October 25, 2012

Serendipity on the Shelves…

A colleague recently posted on Facebook that Donald Fagen has a new album (Thanks, Paul!) I’ve always been a fan of the compositional and production prowess in his work with Walter Becker, (a.k.a. Steely Dan), so I look forward to hearing the new record. Like many folks, my usual M.O. when preparing to hear a new work by one of my favourite (yeah, I know…I dig the British spelling) artists is to go back and do a little “homework” by reviewing one of their classic projects. It helps to me to establish my own frame of reference for hearing the new music.

So I started digging through the “Archives” to find my favorite Steely Dan album, AJA. Right at the point where I was about to give up hope, I saw the black cover with the ribbon graphic and the woman’s face in the shadows. Luckily, at some point many years ago, I bought the CD (although I still have the vinyl.) This was a life-changing album for me at the age of 18. First of all, getting hit between the eyes with the multidimensional music of AJA at the very time the “music bug” was biting hard made a huge impression. At the time, I couldn’t articulate very clearly what was going on musically, but my gut told me that this music was Really Important…and I needed to figure it out.

Secondly, this music sustained my soul during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college where I endured a Western Pennsylvania young person’s rite-of-passage known as “Working At Kennywood.” For those of you who don’t know what this means, Kennywood is a large amusement park and is Pittsburgh’s answer to Six Flags Over Wherever. Every day…  day…from Memorial Day to the 2nd week of August, I would spend 14 hours as the Command Module Pilot of a wonderful 40 year old contraption known as the “SCOOTER” i.e., the Bumper Cars.

(Cue 18 Year Old Thinly Disguised Smart*** Voice on ancient public address system:) 
“Welcome to the Scooter…please keep your arms inside the cars and remain seated until the ride comes to a complete stop.” Every night after work I would stagger home, take a bath, set the alarm clock, fire up the turntable, plug in the phones, and decompress to some of the hippest music I had ever heard.

Fast forward to Middle Age…Even though several decades have passed since my initial fascination/obsession with AJA, I’m happy to report the obvious: the music still sounds amazing. The songwriting, production, grooves, improvisation (Wayne Shorter…Pete Christlieb…Steve Gadd!) sets the gold standard for contemporary popular music. For example, as a teacher of arranging, I would recommend the studio writing on Deacon Blues as a model for young writers of a perfectly balanced and crafted example of How To Do It.  One curious result of having lived a significant part of my life since spending a lot of time with this music is that I have a totally different take on Fagen and Becker’s coy and ambiguous lyrics. As a young man, I was taking these lyrics waaaay too seriously. J

Here is where the Serendipity comes in (I’ll bet you thought I was going to post a link to one of the cuts from AJA, didn’t ya?)

On the shelf next to AJA was a record I’ve been thinking about a lot lately and trying to find for some time: Kenny Wheeler’s MUSIC FOR LARGE AND SMALL ENSEMBLES. I’m thinking of programming some of this music for an upcoming Jazz Vespers Service so finally finding this record along with AJA was a double stroke of good fortune! A good friend (Thanks, Tim Huesgen!) turned me on to this record in the ‘90’s. For those who know and love this record, I’ll bet that you would agree that it is difficult to express via the written word the beauty and power of this music. In my view, Kenny Wheeler and Bob Brookmeyer led the way in the development of contemporary jazz composition for large ensemble. Like AJA, the beautifully crafted and highly personal music on this record sounds as amazing to me now as it did twenty years ago. In addition to Kenny's writing, he is featured on flugelhorn as well as Dave Holland on bass, Peter Erskine on drums, as well as a band full of wonderful British players.

I invite you to listen to Kenny’s beautiful composition CONSOLATION, a movement from his Sweet Time Suite on this recording. For me, this has to be one of the most “spiritual” pieces for jazz orchestra ever written. My heart and mind are always blessed by hearing it. I hope it speaks to you as well. Peace.

Summer 2012

Greetings! I hope this update finds you all happy, healthy, and enjoying the last few weeks of summer. I really need to update this blog more than once a year...I'll try to be better about that!

