Though his formal education includes study at the New England Conservatory, Fred Hersch readily points out how the on-the-bandstand schooling he received in jazz clubs like Bradley’s in New York prepared him to be the musician is today. In the course of our conversation, we spoke about this journey and all that has come in its wake, but returned again and again to the idea of taking chances, trying things out, seeing what happens if—Hersch seemingly unbowed by the anxieties such open-ended performance situations bring into play. Later, he came at it head-on: “I think there has to be a certain element of danger in jazz, or it isn’t really jazz.”
Classically trained violinists are, generally speaking, a focused breed accustomed to long hours in the practice room refining a phrase down to static perfection. This is perhaps what makes the Oberlin and Juilliard-trained violinist Jennifer Choi’s seemingly voracious appetite to try new things so striking. From Brahms to improv to serving as the concertmaster for the pit orchestra of South Pacific, Choi seems unable, or at least unwilling, to sit still.
Whether it is an orchestral work or a composition for chamber ensemble, Pierre Jalbert professes his affection for musical forms both large and small, and especially enjoys the back-and-forth of creating a work for large forces immediately followed by a smaller one. His compositions, which are vibrant and tautly constructed with thoughtfulness and precision often contrast slow music suggesting a sense of “suspended time” with fast, highly syncopated material that propels the work forward.
Many scores are visually striking, but Will Redman’s catalog carries a particularly strong “take this piece and frame it” vibe. In his work, fragments of traditionally notated music can be found free-floating on an eight foot scroll or overlayed on top of one another to form a dense nest of competing musical ideas, with lines and other abstract graphic symbols implying mood and character.
In addition to the megahit records (“Killing Me Softly”, “I Got a Name”), TV themes (Happy Days, Love Boat), and film scores (Barbarella, 9 to 5), Charles Fox has composed extensively for jazz and Latin bands as well as chorus, orchestra, and ballet. He’s probably the only person on the planet who can boast connections to both Nadia Boulanger and Barry Manilow!
Although Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has received more accolades than most living composers—the first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Music and the first composer chair at Carnegie Hall, as well as the only living composer ever mentioned in a Peanuts® comic strip—she believes that the pinnacle of success is hearing a wonderful performance of one of her compositions.
Claiming Chaya Czernowin as an American composer is somewhat disingenuous. Although she currently resides in the United States where she is the Walter Bigelow Rosen Professor of Music at Harvard University and holds degrees from Bard College and the University of California, San Diego, the Haifa-born Czernowin has spent a great part of her life in many other places.