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Interviews

Large Ensembles: Is There a Place in This Large Music World?

By Published: August 17, 2009
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Dave Rivello

Getting involved with a large ensemble is a decision that doesn't come lightly. Because of the rigors of the business—unsteady work, high expense—these composers who are still not widely known get involved in other endeavors. Conducting other ensembles. Copying music. Writing or arranging for other groups. Applying for grants.

Dave RivelloRivello, who formed his band in 1993, does freelance arranging and music copy work. He also holds a part-time teaching job at Eastman. Along with running the band, all those functions take up so much time that it's hard to find time to keep up on his instrument, the trumpet. "I miss playing," he notes, "but the trumpet is a very unforgiving instrument. Every time I started to feel like getting in shape (for playing)," work—often with a deadline—turns up in one of his various areas of expertise. "I run out of time in the day."

But the call to lead a band is strong, stemming in part from his grandfather, Tee Ross, who had a big band on the road in the 1940s. "He also had a music store. That's where I started playing trumpet." Ross took the youngster to concerts by Buddy Rich

Buddy Rich
Buddy Rich
1917 - 1987
drums
, Maynard Ferguson and Stan Kenton. "Somehow, it's always been in my blood. I just prefer a larger palette... There was never a thought about the issue of money. Just a love for large ensemble and the colors that can be gotten from that.

"When I first heard Thad Jones I went crazy. Then I heard Gil Evans and I went more crazy. Then I heard Brookmeyer and went even more crazy. There's never been a thought about the money thing. That's what I hear as my palette." He had great teachers to help him along from the beginning.

Rivello thought long and hard about the instrumentation he wanted to use, which came out a bit differently. There's tuba and bass clarinet on Facing the Mirror. No alto sax. "I felt I prefer the soprano over the alto sax—although I like alto and certainly write for it—but for my own band, I prefer the sound of the soprano over the alto. And I prefer the sound of the bass clarinet over the baritone sax... So the reeds ended up being soprano, tenor, bass clarinet and they double on flute and clarinet.



"Because of my love for Gil Evans, I wanted a tuba. So I decided on two trombones and tuba. I debated on having a French horn, but decided logistically the two might be hard enough to have, let alone tuba and French horn. Plus, I usually say acoustically, the French horn is blowing the wrong way. So I decided to go with two trumpets and a flugelhorn, and I write for the flugelhorn the way I would write for the French horn. So that part could be transposed and played by a French horn at any point. So I think of the flugelhorn as a French horn that blows forward, sort of."

Facing the Mirror is the first official recording, though Rivello says there is a 45-minute suite recorded years ago that may one day see the light of day for listeners.

"I'm very happy with it," he says of the new recording. "It took a long time to get it to this point. I'm proud and happy about the way it sounds, the way the band played. Everything about it. It's slowly getting good attention. Maria Schneider raved about it. We got good reviews here in Rochester. It's slowly making its way into the world."

In the future, his creative efforts could turn in different directions with different instruments. "I've been thinking for a couple of years, off and on, about putting together an electric version of my band. I'm not exactly sure what that would be yet. That's part of the problem why it hasn't happened...Maybe adding an extra keyboard and a guitarist. Maybe not as many horns. But right now I feel I have more to explore with this (large ensemble). I probably have at least enough new pieces to make two more full CDs. Some of that is more on the edge. It spans a lot of different places. As far as electronic instruments, or world instruments, I still haven't ventured into that world yet. This is really where I still hear things."

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Jacam Manricks

Manricks was in high school in Australia participating in the big band program, where his teacher was American John Hoffman, who had played with Buddy Rich and had some arrangements he used by people like Bill Holman

Bill Holman
Bill Holman
b.1927
band/orchestra
. "So I got into the whole idea of the large ensemble thing from being in a big band myself. It kind of went from there." His grandfather and father were musicians and into jazz. Eventually, Manricks was sent to the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore to study. Being in the U.S. heightened his appetite for jazz. And in Australia, he got to work with people like pianist Mike Nock
Mike Nock
Mike Nock
b.1940
piano
who was then in the Land Down Under. "He's a serious jazz musician and creative improviser. That was some of my experience down there."

Jacam ManricksHe got more education at the Manhattan School of Music. "I had to do three or four concerts that were large ensemble performances. There were a bunch of composer concerts that I had large ensemble works on. Big band stuff and smaller strong ensembles with a jazz rhythm section. That's when I started learn how to write for strings and started doing that more frequently."

It blossomed into a desire to continue with large ensembles. He experimented with rhythms and harmony in his first creations. On Labyrinth, he took his basic quintet and augmented it with a larger surrounding.

"It was a real expensive album to make. The quintet did one take for everything. Then I did a bunch of woodwind overdubs, up to seven woodwinds. Flute, clarinet, alto flute, bass clarinet. Sometimes I'd have a score for two flutes, two alto flutes and bass clarinet. I overdubbed the woodwind section myself. Then I had an eight-piece string section which I layered four times. So it was like having 28 strings.



"Then I had a French horn player come in and I wrote for four French horns. He led the horns. It was like 62 tracks or something hideous. It was a lot for the guy who was mixing it to bring up on the board. Those orchestra pieces sometimes took an hour to get up in the mixing board. I wanted to get a top-notch engineer to do it because everyone played so beautifully and put so much into the project. I wanted to capture, as much as I could, what actually went down."

Manricks finds it hard to tour with the music, except when played by just the quintet. But he's applying for grants to see if he can get some large ensemble gigs. Also, "There's an orchestra in Finland that is interested. There's a guy in Canada that's interested. And back home in Australia I've got some connections with orchestras, too."

He's proud of his new recording and has already done another for the Posi Tone label to come out at a later date. "A lot of good things have been happening and I think that will continue to happen. I know that I will continue to write for different types of ensembles."



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