The Tennessee Jazz Collective is a professional big band in residence at Middle Tennessee State University.  Comprised of MTSU jazz faculty members, MTSU graduate and undergraduate students, and some of the finest professional jazz musicians from throughout the Middle Tennessee region, the TJC performs music of today’s most innovative jazz composers.  It is well respected for its precision, hard swinging sophistication, and outstanding soloists.  The band has performed music of Gil Evans, and Duke Ellington, as well as premiered music by area writers.

Thanks to a Non Instructional Assignment grant from Middle Tennessee State University, I spent the fall semester of 2018 composing a full program for the band, in addition to a bit of study with writer Dave Rivello, and jazz educator/saxophonist Jamey Aebersold. What came about was the following program:

The Tennessee Jazz Collective

Performs the music of Jamey Simmons

Program Notes and Recordings

This music was composed and arranged during a Fall 2018 Non-Instructional Assignment, and supported by the MTSU Office of the Provost.  I thank Dr. Michael Parkinson, Chair of the MTSU School of Music, Dr. Karen Petersen, Dean, College of Liberal Arts.  I must also acknowledge my colleagues in the jazz area that taught my courses:  Professors Aliquo, Parkinson, Wires, Henderson, and Endahl. Thanks to the musicians of the Tennessee Jazz Collective for the time spent learning and rehearsing this music, and Mr. Tim Musselman and his stage crew.

Get Out of Town, composed by Cole Porter, was arranged for the band as a feature for alto saxophonist Rick Mraz and trumpeter Jamey Simmons, and was inspired by a recording of the song by tenor saxophonist Rich Perry. 

Lurk, a slow, blues-like number, features bassist Jonathan Wires, alumnus alto saxophonist Jovan Quallo, and drummer Derrek Phillips.  This piece combines influences as disparate as Neal Hefti, Wayne Shorter, and one of my biggest sources of inspiration, Gil Evans.  Using a cyclical AABA form, it leads to a “deconstructed” drum solo where the predictable course of the chart breaks down into an unexpected ending.

Guarded was composed to feature trumpeter Mike Parkinson and guitarist Chip Henderson.  This moody long form modal composition uses an irregular hemiola figure to bring rhythmic contrast to an otherwise flowing melody.  Inspired by Herbie Hancock’s “Tell Me a Bedtime Story,” and Wayne Shorter’s “Rio” and “Anna Maria,” it builds through the trumpet solo into an intense chromatic hemiola.  The guitar is urged on by counterpoint, and the ensemble returns to the original melody, fading to a subtle “guarded” ending.

Present Memory was composed for saxophonist Don Aliquo.  A gentle winding chromatic melody alternates with a simpler set of harmonies throughout, giving the soloist a chance for several different approaches to improvising before the whole ensemble and lead trumpeter Josh Harner brings the energy to a climax.  This piece is dedicated to my wife P.J. and my children, Sam, Charlotte, and Thomas, who are precious present memories. 

 Who Am I? was composed in Fall of 2018 for vocalist Ashley Kimbrough and ensemble, in honor of prisoners of conscience and faith around the world.  The text is by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; German pastor, theologian, spy, and a leader in the anti-Nazi “bekennende Kirche” (Confessing Church).  He was hanged in 1945 at Flossenburg concentration camp for his participation in the resistance movement and the plot to kill Hitler. Moving through the poem programmatically, the ensemble and vocalist build in range and harmonic complexity to a tense B section, highlighting the despair of the poet.  The internal struggle continues up until the last section, where the poet realizes that the tension of his hypocrisy can only be resolved by the knowledge that God knows, protects and sustains him.  Saxophonist Don Aliquo, trumpeter Jamey Simmons, and trombonist Jeff Adams are featured on improvisations.

It was in Flossenburg concentration camp that Bonhoeffer wrote this poem:

Who am I? They often tell me,
I come out of my cell
Calmly, cheerfully, resolutely,
Like a lord from his palace.

Who am I? They often tell me,
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me,
I carried the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one who is used to winning.

Am I really then what others say of me?
Or am I only what I know of myself?
Restless, melancholic, and ill, like a caged bird,
Struggling for breath, as if hands clasped my throat,
Hungry for colors, for flowers, for the songs of birds,
Thirsty for friendly words and human kindness,
Shaking with anger at fate and at the smallest sickness,
Trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Tired and empty at praying, at thinking, at doing,
Drained and ready to say goodbye to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and another tomorrow?
Am I both at once? In front of others, a hypocrite,
And to myself a contemptible, fretting weakling?
Or is something still in me like a battered army,
running in disorder from a victory already achieved?
Who am I? These lonely questions mock me.
Whoever I am, You know me, I am yours, O God.

 I dedicate this composition to the following prisoners:

-       Zhao Weilang, China, unregistered church member, held 1693 days through the present

-       Twen Theodros, Eritrea, illegal convert, held 2004 - present

-       Abraham Ben Moses, Indonesia, illegal proselytizing, held 434 days - present

-       Wang Quanzhang, China, legal defense of dissidents, held 2015 - present

-       Dr. Kiflu Gebremeskel, Eritrea, former mathematics professor, pastor of unrecognized church, held 2004 - present

Rumour Mill was composed as a musical impression of Norman Rockwell’s painting, The Gossip.  The main theme gets passed around the ensemble, as improvisers transform it (gossip) into something unrecognizable, using free improvisation techniques.  Saxophonists Miguel Alvarado, and Kyle Etges, trombonist Desmond Ng, trumpeter Mark Morgan, vibraphonist Brian Mueller, and pianist Matt Endahl are all soloists in the free jazz tradition, setting up unpredictable ensemble episodes that lead to a brief return to a piece of the original melody.