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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The story of "Solaces" on TV

In January, I traveled to Peoria, Illinois for the Illinois Music Education Conference with the Buffalo Grove High School Chamber Orchestra, so guest-conduct Solaces. Prior to that performance, I appeared on WTTW-Chicago in a profile of the piece and the circumstances surrounding its creation, and discussed some of its unique musical features.

The orchestra's performance in Peoria was excellent, and considering the technical challenges of the work, not to mention the expressive demands inherent in such a piece, it was really an outstanding and memorable achievement. Many in the audience were moved by the performance, and several of the educators present commented on the musical language of the piece – in particular, that it "didn't sound like movie music" (which I suppose is how most youth orchestras encounter contemporary works). I wasn't conscious of this while I was writing, but there were some discussions going on about how there was a lack of intermediate-level modern orchestra works of real quality, particularly string orchestra.

You can view the WTTW broadcast here.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Jazz at Houghton College

I'm pleased to announce I'm the new Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies and Jazz Band Director at the Greatbatch School of Music at Houghton College. I'll be working with some excellent students and colleagues there!
Greatbatch School of Music
This will be in addition to my present role directing the Canisius College Jazz Ensemble. It's very satisfying to work with a wide range of young, eager students.

Monday, December 11, 2017

"Solaces" in the news

My new work for strings & piano, Solaces, has been featured this week in the Chicago Tribune; and through the Associated Press, the LA Times, and US News and World Report, and many others. The work was composed in 2017, and commissioned by Buffalo Grove High School outside of Chicago for their Chamber Orchestra, directed by Elizabeth Bennett.

I'll travel to Chicago to work with the orchestra in January, and conduct their performance at the Illinois Music Education Association convention in Peoria on January 25.

Here are my notes accompanying the work:

For several years in the 1880’s Emily Dickinson exchanged letters with a Mr. C.H. Clark, consoling one another over the untimely passing of Clark’s brother, a friend of Dickinson’s. Her letters to him are filled with beautiful courtesies and messages of exquisite comfort. One letter, dated January 18, 1885, ends with:

Have you blossoms and books, those solaces of sorrow? That, I would also love to know, and receive for yourself and your father the forgetless sympathy of

Your friend,
E. Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson
Blossoms, books…. a modest collection of ordinary things to ease healing. Even in encouraging Clark to indulge in these humble comforts, Dickinson’s elegantly-expressed kindness is a balm for the soul. In this spirit, this work for strings, Solaces, is a collection of contrasting episodes meant to touch a range of emotions, from trauma, to supplication, to joy, to peace.

Uniting these episodes is the collection of pitches {Bb-G-B-Eb}, which appear in various forms throughout the work. In German music notation, B natural is “H” and B-flat is “B”, and E-flat is translated as the letter “S” (pronounced “Es”). The pitches correspond to the initials BGHS, for Buffalo Grove High School, the commissioning school for which these Solaces are dedicated in their time of trials. This technique is found in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who wove his surname BACH {Bb-A-C-B} into The Art of the Fugue, among other works, and also in the later works of Dmitri Shostakovich, who used his initials DSCH {D-Eb-C-B}.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Premiere of "Bacheque"

Here's the premiere performance of Bacheque, an original work by the SOUL-JAZZ Big Band. Bill Straub pays the alto solo, and Dean Keller is on baritone sax.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Streaming SOUL-JAZZ

Here's our October 12 live radio performance on Jazz 90.1 FM. The SOUL-JAZZ Big Band performing classics, a few new arrangements, and the premiere performance of Bacheque, a new original written especially for this occasion.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

SOUL-JAZZ Big Band live on Jazz 90.1

Jazz 90.1 FM
Russell Scarbrough's SOUL-JAZZ Big Band will be performing live on WGMC 90.1 FM radio in Rochester, NY on Wednesday October 12 from 7-8pm. The performance will also be streaming live at www.jazz901.org. Tune in for an hour of live music with a band of great soloists, featuring all original arrangements. You'll hear great tunes by Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and more. We'll also be premiering a brand new original piece entitled BACHEQUE — so don't miss this exciting event!

Friday, August 26, 2016


I had a great experience this past spring at French Road Elementary with band director Debbie Parker and jazz guitarist Bob Sneider. Good composers can write at all levels, I believe, and as much as I value working with highly trained professionals, the creative benefits of working with children can be just as rewarding. Fortunately, in this instance, I was able to do both.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Jazz ensemble works at eJazzLines.com

I'm pleased to announce that a number of my recent works for jazz ensemble are now published by Walrus Music Publishing, and available from eJazzLines.com, one of the largest distributors of quality jazz publications.

eJazzLinesAmong those newly released are:
Incipit Vita Nova, composed for Jon Faddis
Something's Burning, in homage to Stevie Ray Vaughan, performed by the American Jazz Composer's Orchestra
Needledrop, Touch, and Song of the Northern Road, a trio of pieces commissioned by Rochester, New York area high school jazz ensembles

Click here to go directly to my catalog of charts at eJazzLines.

Some of my older works for jazz ensemble may also be found at Really Good Music

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Finding my music in iTunes

A quick look in iTunes has revealed a couple of my pieces have appeared there recently. Here's how to find them there to hear and to purchase:

Vox Planetarium, recorded by the Monash University Flute Ensemble directed by Peter Sheridan.

Bow Shock, recorded by the Irrera Brothers Duo.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

"Music You Should Know" - Part 2

Read Part I here.

Delving into another group of composers/compositions, IMO, high-school-age composition students should familiarize themselves with, here are what I call Late 20th-century Modernists.

I expect a certain amount of controversy just over the categorization, as well as the inclusion/exclusion of certain names. Corigliano, Zappa, and Schnittke, for instance, could all be argued to be Post-Modernists, since their music to some extent is characterized by frequent use of pastiche, homage, or what-have-you, making overt reference to music of the past for a particular ironic effect (one of the hallmarks of Post-Modernism). However, I'd also say, arbitrarily I suppose, that their basic language is dissonant, atonal, frequently non-pulsitile, completely outside the common practice use of melodic devices/voice-leading with resolutions, and so forth, which is the criteria I'm using.

I'm also making a distinction between Modernists and what I'm calling Avant-gardists, which is indeed splitting hairs with more than a few (the late 20th century Avant-garde will be the next post). So Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, Pauline Oliveros, and others whose language is either directly or indirectly influenced by Cage, instead of the mid-century Modernists (Boulez, Babbitt), I'm lumping together as the Avant-garde.

At any rate, this list is a work-in-progress, but these guys are important! Listen and absorb.....

Listen to "Music You Should Know: Late 20th Century Modernists"