This article is copyright 2015 by Antonio J. García and Donald Hunsberger and originally was published in Down Beat, Vol. 82, No. 6, June 2015. It is used by permission of the author and, as needed, the publication. Some text variations may occur between the print version and that below, which is an expanded edition. All international rights remain reserved; it is not for further reproduction without written consent.
Reminiscing on Ray
by Antonio J. García with Donald Hunsberger
In October of 2012 about 100 colleagues and former students of Prof. Rayburn Wright gathered with his family at The Eastman School of Music to reflect on and celebrate his influence on them. There they dedicated Rehearsal Room 120, the home of so many marvelous recordings and rehearsals, as “The Ray Wright Room.” This dedication celebrated what would have been the 90th birthday-year of the man born August 27, 1922 whose awards included Eastman’s Eisenhart Award for Excellence in Teaching and its Luminary Award, a CASE Professor of the Year Award, the IAJE Humanitarian Award, and an induction into the IAJE Hall of Fame.
On this occasion of his induction into Down Beat’s Jazz Education Hall of Fame his widow, Doris, remarks, “Since I know how much Ray valued music education and how strongly he felt about sharing everything he had learned through the years with his students, it pleases me that he is receiving this award. When I see any of his students I hear them say how his guidance, his listening to their voices, and his encouragement led the way in their musical careers; and that’s what teaching is all about. I know he would feel honored to be inducted. Thank you so much.”
Ray Wright started the Arranger’s [Holiday] Workshop at The Eastman School of Music’s Summer Session in 1959 while still living in New York. He directed Eastman’s Jazz and Contemporary Media Program from 1970 to 1990, following a distinguished career as a trombonist and arranger in the U.S. Army Band, Glenn Miller Orchestra, and Tony Pastor Band, ultimately leading to his post as Co-Musical Director of Radio City Music Hall from 1950-1969. His arrangements dotted major labels; he received a Grammy and two Emmy nominations; he authored and co-authored definitive books on arranging (Inside the Score) and film-scoring (On the Track).
Rayburn Wright’s impact on his students was perhaps the richest of all—and sustains long after his passing in 1990. He founded graduate and undergraduate degree programs and created the Eastman Studio Orchestra. Under his direction, the Eastman Jazz Ensemble won Down Beat awards every year from 1980 through 1986. His students frequently did the same—so much so that in 1984 Down Beat revised its requirements, limiting entries solely to undergraduates. Yet during the ’80s one Eastman undergraduate student merited an unprecedented 11 DBs as a jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger; and he was not alone. Wright and the Eastman Jazz Ensemble also released four commercial recordings and were invited to perform at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival.
In 1989 he described, “I can’t tell you the number of times my fondest dream has come true: that students have learned not only what I’ve taught them, but also how to learn—by analyzing the continually evolving musical models in the world and extending their craft by imaginative efforts. The most wonderful thing is to see students going beyond what I can take credit for—to see them turn their amateur efforts into professional work in terms of technical skill, consistency, and expressiveness.”
Here we present thoughts on his legacy from musicians whose credits are too numerous to list here.
