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Boston Celebration: The Legacy of Bob Brookmeyer

Doug Hall By

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Bob Brookmeyer: A Celebration
Jordan Hall
Boston, MA
March 1, 2018

The on-going celebration of New England Conservatory's 150th anniversary brought well deserved attention to the Jazz Studies and Contemporary Improvisation departments for the 2017-2018 performance season. On March 1st, at Jordan Hall, NEC presented a very special tribute celebration to the legacy of Bob Brookmeyer, the legendary jazz musician (valve trombonist, pianist) composer, arranger, conductor, teacher, performer and mentor to many jazz musicians, particularly at NEC. The evening provided a rare opportunity to listen to 4 original orchestral works by former NEC students, including a 150th Anniversary commission by Doris Duke Artist Darcy James Argue (02' M.M.). Argue was a Doris Duke Artist Award recipient in 2015. Ken Schaphorst, conductor of the NEC Jazz Orchestra, directed a concert performance of Brookmeyer's music, coupled with extraordinary contributions of original orchestral works by four NEC alumni.

A fitting tribute to Brookmeyer's dedication and contribution to NEC as a teacher for ten years between 1997 and 2007, founding and directing the Jazz Composers Workshop Orchestra, thereby adding a vital component allowing "an on-going ensemble devoted to rehearsing and performing works by NEC Jazz Composition students." Thanks to the musical drive, gift of mentoring, foresight and leadership, J.C.W.O.(founded and directed by Brookmeyer) provides an orchestra(now led by Frank Carlberg) that gives young composers "the opportunity to learn how to rehearse and conduct a band, as well as have their works heard." In 2008, Brookmeyer was awarded an honorary doctorate from NEC in recognition of his distinguished musical career and his invaluable contributions to NEC. He was also named a National Endowments for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006.

This extraordinary evening offered performances of four new orchestral jazz compositions by NEC alumni Nicholas Urie, The Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, and the 150th Anniversary commission by Doris Duke Artist, Darcy James Argue Under the sure-handed conducting guidance of Ken Schaphorst, Brookmeyer's close friend and long-time colleague, the transition from piece to piece was seamless and mesmerizing. Schaphorst also started the evening with his own composition, "Take Back the Country," an incredibly rich, tempo changing selection that also resonated Brookmeyer's political tones, as a statement of current division in our country.

Each of the four original compositions were conducted by NEC alumni, some of whom were directly mentored and supported in their professional development by Bob Brookmeyer. Speaking to the audience that night, each composer gave sincere credit to Brookmeyer for having been a direct inspiration and motivator for them, pushing their boundaries and keeping their passion on track. The fruition of accomplishment was clearly heard by the audience in NEC's Jordan Hall this evening. Here, clearly, was an example of how one passionate teacher can harness the skill and talent of students and guide them through an evolution to these superb individual compositional statements. An enthusiastic audience was quick to respond to the technical level and innovative arrangements by these young conductors. Also hats-off to an outstanding and spirited NEC Jazz Orchestra, who apparently had very little lead time to learn these compositions. There were also several stand-out soloists, on saxophone, trumpet, and trombone, who took turns in melodious and dexterous interpretations of each piece.

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