JAMES NEWTON CONDUCTS
LOS ANGELES - When James Newton launches the Luckman Jazz Orchestra at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, California State University, Los Angeles, on February 24 at 8:00 p.m., a long-held dream will become reality. 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 premiÃ¨re of a fanfare written for the Luckman.
Newton, named in the Downbeat critics' poll as the top jazz flutist for 19 years running, recently left a tenure-track position at 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.
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."
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:
Trumpets: Snooky Young, Bijon Watson, Bobby Rodriguez, Rahm Lee Davis;
Discussing his move to Cal State L.A., Newton cites the University's diversity as well as the Luckman's commitment to introducing new audiences to the arts. "I'm very proud to be part of the University's program, which is based on inclusivity," states Newton. "It has increased my desire to work with the widest range of students, including those coming from challenging economic backgrounds. Also, the Luckman has been very successful in reaching out to many of the communities in L.A., including some which have been neglected. Our bookings are highly diversified and fulfilling artistically."
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.
Newton, who also serves as the Luckman's Director of Music Programming and Research, is in the process of developing an eclectic schedule of jazz, classical and world music. On April 28, 2001, Grand Masters Yusef Lateef and Randy Weston will perform at the Luckman, along with Adam Rudolph and the Eternal Wind ensemble. The 2001-02 season will feature a fall Latin American Composers festival and a new ballet currently in rehearsal, Clandestinies, for the JosÃ© LimÃ³n Dance Company. A collaboration between Newton and choreographer Donald McKayle, Clandestinies is a tri-commission by the Luckman, Jacob's Pillow in Massachusetts, and the University of Texas at Austin. After a premiÃ¨re at Jacob's Pillow, and a short tour of several other U.S. venues, the work will be performed at the Luckman later this year.
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