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He insisted that I conduct my arrangement on the band’s last concert. I was terrified. I’d have never imagined that that would end up becoming my life. Ray really offered support and experiences that matched our own personalities, talents or needs. I’ve never known an individual that exhibited such excellence, perfection, strength, organization, and artistry with such calmness, deftness, lightness—even warmth, humor, and kindness—as Ray. He shows us all that excellence and balance can coexist. (Maria Schneider, MM ’85—JCM)
If I had to to name just one master who informed and inspired my musical life, it would be Ray. He came from the professional music world and realized what one had to do to survive. That was great training. Everything I do now is on a deadline. Creative artistry is important, but at the end of the day you have to turn something in. (Jeff Beal, BM ’85—Trumpet)
His teaching philosophy was to give the students almost enough information to do the assignment. That way they came to the next class very hungry for the information they didn't have, and they came with solutions they discovered on their own in the meantime. In classes, Ray was always incredibly organized, yet could easily go in any direction to answer a question; and he was always patient. In my private lessons, I learned not just about music but about all of life: deadlines, professionalism, expectations, high standards and integrity - lessons I've taken with me ever since. One of my favorite quotes from Ray was, "The guiding line between daring and wrong is a thin line; you should always walk that line." I learned from him to always stay current and open-minded about everything in music and life. (Dave Rivello, MM ’89—JCM)
“That’s not going to sound the way you think it’s going to….” (without my telling him how I thought it would sound). (Scott Healy, BM ’82—Composition)
I had arranged Roland Hanna’s ballad Seasons for him to play as a waltz. Roland said, “I don’t play jazz waltzes; maybe I’ll play this one by myself.” I was so upset. Then Ray suggested we do the piece as a slow ballad; salvage the intro and use it as an ending, too; and play some of the worked-out string and horn backgrounds in the ballad tempo. We were back on track in minutes. This was just a typical example of how he thought on his feet and made something good out of an unexpected situation that could have ended badly. It was so like him—and a real model as to how I could handle similar situations in the future. (Mike Patterson, MM ’80—JCM)
During a Susannah McCorkle session, he realized he’d left a part at home so called his wife, Doris. When she arrived, they shared a brief kiss. She gave him the part, and they moved on. One of the most organized persons I knew could make an error. Problem solved without drama. An expression of love. It was a tiny moment to them, but these were some of the most important lessons I’d learned at Eastman.(Antonio García, MM ’85—JCM)
Ray Wright was probably the most influential teacher in my life. Professionalism was second nature to him; and he was always superbly organized and prepared for every concert, class, or even sailing expedition I was invited to crew for. Every time I compose, arrange, or lead a big band, I always ask myself, “What would Ray do?” He was also a wonderfully kind and humble man whose teaching and writing inspire me to this day. (Ellen Rowe, MM ’82—JCM)
Ray was so secure about his own consummate musicianship that he could be an ideal facilitator. Whether working with student writers or rehearsing an orchestra, it was all about enabling the musical content to achieve its highest potential. (Bill Dobbins—Coordinator, Jazz Composition and Arranging Program, Eastman’s JCM Department)
I never had the privilege of working with or even meeting Ray Wright, but I have experienced his influence as reflected in the lives of those who did. When I hear someone speak of Ray, it is clear that he was a person of great integrity. He brought out the very best in his students and colleagues and gave them the confidence to reach the highest levels of artistry and professionalism. (Jeff Campbell, MM ’92—JCM, DMA MusEd ’02; Chair, Eastman’s JCM Department)
Ray Wright made you ready. His approach to the reading sessions for the studio orchestra replicated real-life situations. Composers had a limited amount of time to get their work recorded, and that reflected onto the players who were under pressure to play it right the first time. When I arrived in NY and played my first big orchestra recording session in NY, I did not have any nerves at all. And then let’s talk about the experiences that he provided for the students: Marian McPartland, Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Teo Macero, Thad Jones, Phil Ramone, and Joe Williams, just to name a few...within a six-year period (four in school and an additional two with the Arranger’s Workshop)! All I have to say is, “Thank you, Ray!” (Phil Markowitz, BM ’74—Theory)
In a difficult business, there really is someone you can trust. There really is such a thing as a role model.... Ray’s example—in teaching, rehearsing, mentoring, and problem-solving—was an ongoing series of lessons in how a true professional approaches life. Ray never, ever, lost his cool. Even when he needed to correct something, you never sensed an emotional agenda. The agenda was to solve the problem. Ray never focused on Ray Wright, not for one second. Ray must have decided long ago that he would choose to have his success measured by the success of his program, his school, and his students. (Manny Mendelsohn, MM ’79—JCM)
A few years after I graduated, the veteran copyist looking over my scores says, “I don’t understand it: you’ve got almost no experience, and yet your scores read like someone who has been in the business for years. How is that possible?” I tell him, “I studied with Ray Wright.” “Oh,” he says, “that explains it.” (Doug Besterman, BA ’86)
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Adapted in part from “Ray Wright: Life and Time,” a privately held book by Donald Hunsberger, ©2012, as well as from statements collected by him for a 2012 reunion. Contact him at <firstname.lastname@example.org>; contact Antonio García at <email@example.com>. For more information on Ray Wright, visit <tinyurl.com/k2wxsoc>.
Additional Personal Reflections by Antonio García.
I completed the following questionnaire in 2012 at the request of the Eastman Alumni Association and reproduce it here for those interested in learning more about Rayburn Wright.
