Take Five With Roger Aldridge

Roger Aldridge By

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Meet Roger Aldridge:

I am primarily a jazz composer. A wide range of influences are found in my music including jazz, tango, blues, samba, fusion, new music, and back to American roots music.

My exploration of the jazz family tree does not stop at New Orleans. I've gone further back to old fiddle styles—especially, Appalachian—as an early branch in the evolution of the music. For me, looking back to roots music and looking ahead to new music are equally creative.

I am also deeply attracted to nuevo tango and to Astor Piazzolla's music. My tangos are written in a personal style. They draw upon jazz and, at times, have a touch of contemporary classical. In a curious way, a number of musician friends have told me that they hear a Frank Zappa influence in some of my tangos. I suspect it's the quirky humor that runs through much of my music.


Alto saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute.

Teachers and/or influences?

When I studied at Berklee,Herb Pomeroy and Charlie Mariano were big influences and of great help to me. I'll be forever grateful to them. My classical composition teachers include William Maloof, John Bavicchi, Dr. Robert Wykes, Dr. Stephanie Owen, and Dr. Champ Tyrone. Of all of my teachers, I'd say that Herb Pomeroy had the greatest and most lasting influence on my development.

As for other influences, I have a long list of musical heroes. To name only a few: Gil Evans, Carla Bley, Michael Gibbs, Jack Walrath, Astor Piazzolla, Billy Strayhorn, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Béla Bartók, Lester Young and John Coltrane.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

I discovered jazz at an early age; when I was seven or eight, I think. One day I found my mother's old 78 RPM big band and jazz recordings in the basement. Benny Goodman was her favorite. When I started to listen to those recordings the music grabbed me from the first note. Then, over time I found my own music.

I started on alto saxophone when I was eight and became interested in composition and arranging in my early teens. I discovered Gil Evans when I was in high school. That was it for me! I knew that I wanted to be a composer.

Your sound and approach to music:

Sound is extremely important to me on my instruments and in my writing. I have a dark, classical-like tonal conception on saxophone and clarinet.

In my writing I love to explore tonal color and sound possibilities. I often follow my intuition in thinking of new tone color blendings. The more outrageous, the better.

I especially like to write for mid-size jazz ensemble (nine to twelve players). I've found that I can be more creative in writing for six horns than for big band horn sections. Conventional big bands no longer interest me that much. I prefer smaller groups and being able to write for one player on each line.

Many kinds of music interest me. I love to mix it up in my writing and have a good dose of humor. One will find all kinds of unusual things in my originals.

At this point in my life I only compose when new music comes to me through my intuition or in dreams. I've had some remarkable dreams about music. The concept of a mid-size ensemble came to me in a dream; I saw the instrumentation. A number of compositions have come in dreams, either hearing the music or seeing pages of a score. I've also found that ideas for new pieces can come to me anywhere...running errands, hiking in the mountains, etc. I've come to trust these experiences.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?

Based on comments that I receive from other composers and musicians as well as fans, there is a feeling of LIFE (of the music being real) that people experience when they listen to my music...as well as the quirky humor that runs through much of my work. This helps my music, even my avant-garde pieces, to be accessible to a diverse audience.

When I'm composing I do not concern myself over what genre the music might be. If the piece gives me a big smile and I start cracking up, that's all I need to know. The fact that the music does not fit into a particular box gives it an edge. This is the spirit that people hear in my music.

What is in the near future?

I'm always looking for more musicians and ensembles to discover and perform my music. I have a stack of new ensemble scores and tunes that have not been performed yet. As new people discover my work, I hope there will be more recordings, concerts, and commissions.

"Donut Music" is the latest composition of mine to be recorded. It's an extended piece for solo guitar. It was commissioned by Keith Calmes (fine classical and jazz guitarist in NJ) and is on his new CD All We Know is Now. The piece draws upon various roots-based music styles including blues, Appalachian, tango, jazz and samba, as well as having touches of contemporary classical.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?

Actually, I prefer to focus on composition and have others perform and record my music. I like to perform. But, I've felt for a long time that I have more to say in my writing than in my playing.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Roger Aldridge

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