Thursday 16th May, 2019
The first day of the International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers’ 2019 Symposium happened to fall on my 39th birthday. After another early breakfast, I was keen to get to the venue for the Symposium; UNC’s Campus Commons. I was fortunately to get a lift with trombonist Eli Ponder-Twardy, who had spent time studying at Leeds College of Music in the UK. We got there in plenty of time to register and get a cup of tea (I wonder if you have to ask for “hot tea” in other parts of the US?). I was introduced to ISJAC chair Chuck Owen (with whom I had exchanged some emails in the months leading up to the Symposium) and his ISJAC colleague Dave Stamps. Everyone was really looking forward to things getting underway.
For the first presentation of the day Christine Jensen was joined Dana Landry conducting the UNC Jazz Lab Band 1 (pictured left), playing and analysing Carla Bley’s epic “On The Stage In Cages”. This was an interesting session and a great opportunity to hear the best students from UNC play one of Carla Bley’s greatest works. A great way to start the Symposium.
Next up was a presentation by Ladd McIntosh (pictured right), on how he started his career as a Hollywood Orchestrator by writing some jazz arrangements for the 1992 Tom Hanks film “A League Of Their Own”. After his presentation I ended up talking to Ladd and his wife for nearly an hour, which meant I missed the next session but it was great to hear about his life and career in LA.
At 4pm Chuck Owen introduced Vince Mendoza (pictured below). Vince’s talk was funny, detailed and enlightening, and much more technical than anyone expected. He talked about line-writing, rhythmic displacement and contrast, and the structure, shape and ‘energy’ of arrangements. It was really fascinating and a unique insight into the work of this master composer/arranger. I think everyone in that room will remember Vince’s words for a very long time.
Then it was time for a drinks reception in the Panorama Room at UNC, with great views of the Rocky Mountains, and the thunder storms that were rolling around that afternoon. I sat and chatted a bit more with Ladd McIntosh, and introduced myself to a few other but it was soon time to head down to the concert hall for the first of three headline concerts, in which cornet player, Ron Miles and his quartet were joined the one and only Bill Frisell. This concert was really enjoyable. Some of Ron’s compositions are very beautiful and Bill Frisell played them brilliantly. However, my mind had been blown by Vince Mendoza so somehow, I knew this was not going to be my favourite gig of the Symposium!
Later that evening, back at the hotel, I had a great pleasure of sitting next to John Clayton while we ate dinner in the hotel bar. We chatted about many things, including the great players that he has known and worked with, but I told him how I like to use the unison saxophone line he wrote in his arrangement of his own composition “Reverence” as part of my arranging classes. He told me that he had originally written that tune for an album with Milt Jackson called “Reverence and Compassion”, and that the saxophone soli I was referring to was his idea of what Lester Young might have played over that tune. Now that’s a story to tell my students when I introduce them to that chart next term!
I could have chatted with John all night but we were both aware that there was an early start in the morning and still two days of the Symposium to go, so we said goodnight. It had been a great day, and I couldn’t think of a better way of spending my 39th Birthday!
To be continued…