Jul 282012

The above title is the name of a three movement suite I am currently working on for saxophonist extraordinaire, Steve Wilson. I was a fan of Steve’s playing when I first became aware of him back in the 90s – probably through the late James Williams. I first played with Steve when I sat in with Fintan O’Neill’s band at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival around that period. I was immediately struck by his warmth and remember very clearly that he and Don Sickler decided to give me the break on Philly Twist when I sat in. I walked from the Jazz Standard with Steve and Nina one day after a Discovery program session (I think that was also in Fintan’s band) and again, loved talking to both him and Nina. Cut to a many years later when Steve’s manager Laura called me to discuss the possibility of a project with strings – one that included the Bird With Strings charts – many of which I had at the time. This was around the time I was starting to play the guitar again, hoping to hide out until I was ‘ready’ – or at least, giving myself a year before I took stock. So much for that, I was less than one month into my plan when Laura called and I suddenly found myself working with Steve and bassist Ira Coleman and a SUNY New Paltz faculty string quartet. That was Spring 2009 and we’ve been quietly working on the string project ever since. A highlight for me was when Steve put together a remarkable string quintet (with Diane Munroe on violin) for his birthday celebration week at Jazz Standard along with Bruce Barth – piano, Ugonna Okegwo – bass and Lewis Nash – drums.


Now, on September 1st – I have the privilege of appearing with Steve at the Detroit Jazz Festival on the main stage with a stellar quartet consisting of Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington – bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Diane Munroe is leading a string section that has grown from quintet to a much larger section featuring players from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Steve has wanted to engage the strings in a more interactive way since we first did this project and now seemed the perfect opportunity to do that. After a meeting with Steve in the last week I jumped straight in and begin writing “Journey To Wilsonia”. Much of my inspiration is coming from hearing Steve on the last night of his weeklong run at the Standard. Why? Because he played so many different styles within the jazz idiom that week and nailed everything with an energy and precision that you don’t see often. Over the next few weeks I will try and post a blog, or if I figure it out, a video blog on the path to completion and performance of “Journey To Wilsonia”

Until the next one…

 Posted by at 9:54 pm
Jul 162012

“Long Tones”

Almost every instrument seems to have some long tone practice except for the guitar. I would break down long tones into two basic categories:

a) sustained by the left hand.

b) Right hand tremolo

With a) – sustaining a note via the left hand we immediately face the same challenge that pianists face: decay. The minute we strike a note it has already begun to fade. So, does that mean we should kill it right away? It is amazing how relaxing it is to play a chord, or single notes and let them ring as long as possible. I like to spend a few minutes of any practice time doing this. Of course, I am fully aware that the use of pedals will give a different type of sustain but I am dealing with the acoustic or amplified guitar, not electronic effects. I remember watching Daniel Barenboim’s “Barenboim On Beethoven” series when he animatedly directed a student to perform crescendo, except, it was a sustained chord and we all know the piano… Barenboim followed up with a reminder that this was, of course, impossible BUT we have to believe it is possible and proceeded to demonstrate how he got an extra nudge out of a sustained chord by pressing the sostenuto pedal after he had plead the chord and held it briefly. While technically it was a closer to a sfz he made it clear that at that moment he imagined a crescendo. This was a classic example of how intent effected outcome!

With b) we are giving the illusion of a sustained note by playing repeated notes with great rapidity. This technique has been used in classical guitar for years in pieces like Tarrega’s “Recuerdo De l’Alhambra” and several works by the amazing Peruvian composer Agustin Barrios. In groups of 4 16th notes the first was executed by the RH thumb while the remaining pitches were repeated notes, usually the melody executed in a way that gave the illusion of a melody and accompaniment played by two guitars. Flamenco guitarists often seemed to use groups of three notes as opposed to 4, but again at such pace that it can sound like a continuos note. Lenny Breau’s mastery of this technique was amazing.

