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Composer’s Intent

Featuring: Scott Healy

Scott Healy writes: I want to start talking about a composer’s intent – how a writer’s vision is carried forward and realized. This will be the first in more than a few installments of this broad topic. We’ll start off by looking at three works: “Black, Brown and Beige” by Duke Ellington, “Pharaoh’s Dance” by Joe Zawinul from Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane. These three pieces, while being quite different in sound and structure, all evolved through live performance and intense input of the players. Duke, Miles and Coltrane were composers and instrumentalists. They all played like writers and wrote like players. How does being a player affect one’s intent in composing? Let’s see if we can decode some of these great recordings’ magic.

The premiere 1943 Carnegie Hall Concert of “Black, Brown and Beige” was just the beginning. The piece has been chopped up, reworked, rerecorded and orchestrated, both by Duke himself and others. We’ll check out the original, and compare it to an interesting and evocative symphonic treatment of the work by the late conductor Maurice Peress with the Buffalo Phil. We’ll hear how both versions really lean on the players to make the magic happen – the score is just a point of departure.

Miles was playing and composing, calling the shots, and even arranging and “recomposing” others’ original tunes when he recorded the seminal Bitches Brew in 1968. What sounds like free improvisation can be shown to have some distinct direction structure and intent.

Trane’s 1965 masterpiece “A Love Supreme”, well, what can I say…

About Scott Healy

Composer Scott Healy leads the The Ellington Study Group in Los Angeles, a hands-on study of scores and recordings of large ensemble jazz music as well as music theory and orchestration techniques. The material is advanced, and is geared toward professional classical and jazz composers, film composers, arrangers, and instrumentalists who want to increase their understanding and appreciation of large ensemble jazz writing. The discussion ranges from the minutia of voicing and harmony, to broader topics like form, pacing, transparent orchestration, compositional intent, and improvisation. Previous classes have included works by Duke Ellington from the 1930’s, Ellington/Strayhorn from the 1950’s, and works by jazz composers, arrangers, and band leaders Gil Evans and Miles Davis, Bennie Moten, Fletcher Henderson, Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones, and Sun Ra. Visit Scott’s website: bluedogmusic.com

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