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Jazz 1996

In June 1996, I had the opportunity to visit New York for the first time. Ostensibly we were visiting America for a Carnegie Hall concert given by Professor Larry Sutherland and the CSUF Wind Orchestra, but as it turned out the concert was rivalled in my mind by some vibrant impressions of the city itself Like so many before me, I was captivated by the ceaseless energy of the metropolis, with its short active history, and its intense but heartless glamour. In many ways, New York was born in the Jazz Age, and the sound of Big Band Jazz is like its musical alter ego. Where the Lincoln Center now stands were once the original apartment blocks that inspired West Side Story, and those other Symphonic Dances; my composition cannot help but take inspiration from the sound and style of Bernstein’s masterpiece.

There are four dances, separated in the manner of 1930’s dance band medleys by solo links. The four dances represent to some degree the four movements of a classical symphony, and the links make extensive use of half-valve glissandi used as punctuation marks between the various sections.
The first dance is a formalised Sonata movement making use of contrasts of dynamic and instrumental groupings, and exploring two principal melodic cells. The first is characterised by frequent changes of meter, and an energetic Moto-Perpetuo style.

By contrast, the second theme is both more lyrical and melodic and appears principally in solo lines.
After a turbulent boiling-up of the musical argument, the Second Dance follows without a break Here the artificial ballroom glamour of the city’s past is heard in a slow strict-tempo piece. Interestingly the telephone number of our hotel was still the same as it had been in 1940 . . . Pennsylvania 65000. At the end of this section is a solo in which I imagined the band leaders of the past not only conducting, but also playing (as certain of our brass band conductors still do). Hence, I have added a slightly mischievous footnote “In appropriate circumstances this solo may be played by the conductor.”

Dances Three and Four are linked by a single extended acceleration. The third dance starts with Bebop style unisons, first for comets and later for horns, interwoven with more traditional big-band swing style. This “Scherzo and Trio” coupling eventually makes way for a concluding fugue on the opening melody of the first dance, now played at a much quicker tempo, and marked “Breathless”.
At the frenetically haunted ballroom climax of this section, the music is interrupted by the most characteristic of all New York sounds. . . gunfire, police whistles and empty laughter. The composition may be thought to end more with sardonic ruin than with a finely crafted peroration.
Some listeners will argue that this composition relies for its effect on the style of playing that was common currency forty years ago, and it is true that there is a sense in which the music is ‘New wine in old bottles’. However, like all my test-pieces of recent years, it is aimed at listeners as much as at players. Unlike the pieces which I have provided for some larger halls, this composition uses chamber music ensembles much more to suit the acoustic niceties of the Cambridge Guildhall. In length it lasts some 12 minutes, and uses a variety of orchestral, jazz and ethnic percussion instruments.
For those that found ‘Revelation’ heavy-going, there are some reassurances here. For those that enjoyed that “Symphony for Double Brass” I hope that you will find something in this new essay which engages the interest and grows with the many repeated hearings of a finely competitive contest.

Composer: Philip Wilby
Type: Test Piece

Date Contest Winner
24 Nov 2019 Swiss National Championships (Excellence Division) Valaisia Brass Band
01 Apr 2001 West of England Area (Championship Section) Camborne Town
01 Apr 2001 Welsh Area (Championship Section) Tredegar
18 Mar 2001 North of England Area (Championship Section) Fishburn
18 Mar 2001 London and Southern Counties (Championship Section) Aveley and Newham
11 Mar 2001 Scottish Championship (Championship Section) CWS (Glasgow)
11 Mar 2001 North West Area (Championship Section) Williams Fairey
04 Mar 2001 Yorkshire Area (Championship Section) Black Dyke
04 Mar 2001 Midlands Area (Championship Section) Travelsphere Holidays
25 May 1997 All England International Masters Williams Fairey

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