Now to the pick. Tremolo exercises seemed to exclusively deal with all down (slower) all up or up-down, down-up. But what if we thought of our picking hand as being a drummer? Drummers who study the military snare drum rudiments are well used to rolls that employ different numbers of strokes, then there’s the paradiddles…I have often worked out of drum sticking exercise books, again, for just a few minutes and find it has a great loosening effect on one’s chops, try it and let me know what you think…

 Posted by at 8:54 pm
Jul 162012

I have just received news that an application to the Arts Council of Ireland to fund a tour featuring my music (arrangements for others, myself, compositions etc) has been successful. In my entire career I have supported numerous applications for other musicians coming here to the USA, and was delighted to do so BUT this is the very first time something of this magnitude has been given the ‘go’ signal for a project of mine. What began as a phone call from Allen Smith (Jazz On The Terrace) to see if the interest was there on my part, to a successful application could only have happened with a lot of work in the background by Allen – after 34 years as a professional musician I am, let me say it again VERY grateful to him, and Ciarán Wilde, my good friend and founder of the Dublin City Jazz Orchestra. Ciarán has said he wanted to this for some time and has been quite vocal about it! I can’t begin to say how much I look forward to a big band tour around Ireland playing music from my book to date. As an early indicator of some of the music to expect for a tour like this – here are some possibilities:

  • Arrangements for Lewis Nash/Terumasa Hino Big Band (from their inaugural Japanese tour).
  • Charts written originally for use in The O’Rourkestra.
  • Commissioned compositions, including those by DCJO.
  • Arrangements that were written and/or composed to feature artists like Jeremy Pelt, Peter Bernstein, Paul Jost along with many vocal charts. I have been a longstanding fan of how arrangers write for vocalists in a big band or orchestra.
  • So you want a sample of standards? The One I Love Belongs To Somebody Else, Where Or When, Moonlight In Vermont, My Ship, Nobody Else But Me…

While we await the exact dates, here, in no particular order, is a list of the venues:

  1. Civic Theater, Tallaght, Dublin
  2. Gartan Lane Theater, Waterford
  3. Dolan’s Warehouse (Limerick Jazz Society Presenting), Limerick
  4. Ballina Arts Center, Mayo
  5. Mermaid Arts Centre, Bray, County Wicklow

I will post dates in the calendar when we settle on them – I am, VERY excited to be asked to do this,

Thanks Allen and Ciarán!


 Posted by at 4:28 am
Jul 132012

[ca_audio url=”http://www.davidorourke.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Peacehaven-Robert-Farnon.mp3″ width=”500″ height=”27″ css_class=”codeart-google-mp3-player”]As listed in the calendar, this will be the first workshop to continue the tradition George Mesterhazy began with his informal sessions playing Robert Farnon recordings, score reading sessions etc as he talked about the music in a way that appealed to all levels of musicianship. It is inevitable that any discussion about voicings and anything theory based will be targeted more at the professionals, I will be trying to make sure that I can make it just as interesting for the non professionals (just like George did ;))

One of George’s favorite Farnon CDs was “Lovers Love London” and he kept going back to the composition “Peacehaven” when he talked about the album with me. Click play just above and you can hear one of George’s favorite works.


The following musical selections will be addressed, some in more details than others.

a) Holiday For Strings (David Rose Orchestra)

b) Appalachian Spring (opening) Aaron Copeland

c) I Get Along Without You Very Well (Frank Sinatra, arr. Nelson Riddle)*

d) A Nightingale Sang In Berkelee Square (Frank Sinatra, arr. Robert Farnon)

e) A Garden In The Rain (Frank Sinatra, arr. Robert Farnon)*

f) When I Fall In Love (Nat Cole arr. Gordon Jenkins)

VIdeo clips (time permitting):

Nat Cole with Nelson Riddle in a humorous segment from his show featuring a tribute to the arranger and the copyist.

