I woke up this morning and remembered that my friend died two years ago today. It is hard to imagine that there was someone so completely engrossing and so incredibly influential in my life, and that he is now no longer with us - with me.
Somehow I notice his influence in my writing more now that he’s passed away than I ever did when he was alive. I feel his gaze more acutely when I sit down to write. His questions ring much louder in my ears and I find myself interrogating my work hearing his grumbly voice. “You’re more creative than that,” floats through my mind regularly prompting me to not just solve a musical problem but to really explore the options, to find the marrow of the moment.
Since beginning my gig teaching arranging at Berklee, the ghost of Bob regularly possesses my body and I find myself offering his critiques of my student’s work. “Why?” being a favorite observation/pseudo-question-statement of his. Another classic Bob question that I find myself asking students is, “is that the easy thing to write?” I say “do-ah” when I’m rehearsing a band and I ask everyone to play a very short note very loudly when we’re not entirely together. Both of those things make such a huge difference in the ensemble sound. Bob knew how to make a good band sound great.
If you aren’t familiar with Bob’s work, here are some great videos of him doing his thing:
"I will discover the keys to his ignition."
Arranged by Nicholas Urie
He’s simple as a swim in summer. Not arty. Not actory… He’s satisfactory”
Composed by Kurt Weill
Arranged by Nicholas Urie
Performed by Kristen Watson, Soprano with A Far Cry chamber orchestra.
The quiet settles down again, the house and I are all alone.
Composed by Kurt Weill
Arranged by Nicholas Urie
Performed by Zachary Wilder and A Far Cry in Jordan Hall
Our “2 Guys and a Gal” concert in David Friend went splendidly. Ayn’s band was able to do some amazing things with very little rehearsal. I haven’t done much in Boston since I moved back (from my beloved Brooklyn) for my teaching position at Berklee; reuniting with many of the people I played with all the time while I was at New England Conservatory was a treat.
As always Ayn and Jeff’s music was amazing to hear. Jeff’s music has a manic quality that I LOVE. He keeps you right on the edge of your seat the whole time. Ayn’s music is wonderfully detailed and surprising in it’s linear construction and rhythmic language. I often say to myself when I’m listening to Ayn’s music, “how does she hear this?” Her music has the feeling of being entirely what it is, if you know what I mean. No superfluous this and that. Just the music. It sounds so natural. Basically, I couldn’t have been happier to do a show with them.
We performed two of my arrangements: “Southern Pacific,” which is a great Scofield second-line(ish) tune in 6-4 that I arranged for a concert with Sco and Denmark’s Klüvers Big Band. The other arrangement of mine was a deconstruction/savage remaking of Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser.” Monk’s music has always been a central pillar in my universe and I have been working on a project for the past year, I guess for lack of a better term, going deep into the man’s music. The arrangement is a sort of reflection on the mood of the title and by the end we find ourselves clutching to the bar trying to find our way home.
I’ll post recordings as soon as they materialize.
Ayn Inserto’s band will be playing a couple of my charts on September 12th (a Monk and a Scofield). The concert will also feature Ayn’s music and pieces by Jeff Claassen. The concert will be one set and is FREE. Come down and cheek it out. It should be a great show.
"2 Guys and a Gal" With the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra:
co-led with Jeff Claassen and Nicholas Urie
Berklee College of Music
David Friend Recital Hall
921 Boylston Street
"…Capping off the concert were five songs by Kurt Weill, ingeniously arranged by jazz composer Nicholas Urie. Even here there were surprises — the opening of “Lonely House” could almost have been part of the Webern. For the most part, though, the songs adroitly walked the delicate line between art and entertainment. So did the performances by Wilder, Watson, and the Criers, all of whom wore their skills with a kind of casual virtuosity."
The internet’s best jazz and improvised music resource is back! Jason Crane is resuming his duties as the chronicler of improvised music. Jason is an insightful interviewer and an incredibly sensitive listener.
1. Your musical work ranges from classical to jazz. But the first listening to your music brings to mind also the European (post) avant-garde. What aspects of European music of the 1900s influenced more your music? Vice versa, which influence on your work comes from the American tradition?
Many of my deepest musical influences are 20th century European composers. As I’ve developed, my interests have shifted between various styles and aesthetic viewpoints but my interest in something that might be called modernism has been pretty consistent. Early in my writing life I was drawn the sensuality of Debussy and Ravel.
Both composers continue to be wellsprings for the way I deal with harmony. The way they allow harmony to melt from one sonority to another is something I try to capture in my own compositions, as well as the arrangements I write. I love the fluidity of their languages. As I’ve developed my linear voice, the music of Stravinsky (the neoclassical works especially) and Weill have been huge influences on me. These two composers have had a consistent and powerful hold over my artistic imagination. I draw from both of them on a daily basis. Texturally I am drawn to Dutilleux, Webern, Lutoslawski, among others. Their use of sonorities as kinds of structural pillars is something that has fascinated me for a long time. All this being said, it all goes back to Bach for me, which I know is a little cliché. I have also had a love affair for a long time now with renaissance sacred music.
My American influences are mostly jazz-related. An exception is Ives, who was big for me when I was in school. But I enjoy all of the standard major jazz artists like Miles and Coltrane, Mingus and Shorter. The people who have left a mark on my writing are Steve Lacy, Frank Carlberg, Bob Brookmeyer, Vince Mendoza, Gil Evans, and Monk. I could go on and on, but I think this is a good smattering. For me the connection between Bach, Webern, and Monk feels obvious and essential.
My interests and career have me working in all kinds of different styles of music,classical, jazz, pop, what have you; but I consider myself a jazz musician with contemporary western art music sensibilities. Improvisation is hugely important to me. If I write too much music without an improviser I get a little itchy and have to write a big band chart. I love the conversation that begins when someone starts improvising over a structure I’ve created. I think it is thrilling, to say the least.
Things seem to be going well in Chicago as evidenced by this lovely write-up by Neil Tesser from the Chicago Jazz Music Examiner, “A U.S. premiere: Kurt Elling in Chicago, with a little Danish on the side.” Neil says in the piece, ”These days, Klüvers Big Band features a number of arrangements by Nicholas Urie, an American-born wünderkind arranger, who at the age of 26 has released two ambitious and uncompromising albums of original compositions while penning arrangements for a slew of other artists.” If you’d like to see the show in NYC, belowis the info from the New York Times.