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Columbia University’s Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute

Stomping Style Into the Ground

George Lewis
George Lewis at Columbia University

A few dozen contemporary classical and jazz composers from around the country converged on the Columbia University campus beginning July 20 for an intensive five days of brainstorming. Such eminent figures as Anthony Davis, Jane Ira Bloom, Alvin Singleton, Derek Bermel, Tania León, Fabien Lévy and George Lewis presided over a series of seminars, held each day in a cramped classroom in Dodge Hall, that expressed new ideas about fusing jazz and the symphony. The audience was a wide-ranging group of 34 hand-chosen jazz composers, among them bassist Rufus Reid, flutist Nicole Mitchell, guitarist Joel Harrison, saxophonist Matana Roberts and bassist Mark Helias. Topics included finding new ways of incorporating improvisation into the symphony orchestra, getting orchestral players to internalize rhythm, working with conductors and copyists, dealing with instrumental techniques, and current trends in computer music.

It was all part of the first annual Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI), presented jointly by the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University and the American Composers Orchestra, with support provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Fund for National Projects, the Fromm Music Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. (Of the 34 attendees, several will be selected to have their works performed by the American Composers Orchestra during next year’s event, slated for June 2011.) “This is a meeting of all kinds of minds,” said trombonist-composer and Center for Jazz Studies Director Lewis in his opening remarks. “Everyone here is coming from a different perspective … influences are all over the place. And, to me, this is really about sharing, because there’s a lot to learn from all sides of the issues.

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