1. Which years did you study or work with Ray?
I attended the Arranger’s Workshop (“Arranger’s Holiday”) the summer of 1982, then enrolled in the JCM Program from Fall 1983 through Spring 1985.
2. What are your most treasured memories of working with him?
Despite his enormous musical, organizational, and interpersonal gifts, Ray had an unassuming modesty that added to the positive flow of his direction in class and on the bandstand. He had an immensely satisfying sense of humor that I took to be a marvelous counterpoint to the obvious stresses of his roles. His actions showed remarkable personal insight into the abilities and stresses of his students—insight necessary for their mere survival, much less their flourishing, in the demanding but professional environment Eastman and its Jazz program presented them. I wish I could have observed him in action for more than the two years I did.
3. Were you one of his grad assistants? Please describe those experiences.
I was privileged to direct the Jazz Ensemble IV for the ‘84-’85 school year. He and Bill Dobbins believed that I had talent in the ensemble-direction area and gave me my first opportunity to run a big band. It was a personal and professional revelation for me that changed my career path for the better. While Ray and I did not consult constantly on the band, he provided superb support when needed.
4. Relate your experiences with him in a private lesson; in a class situation.
Joy. That’s the best word. I’d had great instructors in undergrad years who then assisted me in finding this opportunity to study with Ray, Bill, and others who showed me what I needed to do next in order to grow. It was absolute joy to study with Ray.
I’d say some of the most memorable moments were the two times he informed me in lessons that I should write the opening piece for the two Eastman Studio Orchestra concerts during my years there—which turned out to be an arrangement of “Invitation” in ‘84 and an original, “Tales of Twilights Past,” in ‘85. Though writing anything for studio orchestra poses its challenges, I felt that writing the music that might set the tone for the audience at the start of the concert was daunting and exhilarating. Of course he was brilliant in showing me creative options for revision even while ensuring that the direction of the pieces was still mine. And when, for example, I realized that the best path within one of the works was to replace several pages of my scoring, I knew with his guidance that it was the right thing to do—lesson learned.
5. Did you play in the EJE or the SO? Discuss his approach to rehearsal techniques.
I was most fortunate to play tenor trombone in Bill Dobbins’ New Jazz Ensemble my first year and then in my second year tenor and finally bass trombone in the Eastman Jazz Ensemble under Ray. I declined the opportunity to play in the Studio Orchestra for a reason noted further below.
I learned one of his most valued rehearsal techniques rather abruptly in my first weeks at Eastman. I’d written a new work over the preceding summer, a two-movement suite, just to hit the ground running on my arrival. Ray invited me to bring it in to the EJE, of which I was not a member. As I began to pass out the parts—all very neatly inked on Alpheus manuscript stock—Ray noticed that I had not taped together the parts. (I hadn’t done so because I’d hoped to make photocopies first and then hand out the copies for marking up.) He quietly asked me to collect the parts and explained to me that bands read best when they don’t need to balance pages. He suggested that when I was ready, I should tape the parts together and then bring it into the New Jazz Ensemble, of which I was a member, because the EJE then had to move on with its goals of the moment.
I was a bit stunned, holding my 100 or so pages of crisp cardstock. But he was right, and he had informed me without embarrassing me. And when I took the chart into the NJE, Bill and my bandmates devoted full attention on it that yielded a wonderful performance—also quickly teaching me that the NJE was up to addressing its repertoire. I’ve required my arranging students to tape their parts together ever since. The “small stuff” makes a big difference when you’re asking musicians to read their best.
My one favorite conducting move by Ray? The way he would arrive at a ballad-closing fermata, allow his hands to rise slowly within the fermata as if momentarily liberated of gravity, and then gently bring the ensemble back for an utterly rewarding final chord. I probably never get that move right; but in my imagination, I do every time!
Ray had offered me the choice of playing trombone within the Studio Orchestra or serving as producer for its recordings. Having produced house sound for several jazz ensemble concerts, I didn’t hesitate to choose producing the ESO: the opportunity to study the scores of each of the incredible pieces created by my peers, faculty, or others out in the field was nothing less than a gold mine for an incipient composer/arranger such as I was.
