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Westray Composes Work Based on Don Quixote

Seventeenth century Spanish literature isn’t often thought of as impetus for creative inspiration, but trombonist and arranger for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (LCJO) Ron Westray took Miguel de Cervantes’ classic modern novel Don Quixote de la Mancha and created his own “opus.”

Titled Chivalrous Misdemeanors, Westray’s 23-piece work personifies the characters and events of Quixote’s state of reality. Quixote, who was a delusional idealist in Cervantes’ novel and often got himself, his friend Sancho Panza and his quasi-mistress Dulcinea into a variety of mishaps, has often been looked to for classical and literary inspiration, but Westray’s work is believed to be the first done exclusively for a jazz setting.

Westray said the idea for writing a complex piece based of Cervantes’ novel came from fellow LCJO member and leader Wynton Marsalis. “I was reading the book for pleasure at first and I think I introduced a couple paragraphs to Wynton… He noticed I was intrigued by the book and suggested I write something for the orchestra.”

Almost three years and “about 2,000 measures later,” Chivalrous Misdemeanors is nearly ready for its world premiere this May in New York City. The 23 pieces are a combination of both stand-alone orchestral and vocal works. Singer Sachal Vasandani portrays Quixote, while 19-year-old Jennifer Sanon plays the role of Dulcinea. In addition to the 23 pieces, Westray also composed incidental music to be performed as the narrator, Patrick Tull, tells the story. “I’m really proud of these [incidental] pieces. I wrote them apart from the piano, which really freed me up harmonically,” Westray said.

He also explained how Chivalrous Misdemeanors is a departure from the work he normally does for LCJO. Westray said that his previous works have been based off the compositions of other composers and “a majority of what I’ve done for the band has been arranging and rearranging. This is wholly original in concept and orchestration—it’s the culmination of my musical knowledge.”

Westray said that to prepare himself for writing the piece he immersed himself in the music of the Renaissance. “That was really a fun experience, to hear what Columbus listened to… it was important to me to listen to the music of Cervantes’ time—what kind of music he was diggin’,” Westray explained. He said the final composition has a neo-Spanish Renaissance sound, but he was quick to explain that this piece is not Spanish. “People should not come expecting to be immersed in Spanish music,” he said.

Similarly, he also explained that while the piece is inspired by Don Quixote, “It’s about the music, not about a book-reading experience. I’m not trying to provide a thorough read” of Cervantes’ novel.

Chivalrous Misdemeanors will premiere at LCJO’s Rose Hall from May 5-7. More information is available at

Originally Published