Jeff Holmes/Bill Kirchner/Rayburn Wright
I spoke with Jeff Holmes on Columbus Day. Holmes is the longtime Director of Jazz Studies at UMass, and he’s just released a CD entitled Of One’s Own. It features saxophonist Adam Kolker, who also plays bass clarinet on three titles; bassist James Cammack, a veteran of Ahmad Jamal’s trio; and drummer Steve Johns, who spent several years on the road with Billy Taylor. Jeff, who also excels on trumpet and drums, plays piano exclusively on the Miles High release. Arturo O'Farrill calls it "funny, quirky, personal jazz." Sample it here.
I didn’t ask him, but my guess is that the CD’s title is Jeff’s subtle way of saying that after decades of service to student ensembles and semi-pro rehearsal bands, this one’s all his. In any case, it’s nice to hear him in a small group setting, one which proves to be as ready a showcase for his writing and arranging as his charts for big bands. Check out his slowed-down take on “Poinciana,” his lovely originals “The Senses Delight” and “Rose on Driftwood,” his brother Toby’s lyrical “Waltz #3,” and the blowing vehicles "Macaroons" and "So Long, Farewell" which book-end the date.
Notwithstanding his renown in the jazz education field, Jeff’s definitely TDWR among the broader jazz public, and Of One’s Own should bring him more airplay and press. Area listeners will have a chance to see him with this quartet on Monday, October 29 at the Iron Horse in Northampton.
When he dropped off Of One’s Own , Holmes mentioned an event taking place this weekend at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, where he earned his Bachelors and Masters degrees. It’s in memory of Rayburn Wright, who led the jazz and film scoring department there for over 20 years. Holmes and many other jazz players, composers, and educators studied under him, even Duke Ellington. Wright died in 1990 at the age of 67.
What’s that adage about any piece of information worth knowing will be reinforced in due time? In this case, I’d heard of Wright for the first time only last Friday when I read this interview that Ethan Iverson of the Bad Plus conducted with saxophonist Bill Kirchner.
(Kirchner, left; Wright, right)
Here’s an excerpt, one of the many highlights that Kirchner recounts from his busy career as a player, writer, editor, and producer. I highly recommend you take the time to read the entire interview, which has also merited links at NPR Music and Rifftides; it was on Doug Ramsey's daily blog where I first spotted the Kirchner feature. And check in now and then with Do the Math, which Iverson regularly updates with in-depth interviews of this kind:
“A few years later, I got an NEA grant to study with Rayburn Wright up at Eastman. I got the grant originally to study with Thad Jones.
“I’m getting ahead of myself, but we’ll backtrack.
“I was living in D.C. Harold ]Danko] was working with Thad and Mel and introduced me to them. I asked Thad, “If I can get an endowment grant, can I study with you?”, and he said “Yeah.” So I get the grant, and this is early ’79 and at that point Thad left the band and left the country and moved to Denmark. So I had this money and no Thad. I asked [arranger] Sy Johnson, by that time he was a friend, and he said, “Thank you, but the guy you should study with is Rayburn Wright.”
“Wright was the head of the jazz and film scoring department at Eastman. He and Herb Pomeroy were the two greatest writing teachers in the history of jazz. Between the two of them, they taught more great writers than anybody else. Even Duke Ellington took a string writing lesson from Ray. He was amazing. I contacted Ray and sent him a tape and he said, “Yeah,” so I flew up to Rochester from Washington one day a month for a year and studied writing with him.
EI: What would you work on?
BK: Just writing charts, voicings, some string things...Ray had for years been in New York. He was the staff arranger for the Radio City Orchestra before he got the offer from Eastman. For years he and Manny Albam did what was called “The Arranger’s Holiday” at Eastman. There was a three-week program in the summer up at Eastman where professional writers would go up there and they would have the Rochester Philharmonic at their disposal...Ray was one of the great writing teachers of all time. The people who went to Eastman who studied with him – Maria Schneider, John Fedchock, John Oddo, Mike Patterson, Manny Mendelson, oodles of others, they’ll all tell you about him. The first time I met Ray he was transcribing Bob Brookmeyer’s chart on “St. Louis Blues” for Thad and Mel – off the record, which is fiendishly difficult to do with all those dense minor 9th clustered voicings and everything. He had those kinds of ears.”