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John Vanore: A Requiem for Oliver Nelson

Arranger and trumpeter John Vanore reimagines the work of a brilliant but overlooked composer

John Vanore (photo by Dave Rainey)
John Vanore (photo by Dave Rainey)

John Vanore first heard Oliver Nelson’s music in 1966, when he was 19, and it changed his life. The moment came at the National Stage Band Camp at Indiana University. Vanore had just completed his first year of college. He was not a music major but had been playing trumpet since the second grade. “Oliver was there, directing a student big band,” he recalls. “They played ‘Reuben’s Rondo’ and it felt like lightning had struck. I went, ‘This is it. I’m doing this.’”

Vanore stayed in school and earned a degree in economics from Widener University in Chester, Pa. But after graduation he went on the road with Woody Herman. Six months later he returned to his hometown of Philadelphia, where he’s been a full-time professional jazz musician ever since. In 1972 he was asked to start a large jazz ensemble at Widener, which didn’t have a music department. The students played for love; Vanore could relate. He contacted Nelson, who sent him “seven or eight photocopied charts of scores and parts.” “I wanted to expose my students to Oliver’s aesthetic,” Vanore says.

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