One of my compositions, “Tales of Twilights Past,” was recorded twice by the Eastman Studio Orchestra: first in a studio reading in Room 120 with one rotation of non-EJE players joining with the band in November ‘84, then live in concert with another roster of non-EJE players in February ‘85. Both were wonderful performances. Though I favored the live version slightly, there was a moment there when a musician had played early in an exposed spot; so after graduating, I decided to experiment with electronically splicing a portion of the November studio version into the February live version. Darned if Ray hadn’t nailed the exact same tempo in the two versions, consistently throughout the piece. I know how hard it can be to move 60 or more musicians along in pace, much less on two occasions, three months apart, in different rooms, with different performers—and he simply did it with his usual grace and apparent ease! Ray used to say that he’d set all his tempos by The Rockettes from his Radio City Music Hall days, and I never had reason to doubt him.
In mid-March or so of 1985, EJE bass trombonist Jim Martin knocked on my residence hall door at 424 University Avenue at about 2 a.m., knowing I’d be up copying parts for my latest writing project, and informed me that he was leaving the next day to be bass trombonist in Buddy Rich’s band—and that Ray had decided that I would be moving from tenor bone in the EJE to bass trombone for my last month at Eastman, including the band’s April concert and its recording sessions for the album later released as “Hot House.” Though it was a huge challenge to perform the parts that I and the other writers had penned for Jim in that chair, it was of course a tremendous blessing to record as the EJE’s bass trombonist, who gets to invoke far more independent musical decision-making than anyone on an inside chair.
We recorded for two days on the Eastman Theatre stage, one evening stretching to about 1:30 a.m. It was so educational to hear Ray’s counsel to us all during the session, steering us towards the best recording possible. My favorite instructive moment?
We writers loved writing for woodwind doubles in the EJE sax section, as not everyone back home could play such varied parts. And there was a passage in someone’s chart—perhaps mine, “‘Hang’ Time”—where the recording was not effectively capturing the crescendoing and decrescendoing of the woodwind doubles across eight or so measures. Ray came in over the talkback mic: “Let’s have the woodwind section physically lean towards and back from the mics during those dynamic changes so that we really capture the shifts.” Simple solution, very effective recording.
6. Did you attend or perform in the Arrangers’ Workshop or Lab Institute? How did those experiences and opportunities differ from regular school year performance experiences?
I attended the Arranger’s Workshop (“Arranger’s Holiday”) the summer of 1982. The pace of that session was reasonably accelerated, given the limited weeks available. It was no surprise that I found the other students to be more advanced than I, and I enjoyed learning from them as well as faculty. This was one of the reasons I’d wanted to attend Eastman during the regular year!
The instruction was brilliant. Because Ray and the EJE were out on tour at Montreux and other locales for most of that session, Manny Albam took an even far greater role that summer than usual. What an amazing musician, gifted teacher, and keen studio leader! When Ray arrived, he gave key sessions on his concepts about reharmonization that were critically invaluable.
Meeting Gene Bertoncini was inspiring. Somehow he saw specific potential in me and coached me on writing guitar lines for my charts. It began a friendship that continues to this day.
But Ray’s fingerprints were all over the summer session. And when he produced the recording session of an arrangement I’d done for Small Studio Orchestra, he came on the talkback mic to ask me if I’d really meant to close a passage with an exposed half-step between flute and alto flute. I replied that I did, which was true; and later that week he told me that I appreciated that I knew what I wanted out of my music.
That session was crucial for me. It affirmed that though I had not been accepted into the JCM Program, I would certainly consider applying again. In the final days of the session I asked Ray for a 15-minute appointment and asked him, given the very short time that he’d had any contact with me and my work since his arrival from Montreux, if he had any impressions at all as to whether I should in fact re-apply or would be wasting my time and Eastman’s.
He spoke concisely and eloquently about how of course he could make no guarantees but that it was typical that Arranger’s Workshop alums would experience a rather pronounced growth in their writing skills within a very few months after attending—and that he certainly hoped I would benefit from the same.
In my view, that’s exactly what happened. I’d been exposed to such great music and information that the next chart I wrote, a couple of months later, I without realizing it imitated completely the pace, texture, melodic rhyming, and even certain backgrounds of Bob Brookmeyer’s “Skylark”—which I’d heard only once: in Manny Albam’s class at the Workshop. I didn’t own the recording and had never heard it live. But I was listening intently, and it showed. More things began to show, and I was growing—if not exactly yet original!
