On February 24, James Newton’s long-held dream will become a reality as he launches the Luckman Jazz Orchestra at California State University, Los Angeles. One of jazz’s greatest flutists, Newton left a tenure-track position at the University of California at Irvine to accept the position of Professor of Music at Cal. State-L.A. – his alma mater, and form a world-class jazz orchestra at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex.
The orchestra has pulled together some of the top jazz talent in the city. The band members, many of whom worked with Newton in his previous big band and in his quartet, include: Snooky Young (trumpet), George Bohanon (trombone), William Roper (tuba); saxophones: Charles Owens (alto), Herman Riley (tenor), Lanny Hartley (piano), Leon Chancellor (drums), Dr. Art Davis (bass), among others.
For its inaugural Big Band Concert February 24, the new orchestra – in the planning stages for more than six years – will perform works by Charles Mingus, infrequently heard collaborations by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, and Gil Evans’ arrangement of Dave Brubeck’s “The Duke.” Some of Newton’s own compositions will also be featured, including the premiere of a fanfare written for the Luckman.
Since the inauguration of the Luckman Fine Arts Complex in 1994, Executive Director Clifford D. Harper has nurtured the vision of a resident jazz orchestra as part of a greater involvement in the jazz field by the Luckman and Cal State-L.A. “I’ve been thinking about this for more than six years,” states Harper, “and now that James is here, we can finally do it.”
Incorporating a technique known as “conduction” developed by Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Newton’s direction of the orchestra is a departure from the usual big band approach. “It’s different from any other big band in L.A.,” Newton explains. “Our major strength is the incredible list of players, and a repertoire that reflects music ranging from early traditional styles to modern, pointillistic avant-garde. Conduction – conducting improvisation – allows the immediacy of creation. It adds the risk-taking aspect intrinsic to creative jazz.”
A Guggenheim Fellow, Newton is equally at home in a variety of genres, and has won numerous awards, grants and commissions in jazz, opera, ballet, classical and chamber music. He has worked with some of the great artists in both jazz and classical music, including David Murray, the New York Philharmonic, Kenny Burrell, the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, Herbie Hancock, John Carter, and many others. His latest CD, As the Sound of Many Waters, recorded with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, was recently released on New World Records.