A lot has happened since my last update in August 2011. First of all, I am now a tenured and promoted Associate Professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Music! This is a major step in the career of a college professor and I am most grateful for the support of colleagues and mentors who helped shepherd me through this process.

Most recently, I taught at summer jazz camps at the Yellowstone Jazz Camp as well as our own UNL Summer Jazz Camp. It was a privilege to work with some very talented young musicians and teach with great colleagues. The best part of the day at Yellowstone was the faculty hang around the campfire at night after all classes and rehearsals were over. This is where jokes, "gig stories", and impressions of famous (or perhaps, infamous) bandleaders were shared. The memory of certain phrases still trigger involuntary laughter from me...

In late July, I visited the Arkansas Bandmasters Association Convention where the Arkansas Jazz Educators Big Band and I presented clinic/concert titled "The Great American Songbook". We had a great time discussing the importance of including traditional standards from the Broadway/Musical Theatre/Popular repertorie as well as Jazz/Latin standards in our teaching and concert preparation.
Click here for a short PDF that outlines our presentation.

This year, I was blessed to be involved with three great composer residencies. From May 26 – June 2, I served as Composer-in-Residence at Davis Senior High School (DSHS), near Sacramento, CA.
Mr. Fred Lange, Director of Bands at DSHS, announced his retirement after thirty-five years of teaching last year. Fred built an incredibly strong program, which included an amazing high school jazz ensemble. The DSHS Band Parents Association decided to honour Fred with an original commissioned work for jazz ensemble. They asked me to write it and then come to DSHS for three days of residency prior to the premiere performance. What an honour! On Friday, June 1, I had the privilege of hearing the Davis Senior High School Jazz Ensemble absolutely wail through the premiere of LANGEITUDE (“LANGE-i-tude”, get it?) Click here for a PDF of the score to LANGEITUDE (LEGAL format-8.5 X 14”).

From April 18-22, I travelled to Winona State University in southeastern Minnesota where I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Rich MacDonald, Director of Jazz Studies and Percussion and work with his talented group of young musicians. We presented concerts on Friday and Saturday. The WSU Concert Choir under the direction of Dr. Harry Mechell sounded wonderful on my new choral work, The Lord’s Prayer. This fall, the WSU Chamber Orchestra will premiere the new work they commissioned titled WIZOO!  I can’t wait to hear it. Click here for a PDF of the score to WIZOO! (LEGAL format-8.5 X 14”).

I had the opportunity to travel to the great state of North Dakota (The Place of the Huts of My Wife's People) twice this spring! From March 22 - 24, I conducted the 2012 North Dakota All State High School Jazz Ensemble in Bismarck. The young musicians worked incredibly hard for a day and half and sounded great on the concert. The North Dakota State University Jazz Festival took place on February 10-11 and I had the opportunity to serve as a clinician and guest soloist. I heard a number of fine middle school, high school and college groups at the festival. The program at NDSU is really coming on strong...Kyle Mack's NDSU Jazz Ensemble I always sounds great. It's always a fun hang with NDSU professors Matt Patnode and Jeremy I got to meet and work with the great composer-arranger and pianist James Miley

On Saturday, November 5, 2011, my good friend and colleague Paul Haar and I left the Husker Nation for 11 days of residencies at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and with the Taipei Jazz Orchestra in Taiwan. We were invited by jazz educator emeritus Dr. Gene Aitken. What an amazing experience! We worked for several days with the our friend Zhang, Xiaolu-Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies and the great students at the Shanghai Conservatory (SCOM). On Thursday, November 10th, we premiered a new commissioned work for Chinese percussion ensemble and jazz orchestra titled BOOMING-BLOWING jointly composed with Dr. Zhang Xuru, professor of composition and Assistant Dean at SCOM. 