I should add that several members of the recording ensemble for the Workshop—especially trumpeter Vinnie DiMartino and bass trombonist (and then-student) Mark Lusk—became friendly mentors of mine that summer and were very valuable to my growth in the years thereafter.
7. Some of us recall having learned life lessons from watching Ray navigate especially challenging situations. These were events not always confined to the notes on the page. If you had similar experiences – ones informed by Ray’s way of handling such sometimes-unexpected situations – please share your memories of these occasions.
This was the one question I’d suggested adding to the existing list; so thanks for including it!
Once during my studies there Eastman hosted a legendary jazz figure whom most of the students quickly grew to despise during his several-day residency. He had declined to provide any scores for recording-production study, stating concern that they might be in some way stolen. His initial rehearsal with the EJE ran several hours beyond schedule, during which he cursed at the players and told them he knew of “musicians in Sweden who’d swing better” than they did (though I wasn’t sure exactly how that was an insult, given the quality of European musicians even at that time). He ran the performance-day soundcheck two hours overtime, unheard of, and insisted that the brass players perform the soundcheck full-on at all times, tiring their embochures.
By intermission of the concert, roughly half the audience had left in dismay of what they’d heard of the artist’s works; and at the end of the concert I could see from the television monitor of the recording booth (where I was producing the concert-recording from various lead-alto and trumpet parts) that the EJE bandmembers were not applauding the guest at all. In sum, there was no love lost.
So during this residency I was walking with Ray from a lesson in his office to the elevator in the Annex; and I told him how angry so many of the students were becoming during this artist’s visit, seeking his reaction. He calmly responded that he’d indeed observed the dark moods, that he’d hoped that the residency would not have taken this emotional direction, but that it was still not only important music to be performed under the guidance of the man who’d composed it but also an important lesson for us as students: that not every gifted artist would treat us in our careers as we might hope.
As we rounded the corner in full pace towards the elevator we nearly ran into the guest artist, awaiting it. Mid-sentence, without breaking his tone or his stride, Ray changed the topic of his words to something completely different. We greeted the artist, made small talk, and moved on our way. Ray and I never discussed that later, but I’ve always taken it as a lesson in diplomacy. And I remind my own students, when one of my guest artists is not ideally interpersonal, that that, too, is a valuable lesson.
By the way, at the end of that residency, the day after the concert, the artist took questions in a workshop. I very politely inquired, “You’ve worked with many of the greatest jazz artists in history; so I must ask: do you treat them in rehearsal the same way you’ve treated us, or do you treat us differently?” And he calmly replied, “I do treat you students differently. I believe that the only way to get an emotional, expressive performance out of you is to get you angry, to feel emotion.” I thanked him sincerely for clearing up the matter and resolved that day never to teach using that approach.
On a lighter note.... one of my greatest honors at Eastman was when Ray asked me to produce the studio demo recordings in Room 120 of his orchestral arrangements commissioned by the gifted vocalist Susannah McCorkle. I was stunned by his confidence in me, but not so much that I couldn’t croak out a “yes” in time to accept. The opportunity to study a binder of Ray Wright orchestral scores? Never mind that he would pay me a modest fee for my services; I should have paid him.
At one early point of the recording session, he discovered from a musician that one of his parts was not on the stand. With some 60 musicians nearby, he came into to the booth where Ros Ritchie and I were, picked up the phone, called home to his wife, Doris, and asked her to look at the desk in his study for the part. She confirmed it was there and would drive it in to him.
The orchestra recorded a different arrangement of his and then took a break. I was sitting in the Eastman’s main hall when Doris arrived with the part in hand. Ray had walked out of Room 120 at that point. They met in the middle of the main hall; they embraced, sharing a brief kiss; she gave him the part; and they turned their opposite ways to carry on with their days.
Even one of the most organized persons I knew could make an error. Problem solved without drama. An expression of love. It may have been a tiny moment to them, but to me it was one of the most important lessons I’d learned at Eastman.
