Twenty-five years ago, composer-arrangers Manny Albam [pictured] and Bob Brookmeyer were growing worried. In the late 1980s, big bands seemed to be going the way of the typewriter and, unless something was done to reverse the trend, jazz orchestra arrangers would no longer be needed and scoring for bands would become a lost art.
At roughly the same time, Broadcast Music Inc.—the royalty-collection and music-rights management company—decided that it needed to step up and support jazz and jazz musicians. When BMI was founded back in 1939, jazz musicians made up the bulk of its clients (along with country and blues artists). The fancy and powerful songwriters who composed for Broadway and the movies were with ASCAP—which had rules that kept less-prestigious artists out and a tiered royalty system that favored long-time members.
So in '88, Robbin Ahrold, a BMI executive, asked journalist-author Burt Korall to investigate the feasibility of a workshop program it had in theater and dance. Korall reached out to Albam and Brookmeyer [pictured above], who suggested a jazz orchestra composer-arranger program. Both Albam and Brookmeyer were long-time veterans of big bands.
But this wouldn't be a typical teacher-student setup—the kind found at august music schools. Instead, Albam and Brookmeyer suggested a workshop in which working musicians would gather and learn the craft of composing and arranging for jazz bands and orchestras from other working musicians and arrangers.
Albam, Brookmeyer and Korall pitched the idea in 1988 to Robbin at BMI, which immediately approved it along with the necessary funding. For BMI, it was a matter of principle, to support jazz given all that its musicians had done over time for the company. That year, the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop was born—with Albam and Brookmeyer as co-musical directors.
Today, Jim McNeely [pictured above] is the workshop's musical director, with Mike Holober the associate musical director. In today's Wall Street Journal (go here or please pick up a copy of the paper), I write about the program and its past members on the workshop's 25th anniversary and start of its 26th season.
For more information about the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop—to apply or to find out about its performance schedule, go here.
JazzWax interview: For my 2009 interview with Bob Brookmeyer, go here.
JazzWax clips: Unfortunately there are no video clips of the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop in action. So here's Jim McNeely conducting the Metropole Orchestra at the Hague, the Netherlands, in 2009 with Hank Jones on piano...
Here's Bob Brookmeyer conducting the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra in 2009 as they rehearsed one of his new original works...
And here's a rare clip of Manny Albam conducting the Billy Taylor Trio and the Arranger's Holiday Orchestra at the Eastman School of Music in 1983. The composition—Billy's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra—was arranged by Albam.
A special JazzWax thanks to Dan Morgenstern and Bill Kirchner.