Big Band performs world premiere of student compositions

High school student Ben Chasin follows the conducting of jazz instructor Joey Sellers. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

High school student Ben Chasin follows the conducting of jazz instructor Joey Sellers. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

Saddleback creates a new generation of composers each spring

Saddleback College’s big band jazz ensemble performed in a student-composed concert at the McKinney Theatre on April 27. Students of the Jazz Composition and Arranging or MUS 14 course showcased their world premiere charts and arrangements in a west coast premiere.

Joey Sellers, the director of jazz studies, conducted the ensemble through the student compositions. The course commences solely in the spring semester and alternates every other year with the big band and with a petite seven-piece group.

Indicated by Sellers the class challenges students in harmonic, cultural, rhythmic and most importantly, notational knowledge. The time accumulated in writing the music stood out as the biggest obstacle for the musicians. Some of the charts or compositions will be utilized in workshops in the fall by creating altered variations by the students.

Ben Chasin composed a piece entitled “Ctenophora” that featured solo performances from Logan Ivancik on bass clarinet and Ryan DeWeese on the flugelhorn. With a supportive trumpeter father and teachers, Chasin left the Orange County School of the Arts to attend the applied music program and other programs while homeschooled.

“Ben is a creative type with a natural gift in music,” Sellers said. “He wants an emphasis in music composition and tonight was his first world premiere. It was for most students and in some cases their first jazz composition as well.”

Brian Szesny began playing the flute as a child and incorporated sax, clarinet, guitar, bass and drums into his repertoire. Despite his previous experience writing music, he remained new to jazz and composing for a large band. His piece, “A Romance in Victorian Days,” inspired from chords of a Chopin ballade in which he harmonized and felt it smoothly translated into jazz. He describes writing a melody overlapping with someone else’s chords in the jazz community refers to as a contra fact.

“It’s hard to know what the sound is going to be until the band plays it,” Szesny said. “You can write the melody and have the harmonies and even program the computer to play it back, but it’s nothing like the real thing.”

The course spent a lengthy amount of time focusing upon the rules of vocals in leading in the context of jazz, which differs from classical music, according to Szesny. He also equates the act of harmonizing a melody to a time-consuming Sudoku puzzle.

  • Student composer Dan Rowe performs solo at concert McKinney Theatre. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)
    Student composer Dan Rowe performs solo at concert McKinney Theatre. (Andrea Clemett/ Lariat)

Daniel Rowe, like the other two composers, made his world premiere of his chart entitled “Meshug.” He enrolled in the class out of curiosity and there he dabbled with a melody he created for his saxophone. The small idea expanded into a three-week journey composing for the big band.

He currently plays numerous woodwind instruments such as the saxophone family, flute and bass clarinet. He ultimately incorporates the horn section when composing, using independent sounds or accents characterized by those instruments.

“I want to continue composing more music, but I want to take more time and be a bit more methodical.” Rowe said. “In the future, I plan to continue playing as a community member, stay involved with the classes and finish my degree at a Cal State University.”

The course provides a creative atmosphere in which students can contribute and work together. Former Saddleback student, Tyler Carmody, went on to Cal State Northridge and returned as a community member.

“It is fun for me to see students venture away and come back with immense improvement,” Sellers adds. “It has been a pleasure to see Tyler play a very mature level being one of the greatest solo guitarists we have ever had.”

Many students from the class indicated they will continue writing and developing the skills acquired from the course.