8. Was there a special program or study with him that you feel was most important in your own career development?
His comments to me at the end of the Arranger’s Workshop (see #6) were pretty crucial towards my persisting in re-applying. Once admitted to the JCM Program, every day could be counted on for some revelation. Arranging, Film-Scoring, Writing for Musical Theatre, Music Business...those were just some of the courses I got to take with Ray—along with incredible experiences with Bill’s classes, plus occasional substitutes such as Roland Hanna and Jim Hynes.
But aside from the great coursework and ensembles, the opportunities Ray gave me to produce house sound and then recordings and radio broadcasts were incredible real-world educations. He improved my score-reading, taught me what to mark, allowed me to grow my voice in making recommendations over the years to Ros Ritchie, the superb engineer at the time—all of which of course allowed me to envision, as I composed a piece, how it should eventually present itself both live and on recording. Priceless. Well, some $25,000 spent for two years...but I’ve often said, it was the “best 25 grand I’d ever spent in my life.”
In ‘84 Ray was kind to feature a Small Jazz Ensemble composition of mine, “In Which Our Hero...,” within an Eastman Jazz Ensemble concert. I hadn’t heard of a combo performing on an EJE concert for any recent time before or since, though I could easily have missed it; so I viewed that as a strong affirmation of the work I was doing. He asked me to explain the tune’s title to the audience, as he felt it would draw them into the piece; and that taught me something about programming concerts.
My fellow students of course performed the piece marvelously as I sat back observing. And the entire concert—including not only that piece but also an arrangement of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” that I’d penned for the EJE and the superb vocalist Teri Koide—was broadcast over WXXI-FM, sending my music out a bit further than usual. I certainly noticed what Ray had done for me that evening and others, and I try to provide similar opportunities for my own students.
Programming was certainly a major lesson that I learned from Ray and Bill, building on what I’d learned from my undergrad mentors. Those concerts were artfully balanced, despite many needs driving those concerts. I’d like to think I’ve learned that lesson well.
Finally, one of the most important moments regarding study with him was literally just getting in. He and Bill made terrific choices as to whom to admit into the JCM Program; so I benefited incredibly not only from their mentorship but also that of all my JCM peers and all the other Eastman students who’d perform with me or on my compositions. But one of the lessons I learned was certainly persistence, another was timing.
I didn’t get into Eastman the first time I applied, for Fall ‘82. It was the only place I wanted to go, the only place I applied to; but I didn’t get in. After studying there for the Summer ‘82 Arranger’s Workshop, I decided to re-apply; and during my audition visit in Winter ‘83 I heard the first-year shared graduate recital of the two students who had gotten in when I had not: Matt Harris and Joel McNeely. I’d owned some humility before that day but gained quite a bit more during that recital. I did reapply and got in for Fall ‘83.
Several years after my ‘85 graduation I read the remarks of a classmate of mine, Maria Schneider, who had been invited back to give commencement remarks to Eastman students. In it she mentioned that she had not gotten into Eastman when she first applied for the Fall ‘83 semester but got in for the Spring of ‘84. I had certainly known she had joined us a semester after I’d arrived, but I’d never known that she’d tried to get into the Program when I had. I called her up, incredulous that I could be among the entering first-year students that somehow had taken up the space she might have occupied in that initial semester. In turn, she was surprised when I told her that I hadn’t gotten in my first try, either: she’d figured I’d “always had it together” in the writing department.
From that, as other things, I learned a lot about persistence and timing, as there are few other reasons to explain how some things spin out. And I pass those lessons on to my own prospective students, who can be as disappointed as I had been when I didn’t get into the school of my choice my first time around.
But I made the right choice of school!
9. What outside-of-school experiences did you have with him? (Sailing, parties, etc.)
I didn’t do any social activities with Ray, other than one or maybe two gatherings at his house at 10 Green Valley in Pittsford for the JCM students. I remember it was a joy to just be in an actual home, anyone’s home, much less the warmth of Ray and Doris’ home. 424 University Avenue was a solid, convenient place to live for me; but walking into Ray’s home, I was grateful for the personal feeling.
Ray and Bill were kind to allow several students, including me, to join a post-concert dinner in 1984 with trombonists Dave Taylor and Jim Pugh, who had performed works they’d collaborated on in the studio with Bill and more. As a trombonist, that night was pretty high on my social list.
