The Valparaiso University Jazz Festival will feature two pieces commissioned by renowned jazz composers, written solely for the festival and performed for the first time at the festival. These two pieces seek to demonstrate that jazz can be performed by as few as three pieces or as many as 40, and they show that jazz can come in many styles but should have room for improvisation.
The first composition is titled “When the Moon Looks Down” and is written by Dave Rivello. It will be performed on Wednesday, April 9 at 7 p.m. at the Harre Union by the Windiana ensemble. Rivello directs the award winning New Jazz Ensemble at the Eastman School of Music and he is a composer, arranger and bandleader based in Upstate New York. He has served as composer-in-residence at a number of schools and he has written for and been commissioned by The Smithsonian Institute, Bobby McFerrin, and many others. His music has been widely performed throughout the U.S. as well as in Germany and Spain.
“When the Moon Looks Down” will be conducted by Jeff Doebler who is director of music education and bands at Valparaiso University who describes Rivello’s piece as written in the smooth jazz genre. Jeff Brown, instructor of percussion and Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Valparaiso University and founder of the Valparaiso University Jazz Festival says, “When we commissioned this we didn’t know what this was going to be, and that’s another aspect of the creative process because you know the composer and their ability levels but Jeff didn’t know what he was going to be dealing with until he got the music about a week ago.”
Doebler agrees that the opportunity to work with a commissioned piece is thrilling for him, and for his students. “Any time you commission an artist, that’s part of the creative process and to be the group that brings that piece to life is exciting. The soprano saxophone and trumpet solo in the piece and there are times when they have a unison line, so it’s interesting with reed and brass color. And there are times when the saxophone and trumpet are improvising separately,” says Doebler. Brown describes the piece as “very pleasing and gorgeous. It’s very easy to listen to, very creative and harmonically it borders on a modal tonality. It’s extremely creative in how Rivello blends harmonic structures and the rhythmic phrasing he uses is extraordinarily effective.”
The Windiana performance will also feature selections that explore different jazz styles such as a ballad, rock, funk, and a Duke Ellington medley that will appeal to a wide audience. Billy Foster, whos “Musical Retrospective” is the second part of the double billing, will guest solo on piano with Windiana on a selection. Doebler says that Rivello has been hands-on with the piece after it was delivered. “I love premiering works. It’s one of my favorite things to do. This particular composer emails me frequently to see how the rehearsals are going and that’s part of the creative process too, to make sure it’s an important work,” Doebler says.
The second commissioned piece is titled “Like It Is” and was composed by John Fedchock who is also guest performer on Thursday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Harre Union. The VU Jazz Ensemble will perform the piece that Brown describes as a “funky bossa nova.” Fedchock emerged on the scene in 1980 and he has established himself as a world-class trombone soloist, a heralded bandleader, and a Grammy-nominated arranger. An in-demand performer and writer in New York City for over twenty years, his multifaceted talents have led him to become one of NYC's premiere jazz artists. His critically acclaimed John Fedchock New York Big Band has become a marquee group, showcasing Fedchock's trombone and arranging as well as the band's all-star soloists.
Brown says that the students who comprise the VU Jazz Ensemble were asked for their input on selecting a style for the commissioned piece. He says, “I asked the ensemble what they wanted to do and I engaged them in the process. They said that it would be nice to have a rock tune or a funk tune or a bossa nova, so he composed a funky bossa nova and it’s an interesting piece. Groove wise it combines aspects of fusion, funk and rock all with some unique Latin phrasing. It frees up a lot of the musicians in the ensemble to solo within an idiom they’re fairly acquainted with (harmonically it is very blues oriented). In an ensemble of 22 we have seven musicians soloing. This is just a fun piece.”
The VU Jazz Ensemble is comprised of students from different backgrounds, and even different futures. Brown explains, “We work with students who are engineering majors, nursing majors, and every conceivable component of a liberal arts education. So for them to be able to look at a sheet of paper that says, “Commissioned for the Valparaiso University Jazz Ensemble,” and to have two commissions at the same festival is really exciting. I enjoy watching the kids be involved in the creative process. And it’s brand new music. It’s never been done before. To be engaged in that, to me that’s not only a special part of jazz, but a special part of music performance in general. And to have Fedchock, a Grammy-nominated composer and arranger, solo as the guest artist while the students are playing the original composition with the composer and arranger—it doesn’t get that much more reciprocal.”