For the seventh time, the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) and the American Society for Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) have joined forces to commission new works for jazz ensemble, one by an established jazz composer and one by an emerging composer. The works are intended to honor an individual whose contributions to the field of jazz education have been outstanding and are premiered at the IAJE’s annual conference. This year, the commissions were awarded to Fred Sturm in the established category and Pascal LeBoeuf in the emerging category (for composers under 35). The works will celebrate the 70th birthday of composer/bandleader/arranger/trumpeter Quincy Jones and will be premiered in New York City in January.
“The ASCAP/IAJE Commission is the highest distinction I’ve received in my career as a composer/arranger,” relates Sturm, who is the Director of Jazz and Improvisational Music at the Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Wisconsin. “I’m deeply touched to know that a board of my professional peers judged my original works worthy of this award.” In addition to the $7500 commission, Sturm has been invited to conduct the piece at the IAJE conference.
“I know some of the artists that have been granted this prize since its inception, and I know others (including many superb young writers that I have had the privilege of teaching over the years) that have submitted applications. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be recognized amidst such a pool of talented individuals,” he continues.
And while LeBoeuf will be receiving a smaller financial sum (the emerging composer receives $3000), he recognizes the importance of such a high-profile commission as being more than a cash prize. “It is an amazing advantage to be recognized as an emerging composer at the age of 16,” he writes from a Brazilian music camp, one of his many musical activities this summer. “It gives my work the kind of validation and recognition I didn’t hope to achieve until I was much older; in fact, many excellent composers never receive this sort of attention.”
A resident of Santa Cruz, LeBoeuf is also particularly excited about having one of his compositions premiered in New York City, which he rightly describes as “one of the world’s jazz centers.”
“Besides the recognition, being awarded this commission has helped me grow as a musician… I have had to think on a bit grander scale since this piece has to come up to the level of the occasion.”
Although he hasn’t worked out the details of his commissioned work, he does hint that it will be in two or three sections and that he hopes to make extensive use of polyrhythms, a musical element that he has just recently become a part of his language. Le Boeuf acknowledges a number of influences on his work, including Danilo P%eacuterez, Chick Corea, Geri Allen, McCoy Tyner, Chris Potter, Jovino Santos-Neto, and Dave Holland.
But he also is quick to remind us of the impact that teachers can have on young composers and musicians. “I began playing piano at age nine, and jazz piano at age 12. After the 6th grade, I took a short jazz camp from a wonderful musician called Gene Lewis along with my twin brother Remy, who had just taken up saxophone along with his oboe. This man was an Oxford educated, consummate musician. He played piano, jazz to classical, trumpet to lute, and sang as well. He introduced us to jazz; we loved it at first hearing. He took us under wing and in a few weeks we were playing and singing for handsome tips at the local farmer’s market (at 12 we had the cute thing going for us). We were able to work with Gene for about a year before he became very ill and passed away but he got us started.”
Sturm, just as busy this summer as LeBoeuf, also admits that he hasn’t had a chance to get notes down on paper, as he finishes up a recording project with the Hessischer Rundfunk Big Band, of which he is the artistic director. But the wheels have begun to turn. “I’m thinking about it every day, working with small bits of musical detail and establishing a conceptual game plan.”
He has also given a little thought to how to honor Quincy Jones with the work. “Though I won’t be arranging a Quincy Jones composition or quoting musically from his works, any writer that has been studying jazz during the past half century would be hard-pressed to ignore Quincy’s contributions to the art of jazz composition and arranging. I first heard his charts when I was a high school kid, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I’m blessed to be associated with an award in Quincy’s name.”
Other artists and events that have been honored through the commissioning program include Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Dr. Billy Taylor, Marian McPartland, the Duke Ellington Centennial, and the Louis Armstrong Centennial.
But while Quincy Jones may be this year’s honoree, the true star of the show is jazz education. With works by one of the most highly-regarded educators in the country and the quintessential jazz “student,” this year’s commissioned works are a living testament to the importance of musical and jazz education—a particularly crucial reminder as state and federal budget cuts claim more and more of the arts curriculum in our public schools. With Sturm having already demonstrated his undying dedication to the field, it is encouraging to hear that LeBoeuf definitely sees a role in education in his future. “I plan to continue my education to the graduate level because I eventually would like to be able to teach at a college or university. I say eventually because I would also like to spend time playing and touring as a practicing musician. Remy and I have observed that most of the older jazz musicians who are leading healthy, happy lives, spend some time performing and some time teaching.”
And like a true composer, albeit a young one, he wraps it up, saying, “Of course, I will continue to compose; how can I not?”