I came back to Eastman for a couple of days in the Fall of ‘85 to see friends, and it was good to greet Ray and Bill and thank them again for the experience. The last time I believe I saw Ray, though we’d correspond briefly each Christmas, was at an IAJE concert circa 1987-88, I believe. He displayed his usual toothy grin and great sense of humor, and I enjoyed the opportunity to share seats with him, Manny Albam, and a couple of other Eastman grads.
Thanks for the opportunity. And you know, if called for, I could write just as many thanks regarding my time with Bill Dobbins there. How fortunate I was to be at Eastman during those years!
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Antonio J. García is a Professor of Music and Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he directs the Jazz Orchestra I; instructs Applied Jazz Trombone, Small Jazz Ensemble, Music Industry, and various jazz courses; founded a B.A. Music Business Emphasis (for which he initially served as Coordinator); and directs the Greater Richmond High School Jazz Band. An alumnus of the Eastman School of Music and of Loyola University of the South, he has received commissions for jazz, symphonic, chamber, film, and solo works—instrumental and vocal—including grants from Meet The Composer, The Commission Project, The Thelonious Monk Institute, and regional arts councils. His music has aired internationally and has been performed by such artists as Sheila Jordan, Arturo Sandoval, Jim Pugh, Denis DiBlasio, James Moody, and Nick Brignola. Composition/arrangement honors include IAJE (jazz band), ASCAP (orchestral), and Billboard Magazine (pop songwriting). His works have been published by Kjos Music, Hal Leonard, Kendor Music, Doug Beach Music, ejazzlines, Walrus, UNC Jazz Press, Three-Two Music Publications, and his own garciamusic.com, with five recorded on CDs by Rob Parton’s JazzTech Big Band (Sea Breeze and ROPA JAZZ). His scores for independent films have screened across the U.S. and in Italy, Macedonia, Uganda, Australia, Colombia, India, Germany, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mexico, Israel, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
A Bach/Selmer trombone clinician, Mr. García serves as the jazz clinician for The Conn-Selmer Institute. He has freelanced as trombonist, bass trombonist, or pianist with over 70 nationally renowned artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, George Shearing, Mel Tormé, Doc Severinsen, Louie Bellson, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Collins—and has performed at the Montreux, Nice, North Sea, Pori (Finland), New Orleans, and Chicago Jazz Festivals. He has produced recordings or broadcasts of such artists as Wynton Marsalis, Jim Pugh, Dave Taylor, Susannah McCorkle, Sir Roland Hanna, and the JazzTech Big Band and is the bass trombonist on Phil Collins’ CD “A Hot Night in Paris” (Atlantic) and DVD “Phil Collins: Finally...The First Farewell Tour” (Warner Music). An avid scat-singer, he has performed vocally with jazz bands, jazz choirs, and computer-generated sounds. He is also a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS). A New Orleans native, he also performed there with such local artists as Pete Fountain, Ronnie Kole, Irma Thomas, and Al Hirt.
Mr. García is a Research Faculty member at The University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban, South Africa) and the Associate Jazz Editor of the International Trombone Association Journal. He serves as a Network Expert (for Improvisation Materials) for the Jazz Education Network and has served as President’s Advisory Council member and Editorial Advisory Board member. His newest book, Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading (Meredith Music), explores avenues for creating structures that correspond to course objectives. His book Cutting the Changes: Jazz Improvisation via Key Centers (Kjos Music) offers musicians of all ages the opportunity to improvise over standard tunes using just their major scales. He is Co-Editor and Contributing Author of Teaching Jazz: A Course of Study (published by NAfME) and authored a chapter within The Jazzer’s Cookbook (published by Meredith Music). Within the International Association for Jazz Education he served as Editor of the Jazz Education Journal, President of IAJE-IL, International Co-Chair for Curriculum and for Vocal/Instrumental Integration, and Chicago Host Coordinator for the 1997 Conference. He served on the Illinois Coalition for Music Education coordinating committee, worked with the Illinois and Chicago Public Schools to develop standards for multi-cultural music education, and received a curricular grant from the Council for Basic Education. He has also served as Director of IMEA’s All-State Jazz Choir and Combo and of similar ensembles outside of Illinois. He is the recipient of the Illinois Music Educators Association’s 2001 Distinguished Service Award.
