New Works: Celebration

This is the recording debut of the New Art Orchestra, an 18-piece ensemble created and directed by Bob Brookmeyer. It was formed in Lubeck, Germany as a new jazz project for the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival, founded by Leonard Bernstein in 1986. The musicians are largely from Germany, with two Americans and one each from Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands. "I collect young musicians as I tour and tech," says Brookmeyer, "for they are the future and that is what I am interested in. The players in the NAO are wonderful to work with and have a fresh attitude toward making music. The feeling is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my life. We were together for three summers at the Festival and decided that it was too good to let it go, so the first step was this recording, aided by a 20,000 Mark prize from RTL, the German TV station."

Brookmeyer has long had two careers in one. "Before my California stay (1968-1978) I considered myself a player first and a writer second, although I did a lot of writing, from Ray Charles to That and Mel. Since 1979 I have come to view myself as a composer who also plays trombone; add conducting and teaching, and that gives me four hats to wear. I do not have a swollen head, so they all fit nicely."

He discovered blank music paper at age 13 and by 14 was a professional dance band arranger and trombonist. After arriving in New York in 1952, there followed a succession of jobs that gave him artistic satisfaction, broad experience in all kinds of studio work and association with inspired and inspiring people; Bill Finegan, Ralph Burns, Al Cohn, Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Bill Holman and George Russell. Performing with Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Jimmy Giuffre and the Jones-Lewis band plus a quintet with Clark Terry gave him a solid foundation in the fundamentals of his craft. Upon his return from LA, there followed a periods of study and intensive listening to 20th century classical music and the idea of being a "real composer" began to form. It was a teenage dream, from the days at the KC Conservatory and now seemed possible.

"I was de-facto musical director of Mel Lewis' band by 1981 and began to experiment with the band, often in ways that were only interesting to me, so I – in effect – proceeded to write my way out of the band, with Mel's blessing, since by him, I could do no wrong. From 1982-1988 it was gradually turning up the musical pain factor, until '88. I married well that year and thing seemed to calm down and have more meaning, more depth." While living in Holland (1991-1994), Bob was contacted by Till Janczukowicz (Jan-choo-ko’-witz, if you want to actually say it) in Cologne and a 2-hour dinner turned into a 6-hour marathon – excitement, music and planning were in the air. For the first season ('94), a guest artist was discussed and Gerry Mulligan agreed to be the first (later followed by Clark terry and Michael Brecker). The Festival commissioned a piece for Mulligan, which became 'Celebration.'

"This was quite a job," recalls Brookmeyer, "finding a meeting ground that would enable Gerry to quickly absorb the piece and stylistically be relevant to his playing. SO… I had to step back a few years to stay honest, by practical. It was a big success and we owe a debt of gratitude to Gerry for helping us get underway. It was also the first time HE had worked for ME, so there were some funny exchanges during rehearsals. It was also our last work together."

The recording debut of the New Art Orchestra took place during a four-day period in Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, at Studio Bauer, with Carlos Albrecht as sound architect. A documentation of 'Celebration' was planned and Scott Robinson was the choice to play the baritone solo part. "He did an absolutely amazing job," recalls Brookmeyer, "sounding to me like Mulligan if Gerry had been born 30 years later, plus all the personal history Scott brings." Scott, who plays every reed instrument, brass instrument and probably a few that HE invented, has been heard in settings ranging from Dixieland to the avant garde. He is the main star of the CD and displays his warmth and sensitivity on 'Remembering,' part 3 of the Suite. Pianist Kris Goessens is also prominent throughout the thoughtful work, which is somewhat typical of Brookmeyer’s work in that it grows in interest with each listen. The opening 'Jig' is an Irish homemade folk song, followed by 'Slow Dance,' based on some of the same material. Structurally, 'Remembering' came from a "white note" exercise, used by the composer in his teaching process. 'Two And' utilizes a modernized version of the Charleston dance rhythm and Robinson is particularly effective, "swinging his ass off" I believe it’s called. While ‘Celebration’ was written directly for the NAO, the four accompanying works come from other sources. 'Idyll' was written for Lee Konitz at a recording with Henri Texier, Steve Swallow and Paul Motian. The melancholy ballad has solos from Brookmeyer, Kris Goessens and Nils v. Haften. Of Nils, Brookmeyer says "he's a Dutch tenor player whom I met at the Rotterdam Conservatory and has a different way of playing, almost sounding like Stan Getz – quite unusual these days – and is a very exploratory player." 'Duets' was commissioned for the West German Radio (WDR) as a piece for the WDR Big Band and Mel. The piece is made from the opening phrase and consists of continual variations on a single idea. The drum breaks by John Hollenbeck are very creative and the composer says, "I think that John is finding some new ways to treat the large ensemble. We love to work together." Jurgin Grimm is the featured synthesizer player and the tenor solo is by Paul Heller, a Brookmeyer favorite. "If I could play like that, I would!" he says. "Nils and Paul compliment each other beautifully." 'Cameo' was a WDR project and is a trombone solo with touches of ensemble color. 'Boom Boom' was commissioned by Danish Radio as the last movement of the 'Danish Suite.' It ends the set in a cheerful mood and has a trumpet solo from Ralf Hesse, "a man I want to utilize more in the future." Brookmeyer is also quick to praise Thorsten Beckenstein, "one of the world’s great lead trumpet players."

These days, in addition to the NAO, teaching at the New England Conservatory and guest conducting and playing, Bob is concluding a 4-year Composition Workshop in Copenhagen and preparing programs for the WDR and the Metropole Orchestra in Holland. "I am pretty well booked until 2001 at this point and I can choose my projects, which is a luxury. I also think I am playing my best now and for the future I just want to do more and better work – always better!" Brookmeyer is a composer and player who continues to grow and develop and on the basis of their initial recording, the NAO ranks as one of the finest jazz-based big bands around today.

Scott Yanow
All Music Guide To Jazz

Recorded July 28-30, 1997
Celebration JigListen!
Celebration Slow DanceListen!
Celebration RemeberingListen!
Celebration Two AndListen!
Boom BoomListen!


Concuctor & Trombone:
Bob Brookmeyer

Soloist on 'Celebration':
Scott Robinson

Marko Lackner
Stefan Pfeifer
Paul Heller
Niels van Haften
Marcus Bartelt

Thorsten Beckenstein
Torsten Maaß
Sebastian Strempel
Ralf Hesse
Jorg Engels

Ludwig Nuss
Ansgar Striepens
Christian Jakso

Bass Trombones:
Edward Partyka

Jurgen Grimm, synthesizer
Kris Goessens, piano
Ingmar Heller, bass
John Hollenbeck, drums
Christopher Dell, percussion