Clip from Jorge Calandrelli workshop by kind permission of ASMAC

If you are planning on attending please fill out the form here so we can get an idea of how many to expect,



Please fill out the form as shown in the image below:

Make sure to select the George Mesterhazy Workshop option in the drop down menu.

 Posted by at 12:17 am
Jul 062012

The American Society of Arrangers and Composers (ASMAC), originally founded by the great Robert Russell Bennett have been hosting arranging and composition workshops about every 3 or 4 months for a few years now. This series was set up by the late David Blumberg, a wonderful writer who had contributed string arrangements to recordings by artist such as Gloria Gaynor (I Will Survive! arrangement), The Jackson Five (ABC),Ray Charles last recording “Duets” and some Stevie Wonder recordings. Having a sense for how important these workshops and luncheons would be, David along with Larry Goldman proceeded to document each of these workshops on video and thanks to this, generations to come will experience a VERY different kind of workshop on arranging and composing – one conducted by either a legend in the field or someone, though still young who has achieved a level of excellence and recognition already. I have been buying the DVDs for each of these workshops and loving everything from the willingness of the presenters to share so much along with the great ‘insider’ anecdotes. So far I’ve watched Johnny Mandel, Jorge Calandrelli, conductor Jack Feuerman while I await the release of Gayle Levant’s Harp workshop, Jermey Lubbock’s string writing masterclass and many more. Each DVD comes with course materials if you pay an extra nominal fee (usually around $60 for DVD and $15-20 for course materials).

So, Getting To The Yes! I recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed the masterclass present by William (Bill) Ross. In this clinic he went from musical direction (last Barbra Streisand tour), orchestrating for composers like John Williams (moderator for workshop was Conrad Pope, William’s main orchestrator) and composition for film (Tale Of Despereaux & Polar Express) he also gave some cue examples from Forest Gump (Main Title if I remember correctly). At one point in the masterclass he stated that in his opinion it was about “Getting to the Yes…” – this touched on many areas of the film composition world which has changed so much in recent years. Trying to figure out what the Director wants for the cue and how to make the most effect midi mock-ups. He gave solid advice on number and types of sounds to use and all of this was tied into the time frame available – eventually he said it again, it’s about getting to the Yes!

What happens when you get to the yes? In my opinion the writer is often set free to get on with it, the director has decided that the composer scan either deliver what he wants OR come up with something even better than he could imagine. Bill Ross draws so much on his vast experience and shares it with the writers in attendance in a manner that is full of humility and clear love and respect for his craft.

If you found this of interest, go to the website and order any f the masterclasses that appeal to you – here’s the info again www.asmac.org

Until the next time…


 Posted by at 1:23 pm
Jul 052012

This All I Ask - Farnon/Shearing

So what happens when you start an arrangement with a blank slate and you’ve never written one before? Chances are, if you’re a jazz musician who has been performing for a few years you have already been ‘arranging’ music and coming up with ideas of your own, your own reharmonizations of compositions (your own and others). Now, you have a chance at writing for a big band or orchestra, or smaller ‘chamber’ ensemble. What now?

I’m going to assume that you will already have started listening to recordings of great arrangers and may have had the opportunity to play some great charts in a school/college/professional big band? From now on, start listening with a few different objectives – some conducting courses recommend student conductors to carry out their score study using a “x number of trips through the score” method that begins with first trip looking at key and time signatures while another trip will focus on solo instrumental entries after long absences etc. Listening to a large ensemble recording while focussing on:

a) form

b) instrumentation

c) solos (written and improvised)

d) orchestral textures (also including use of mutes)

e) Harmonization and reharmonization of melody and accompaniment

You can come up with many other interesting aspects of an arrangement to focus on i.e. rhythmic variation, overall architecture of the chart. Remember that even a pianist like Daniel Barenboim who has performed many complete cycles of the Beethoven piano sonatas says he still finds something new in each one when he embarks on another performance of the cycle.