Regarding Jazz Improvisation: Practical Approaches to Grading, Darius Brubeck says, "How one grades turns out to be a contentious philosophical problem with a surprisingly wide spectrum of responses. García has produced a lucidly written, probing, analytical, and ultimately practical resource for professional jazz educators, replete with valuable ideas, advice, and copious references." Jamey Aebersold offers, "This book should be mandatory reading for all graduating music ed students." Janis Stockhouse states, "Groundbreaking. The comprehensive amount of material García has gathered from leaders in jazz education is impressive in itself. Plus, the veteran educator then presents his own synthesis of the material into a method of teaching and evaluating jazz improvisation that is fresh, practical, and inspiring!" And Dr. Ron McCurdy suggests, "This method will aid in the quality of teaching and learning of jazz improvisation worldwide."
About Cutting the Changes, saxophonist David Liebman states, “This book is perfect for the beginning to intermediate improviser who may be daunted by the multitude of chord changes found in most standard material. Here is a path through the technical chord-change jungle.” Says vocalist Sunny Wilkinson, “The concept is simple, the explanation detailed, the rewards immediate. It’s very singer-friendly.” Adds jazz-education legend Jamey Aebersold, “Tony’s wealth of jazz knowledge allows you to understand and apply his concepts without having to know a lot of theory and harmony. Cutting the Changes allows music educators to present jazz improvisation to many students who would normally be scared of trying.”
Of his jazz curricular work, Standard of Excellence states: “Antonio García has developed a series of Scope and Sequence of Instruction charts to provide a structure that will ensure academic integrity in jazz education.” Wynton Marsalis emphasizes: “Eight key categories meet the challenge of teaching what is historically an oral and aural tradition. All are important ingredients in the recipe.” The Chicago Tribune has highlighted García’s “splendid solos...virtuosity and musicianship...ingenious scoring...shrewd arrangements...exotic orchestral colors, witty riffs, and gloriously uninhibited splashes of dissonance...translucent textures and elegant voicing” and cited him as “a nationally noted jazz artist/educator...one of the most prominent young music educators in the country.” Down Beat has recognized his “knowing solo work on trombone” and “first-class writing of special interest.” The Jazz Report has written about the “talented trombonist,” and Cadence noted his “hauntingly lovely” composing as well as CD production “recommended without any qualifications whatsoever.” Phil Collins has said simply, “He can be in my band whenever he wants.” García is also the subject of an extensive interview within Bonanza: Insights and Wisdom from Professional Jazz Trombonists (Advance Music), profiled along with such artists as Bill Watrous, Mike Davis, Bill Reichenbach, Wayne Andre, John Fedchock, Conrad Herwig, Steve Turre, Jim Pugh, and Ed Neumeister.
The Secretary of the Board of The Midwest Clinic, Mr. García has adjudicated festivals and presented clinics in Canada, Europe, Australia, The Middle East, and South Africa, including creativity workshops for Motorola, Inc.’s international management executives. The partnership he created between VCU Jazz and the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of KwaZulu-Natal merited the 2013 VCU Community Engagement Award for Research. He has served as adjudicator for the International Trombone Association’s Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, and Rath Jazz Trombone Scholarship competitions and the Kai Winding Jazz Trombone Ensemble competition and has been asked to serve on Arts Midwest’s “Midwest Jazz Masters” panel and the Virginia Commission for the Arts “Artist Fellowship in Music Composition” panel. He has been repeatedly published in Down Beat; JAZZed; Jazz Improv; Music, Inc.; The International Musician; The Instrumentalist; and the journals of NAfME, IAJE, ITA, American Orff-Schulwerk Association, Percussive Arts Society, Arts Midwest, Illinois Music Educators Association, and Illinois Association of School Boards. Previous to VCU, he served as Associate Professor and Coordinator of Combos at Northwestern University, where he taught jazz and integrated arts, was Jazz Coordinator for the National High School Music Institute, and for four years directed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble. Formerly the Coordinator of Jazz Studies at Northern Illinois University, he was selected by students and faculty there as the recipient of a 1992 “Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching” award and nominated as its candidate for 1992 CASE “U.S. Professor of the Year” (one of 434 nationwide). He was recipient of the VCU School of the Arts’ 2015 Faculty Award of Excellence for his teaching, research, and service. Visit his web site at <www.garciamusic.com>.
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