New York, NY (Top40 Charts)
For nearly three decades, the New England Jazz Ensemble (NEJE) has been at the forefront of contemporary jazz ensemble performance, collaboration and education in the northeastern U.S. With a book of original compositions and arrangements penned from within its ranks, the NEJE delivers on its mission to promote the jazz ensemble as a uniquely American art form. A not-for-profit organization the NEJE commissions new work , does extensive concertizing and collaborates with music educators in public schools and universities to perpetuate the jazz art form. And as you will hear, they can really lay it down too.
The New England Jazz Ensemble was created in 1991 as a weekly rehearsal band and a forum for new compositions. It was founded by trumpeter Mike Jones; Walt Gwardyak, pianist and composer/arranger, has been the music director from the beginning. Compositions by Gwardyak, John Mastroianni, Jeff Holmes, JP Merz, and others form the band's book. The 16-piece big band has a loyal following and sells its music through on-line CD sales and downloads far and wide.
In just its fourth year, 1994, the band received an NEA grant to travel to the 10th annual jazz festival in Corinth, Greece. Following that trip, Walt Gwardyak composed an original piece "Blouzo" for the band, with extended solos for the trombone section. The composition is included on the ensemble's debut recording, and marks the beginning of a legacy of creativity for.this modern big band and its stable of composers/arrangers.
The band now has six albums ( CDs, if you prefer) to its name, two of which are 'live' performances. Its latest release includes Gwardyak's 2018 arrangement of "Peter and the Wolf;' the first new big-band re-imagination of Prokofiev's masterpiece in more than 50 years. It is also the first to have an original libretto: in this case, a "hip" narrative written and delivered by Giacomo Gates. In addition to concerts showcasing the work around New England, the NEJE has been awarded a grant from the Greater Hartford Arts Council to develop lesson plans and curriculum to accompany the use of this new music in public schools.
The band's previous release, It's a Grand Night for Swinging was recorded live in performance with guest artists John Abercrombie, Giacomo Gates and Ali Ryerson. Jeff Holmes' rousing arrangement of Billy Taylor's "A Grand Night for Swinging" is one of the band's most-requested numbers. The previous release, Live at the Pitts.field City Jazz ' Festival, ushered in the inaugural Pittsfield.
Massachusetts festival-now the longest-standing jazz festival in the Berkshires-- in 2005. A Christmas CD featuring the Duke Ellington Nutcracker and original treatments of other holiday jazz selections was recorded in 2003 and is frequently performed in concert or in collaboration with ballet companies throughout New England. The band's first two CDs, Storm
before the Calm and its breakout Version 3.0 continue to sell, thanks.to widespread airplay and streaming.
After his review of Version 3.0 ("These gentlemen can flat out play", he wrote) Jack Bowers, put that release on his desert island top twenty albums of the year (1995).
. .. the music presented by the NEJE is fresh and timeless, as any admirable music should be. As such, it remain.s warmly recommended." -Jack Bowers, All About Jazz
It's a great sound and I really love the way it's recorded."
- Mark Ruffin SiriusXM; 2018 Jazz Congress' Jukebox Jury
Sergei Prokofiev composed "Peter and the Wolf" to help introduce symphonic music, and instruments, to young audiences. The narrative and musical adaptation of the animal sounds served to interest young audiences in the classical music of the day.
A large jazz ensemble provides an equally compelling setting, and a tool for introducing jazz styles and genres, to all audiences. In one extended work, arranger Walt Gwardyak explores many different jazz styles including Blues, Salsa, New Orleans Jazz, Cool Jazz, Jazz Waltz, etc., and uses different instruments or combinations to represent the characters in the story. In and of itself, it's a fascinating and engaging exercise; the benefit of using "Peter And The Wolf" to introduce jazz to new audiences is an added bonus. Today, the much-heralded vocalist Giacomo Gates composed a hipper version of the libretto, which lends additional stylistic interest and accessibility to the work.
In Prokofiev's mid-1930s world, the story engaged audiences right from the top; as an added benefit, the music was a stealthy way to get children's attention without even realizing they were attending a classical performance. Today's jazz audiences are unlikely to find a current musical parallel anywhere.
Completing this recording are original compositions by two other members of the ensemble's composition staff. Inspired by things lupine, and often based on melodic lines of Prokofiev, they include "Serge's Birds" and "Wolves
", both by Jeff Holmes, and "Waltzin' with Wolves" and "Power Serge", by John Mastroianni.
"Music is a language. This translation takes a familiar story from 20th century European classical music and retells it in the vernacular 21st century American jazz. The styles I used are like an anthology, touching on music that influenced my entire career of writing and playing. The story is the same one that Serge Prokofiev imagined. We have just reimagined it for more modern ears." - Walt Gwardyak
About the composers
Walt Gwardyak is a founding member, the music director, and pianist for the New England Jazz Ensemble, which has received accolades for their presentation of original jazz compositions and arrangements. He has written original compositions and arrangements the NEJE's five CDs before the latest project, all of which have been praised in the press. Walt's portfolio is as wide-ranging as they come, from touring with Buddy
Rich to recording with Hermin's Hermits, backing Sonny
Costanzo's orchestra to serving as Dean of Music
for the Hartford Conservatory. He also played in the Hartford Symphony Orchestra's jazz ensemble, and continues to write original music for the HSO. On "Peter and the Wolf" Walt also showcases his accordion playing talents on the sinister track "Wolves
" by Jeff Holmes.
Jeff Holmes is a nationally published and commissioned composer/arranger (B.M.I.), and a multiple recipient of National
Endowment for The Arts Jazz Composition Grants. He has written music for John Abercrombie, Ernie Watts, Max Roach, Doc Severinsen, and the Big Apple Circus, among others, as well as numerous works for professional, military, collegiate, high school and junior high jazz, concert, and marching ensembles. Professor of Music
of Jazz and African American Music
Studies at the University of Massachusetts, he has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators. He is also known for his lead trumpet playing, and is an outstanding drummer and pianist. He is also the Artistic Director
of the Jazz In July Summer Workshops at UMASS. His 2012 album, Of Ones Own leading his quintet and including many original works received critical acclaim.
John Mastroianni has performed and/or recorded with artists such as Mel Lewis, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Smokey Robinson, Louie Bellson, Tony Bennett, and too many others to name here. He has performed with symphony orchestras and in show bands at the Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, Shubert, Palace, Goodspeed Opera House and Oakdale theaters. His three recordings as a leader have all earned him critical acclaim. In addition to being a freelance musician, John performs with his own quartet, and leads his own sixteen piece jazz orchestra, for which he composes and arranges all the music. He was named the 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year, capping an illustrious career in the Connecticut public schools.