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The Harborfields High School Jazz Band celebrates community in premiering Alan Ferber's arrangement of Abdullah Ibrahim's 'The Wedding'


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The Harborfields High School Jazz Band and Tornado News Team join forces to create a music video and 30-minute feature documentary detailing the art of collaboration and the full story behind a newly-commissioned arrangement of Abdullah Ibrahim’s 'The Wedding' from three-time GRAMMY nominee Alan Ferber
In a time when isolation and distancing seemed to define school settings, the Harborfields High School Jazz Band sought to cut against the grain and promote the joys inherent in the communal nature of music and creative expression. In early 2021, the band’s director—veteran educator and noted jazz journalist Dan Bilawsky—decided to follow through on a long-held ambition to commission an arrangement of Abdullah Ibrahim’s “The Wedding” from three-time GRAMMY-nominated composer/arranger/trombonist Alan Ferber.

The beautiful results of Ferber’s writing were rehearsed in late 2021, with a December premiere in sight. But a one-off concert performance didn’t seem to be enough. In order to give the piece its due, an idea was hatched to broaden the concept of community surrounding the work. The Harborfields High School Jazz Band teamed up with the Tornado News Team—the school’s lauded journalism program, which had previously crafted award-winning video of the band in socially-distanced performance in the 2020-2021 school year—to travel to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, in Centerport, NY, to record a proper video in a sanctified setting.

At the height of the Omicron wave in January of 2021, after dealing with one weather-related cancellation and miraculously gathering all participants in good health, the production commenced. And when it was completed, after a single day, it became clear that there was so much more to the story. What started as a way to document a notable musical milestone became a wedding of people and purpose. With that realization at the fore, Dan Bilawsky and Tornado New Team Advisor Vincent Ambrosio formed a partnership to tell the entire story behind “The Wedding,” and the Tornado News Team, in association with the Harborfields High School Jazz Band, produced an extraordinary 30-minute feature documentary, edited by Harborfields senior Fiona McLoughlin, to accompany the music video.

“What started as an idea to commission an arrangement of a work I longed to perform with the Harborfields High School Jazz Band blossomed into an incredible experience about connectedness,” shares Dan Bilawsky. “In the best of times a project like this video and documentary would’ve been difficult to coordinate in a school setting. And working through it in the ever-evolving COVID climate made things that much more difficult. But seeing our students work so hard together to create the music video and documentary really speaks to the triumphs inherent in the act of persistence and grasp for greater meaning.”

Praise for The Wedding

“A beautiful celebration of jazz community that [highlights] the many important facets of the jazz ecosystem—from education to creation to documentation.” —Nicky Schrire, Host & Producer, The Jazz Session Podcast

“[A video that] models how to take a beautiful song and turn it into an all-encompassing lesson for students in music, journalism and other programs within your school” —Lewis Porter, Ph.D., jazz pianist, educator, author

“In this time of such darkness in the world…the story of “The Wedding,” from start to finish, gives me great hope for the future.” —Richard Kamins, Step Tempest

“The world needs more of this kind of collaboration to help the youth better relate to musics such as jazz and understand the cultural nuances associated with such traditions. This genuine story of a community coming together has to inspire others.” —Mehmet Ali Sanlikol, D.M.A., Professor of Music History and Musicology & Director of Intercultural Institute, New England Conservatory

“It’s wonderful enough for a student band to be exposed to the music of Abdullah Ibrahim. But it’s even more so when that band has the opportunity to play an arrangement straight from the pen of Alan Ferber, one of today’s true masters of the large ensemble idiom” —David Adler, music critic and journalist, music educator

“An inspired music teacher and his young charges hold up a gift to the light and remind us that there is still care and beauty in this world.” —Neil Gonsalves, pianist, composer, Lecturer in Jazz Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

“[What a] great project. I enjoyed the performance and the arrangement. I feel that the integrity of the song shone through, which shows a [great level of] respect and sensitivity by all involved. [And]…one can sense the time and care put into this project from all of the contributors. Well done! —Bokani Dyer, South African pianist and composer

“I was totally mesmerized when I watched [these students] perform this amazing work by one of our country’s greatest musicians. The performance was exceptional, the documentary emotional, but, most importantly, [the entire production team] was able to demonstrate how music transcends and unites us against those traits that separate us human beings.” —Karen Devroop, saxophonist, Acting Director of Music at University of South Africa (UNISA) Music Foundation

“By simply asking the right questions—‘How do we make this happen?’ and ‘How do we maximize its impact?’—Mr. Bilawsky and his Harborfields High School students accomplish every artist’s goal: to create something of meaning/beauty, which will endure and inspire others. I love it! —Earl MacDonald, Director of Jazz Studies, University of Connecticut

“Fantastic playing by everyone in the band and a beautiful arrangement by Alan Ferber. Congratulations to all on such a wonderful project.” —John Fedchock, trombonist, bandleader, GRAMMY-nominated arranger

“I have heard [Abdullah Ibrahim play “The Wedding”] many times, but never with a jazz big band. I was thrilled to hear that there was a big band arrangement of it. And what a [gorgeous] arrangement by Alan Ferber, beautifully performed by the HHS Jazz Band. Congrats, you captured the essence of this work.” —Carlo Mombelli, South African bassist, composer, educator

“What is really amazing is how this authentic experience for students is a case where the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.” —C. Andrew Hovan, jazz drummer, photographer and journalist

“This is a superb documentation of the Harborfields High School Big Band performing, done by the Harborfields High School Journalism Department students, which certainly gives an insight as to how talented these students are in both programs. Kudos to Band Director Dan Bilawsky, arranger Alan Ferber, journalism teacher Vinnie Ambrosio and all of the students. I would love to hear (and see) Mr. Ibrahim’s reaction to hearing this chart and these students performing his piece.” —Dr. Brad Stone, Producer, Programmer and Host, “The Creative Source,” SoulandJazz.com

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