We then travelled on to Taipei where we worked with the fine Taipei Jazz Orchestra as well as visiting Mr. Ray Heberer and the instrumental music program at the Taipei American School. I think we both came back with a renewed appreciation of the commonality and humanity of musicians worldwide.
Here is a slideshow of our trip:

ARRIVAL! (Zhang, Xiaolu-Professor of Saxophone and Jazz at the Shanghai Conservatory, Eric, Gene Aitken, and Paul)ERIC with the SHANGHAI CONSERVATORY of MUSIC (SCOM) Jazz EnsembleERIC, PAUL, and the SCOM Jazz Ensemble performing FANTASIA ON KANG DING LOVE SONGA beautiful XUN (Chinese vessel flute) solo on ...KANG DING LOVE SONGPAUL blowin' on ...KANG DING LOVE SONGThe SCOM Jazz Ensemble with GENE AITKENAmateur photographers on an evening at the BUND in ShanghaiPAUL and ERIC at the BUND in ShanghaiThey're EVERYwhere...Eric, Gene, and Paul @ THE POSTER!Muggin'...Touring Old ShanghaiBOOMING-BLOWING (2011 Commissioned Piece for Chinese percussion ensemble and jazz orchestra)An INTENSE percussionist...A BIG Percussion moment!Post-Concert AfterglowERIC in rehearsal with the TAIPEI JAZZ ORCHESTRAMan, that must've been an UPTEMPTO countoff!IN CONCERT with the TAIPEI JAZZ ORCHESTRA"TAIPEI 101" (one of the world's tallest buildings) through the clouds...TAIPEI Skyline 1TAIPEI Skyline 2

During our "morning consitutional" on the third day in Taipei, we noticed the incredible courage and skill of the ubiquitous motor scooter drivers in the downtown traffic. Hopefully, this little scene will convey the vibe...

In this scene, Paul test drives the US/Taiwan jointly developed secret TNSTS-1
(Tactical Nuclear STRAIGHT Tenor Saxophone). On one hand, it sounds very good. On the other hand,
you have to hire an extra cat to help you schlepp the case to the gig...

It’s been a memorable year of writing and performing at the UNL School of Music. Our composers presented several concerts of newly composed music in our Wet Ink concerts and in degree recitals. We hope to be involved with a very cool Rite of Spring Centennial Commemorative Concert at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha in February 2013. This concert will involve new works inspired by Le Sacre… as well as a performance by the UNL Jazz Orchestra presenting one of the movements of composer-arranger Darryl Brenzel’s extremely hip new reworking of this major piece for jazz orchestra. We’re also excited to collaborate with our compositional colleagues from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

The UNL Jazz Orchestra and Big Band presented a series of fine performances last year, commencing with our annual concert of new music written by UNL students, faculty and alumni. We’re especially proud of two of our alumni, David von Kampen and Paul Krueger. This year, both Downbeat Student Music awards for graduate composition and arrangement were won by former UNL writers! David von Kampen (BM ‘2008, MM 2011) won the Best Original Composition Award for his piece Sneak Out. David is currently pursing a DMA degree at the University of Kansas where he studies with Jim Barnes and Dan Gailey. Paul Krueger (BME 2009) won the Best Original Arrangement award for his setting of Steve Wilson’s Wish You Were Here. Paul is a recent alumnus of the Jazz Studies program at the University of Oregon where he studied with Steve Owen and Brian McWhorter. Well done, guys!

In December, the UNL Big Band and Jazz Orchestra performed with guest artists Ingrid Jensen (trumpet) and Christine Jensen (saxophones/composer). UNL commissioned Christine to compose a new work titled Treelines which we premiered at the concert featuring music from Christine's Juno-winning album TREELINES. It was very cool.

ER & Bill Watrous

In March, I got to fulfill a life long dream by meeting and performing with one of my “trombone heroes”, the great Bill Watrous. Bill did a memorable job as Guest Artist with the UNL Jazz Ensembles. Special thanks to John and Laurie Tavlin of Nebraska Diamond for funding
this exciting concert!

There are some very gifted graduate students entering our D.M.A. programs in Jazz Studies this fall. They’ll be joining the current strong undergraduate and graduate players already in place, so the Jazz Orchestra, Big Band, and Combos should be in great shape. The UNL Jazz Orchestra will be featured at this year’s Nebraska Music Educators Association Convention in November. We perform on Thursday, November 15, 2012 @ 4.00p in the Kimball Recital Hall. It’s going to be a special concert…come check it out!

Check out the SCHEDULE page for a listing of all of our Composition and Jazz Studies area concerts at UNL for the upcoming academic year. 