So why the title? This train will make express stops…

Whenever I hear that announcement I can’t help thinking about conversations I had with legendary arranger Bill Finegan on his approach(es). Of course there are infinite ways to approach a chart and several books out there that outline and explain some of the more common ones. The best book IMO is the Rayburn Wright book of analysis of three arrangers (Sammy Nestico, Thad Jones & Bob Brookmeyer) called Inside The Score. His analysis of three scores by each writer is like studying a film scene by scene and frame by frame! Back to Bill Finegan, in one of our conversations he mentioned that he would voice “points of arrival” and connect them by linear writing. This sounds similar to the approach being taught in the Herb Pomeroy Line Writing course at Berklee, though I believe we will learn the true story behind JFK’s assassination before anyone gives a top to bottom, fully explained course on Herb’s approach. Mika Pujhola had a pdf available for a while that went some of the way. Thad Jones is shown to have harmonized passing/approach notes in ways that indicate he too would often harmonize the ‘points of arrival’ or target notes first.

So how should you approach it? Your deadline will give one answer. The sound you are after will give another – this is sometimes dictated by what the client wants. Billy May and Nelson Riddle wrote to a very high level when under the gun. Closer listening or study of their work reveals the difference in their writing if they had more time available. Nelson Riddle’s work on the Sinatra Close To You album and historical anecdotes about the preparation indicate that this project was researched very thoroughly! The Hollywood String Quartet were the nucleus of the instrumentation being used and Leonard Slatkin remembers many discussions between Nelson Riddle and his parents Felix and Eleanora Slatkin. There is a lot information on this in the wonderful Sessions With Sinatra book by Charles Granata. It seems that the more time available to an arranger leads to more contrapuntal content in the arrangement. Not long before she passed away Angela Morley asked me if I wrote fast and I mentioned  some of the above. Angela said (paraphrasing) “If it has to be ready tonight, you write what you know will work and get you to your deadline, if you have a few days you will introduce some counterpoint and if you have a lot of time then you can explore every idea”. I asked her about Bob Farnon who wrote with extensive use of counterpoint and about whom legend says he wrote while ‘resting’ between entrances in the lead trumpet chair of Percy Faith’s orchestra. Angela said “He was fast…”

Food for thought until the next time…

 Posted by at 12:30 am
Jul 022012

Next to the loss of my beloved parents I would have to say that the passing of pianist/arranger and friend extraordinaire on April 12, 2012 has been the most difficult loss I have faced through bereavement. His selflessness is legendary – George, put simply, loved people and left them in no doubt of this through his generosity. This has also been the first death I have experienced where countless people are reaching out to one another trying to make sense of all this. When I played a ballad with George (most often we would play For All We Know) I felt like I was part of something way bigger than myself and knew that George’s accompaniment was on a whole different level. Not just me! The great Shirley Horn, Mark Murphy, Gary Burton, Rebecca Parris – should I go on? thought so too!

George often laughed raucously when he recounted the story of how a teenage Howard Alden, upon hearing George’s guitar playing said “You sound like you play another instrument really well!” George, despite being mainly known as a pianist played guitar in some high profile situations too. He told me that when he played with Billy May’s band he picked a different instrument each to focus on doubling and by the end of the two week run he had doubled each instrument at one point or another. I will continue to add anecdotes to this post as I go along – I want anyone with fond and funny stories of George to share them here.


Since the above was written I have spoken with Alex at the Zinc Bar about hosting a tribute to George in the fall (will post a date in the gig calendar when we settle on a date). I have asked Paul Jost to help me put this together. Along with many special guests we will have the O’Rourkestra perform in what will be probably our first show together since George passed – more to come on this .


Other George news – we are hoping to do that string writing workshop as an inaugural event for the George Mesterhazy Foundation – will post on that in the next few days hopefully.

 Posted by at 12:22 am