I made up the other day before work:

I decided to call it "Ant Bite Blues," in honor of the fact that moments before I recorded it I was bitten on the foot by a fire ant out in my front yard. It's not my best performance, but I think it's fair work considering how little shedding I've been able to do lately. Besides, no matter how many mistakes I may have made, listening to this recording is a lot more fun than getting that ant bite.

As always, if you're interested in hearing more of my trombone playing, please have a listen to my Musical Résumé.

Semester Projects

This semester at UNT I'm going to be taking graduate-level jazz arranging. We've only had a few class sessions so far, but I can already tell it's going to be an interesting term.

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