The next year holds the promise of several new interesting projects, to include:

• A new arrangement of Eddie Harris’ FREEDOM JAZZ DANCE for Belwin Jazz Publications

• A new work for the Shanghai Conservatory of Music Jazz Ensemble to be premiered at the 
  First China Jazz Education Festival

• New music for the Jazz Vespers Service at St. Peter’s Church in New York City 
  (more to come…I’m really excited about this!)

• A new work for the University of Denver's fine Lamont Jazz Orchestra to be premiered in the spring of 2013

• A possible new work for wind ensemble and jazz sextet.
A commissioning consortium of university band/jazz studies programs may be forming to support this piece. Contact me if your program might be interested in joining the consortium.

• A possible new multi-movement work for bass trombone and jazz orchestra to hopefully be premiered by a well known soloist at a major trombone-oriented event in 2013 (cryptic enough for ya? ;)
As with the possible new piece for wind ensemble and jazz sextet above, a commissioning consortium of university jazz studies programs may be forming to support this piece. 
Contact me if your program might be interested in joining the consortium.

That's enough for now...if you would like to get in touch, please feel free to do so via the Contact page or e-mail (

 Blessings to all of Yinz (as we say in Pittsburgh),


2 Chron. 7:14 

First Post


It has taken a while, but I'm happy to finally have a presence on the Interwebs. It's been a busy summer:
• reading AP Music Theory exams for a week in Cincinnati (kinda like preparing tax returns, except you're combing the paperwork to find "egregious" voice leading errors and poor chord choices instead of fake meal receipts and bad math)
• jazz camps with great young musicians at both UNL and the Yellowstone Jazz Camp near beautiful Cody, WY
• writing some music for the USAF Band of Flight @ Wright-Patterson AFB as well as for my colleague Art Bouton at the University of Denver. 
In the midst of all this, my family and I were able to squeeze in a week together at "the huts of my wife's people" in Northdaktoah and Minnesotah. The accents start to get so thick, it's like being on the set of the film Fargo for a week (with much nicer people and without the gore). We even had time for a refreshing (i.e., icy) dip in the Lake of the Woods! 

School starts soon...I look forward to re-connecting with my students and colleagues. This also means that I have to get back to work on my writing schedule. My near-term project schedule includes commissions for:
• The Nihon University Rhythm Society Orchestra (Japan)
• The Conjunto-High Energy Big Band (Japan)
• The Taipei Jazz Orchestra
• The Shanghai Conservatory of Music Jazz Orchestra
• New music for publication by Belwin Jazz Publications

• Re-orchestrating my Three Scenes for American Trombone and Brass Orchestra (premiered in 2008 by the great Joe Alessi and the USAF Brass in Blue, Offutt AFB) for solo trombone and wind ensemble. I look forward to hearing my UNL colleague Dr. Scott Anderson throw down on this new version some time in the upcoming academic year.

This year, I'm especially excited to be taking over the podium of the UNL Jazz Orchestra. My good friend, Dr. Paul Haar, has invested years in building a world class college band here at UNL. As a result of his work and the great work of our students, this band won its first Downbeat™ award this year. Paul has generously turned the band over to me this year, so that he can concentrate on overseeing the development of our new MM and DMA programs in Jazz Studies. I'll miss my musicians in the "other" jazz ensemble, the UNL Big Band...we've had a great two years together. This year, the UNL Jazz Studies program has booked a very cool roster of guest artists (Ingrid & Christine Jensen, Bill Watrous), so we should all be in for a good ride this year.

A few days ago, I was invited to do a composer residency at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music and with the Taipei Jazz Orchestra in November! I'm very excited about this...I've never been to Asia. I look forward to meeting new friends and working with new students and colleagues. We'll be performing concerts of some of my music for jazz orchestra in both Shanghai and Taipei. This is all still tentative as the logistics and funding are worked out, but I have a feeling it's going to be a "Go"...For those of you who are Godfearin' folk, please pray about this.

Most importantly, my family is healthy, content, and works to maintain a grateful spirit (some days are easier than others.) Like many other folks trying to make their way in this ever more turbulent world of ours, we try to stay focused on Who is really in charge. Keep the Faith!

James 1:17

© Eric Richards 2012