04.09.19New Artistic/Musical Director of JazzMN

Hey, some great news! On May 1, I\'ll be taking over as Director of the JazzMN Orchestra based in the Twin Cities. This great organization was founded by Doug Snapp 20 years ago, and I\'m super excited to be taking over the reins.

Here\'s a great write-up about the news from Andrea Canter at Jazz Police:

01.05.19Happy New Recordings!

Happy New Year, everyone! I'm excited about some upcoming things early in this new year. If you hadn't heard, I received a MN State Arts Board Artist Initiative Grant to fund a new recording of my MN-based quartet with JT Bates, Chris Bates, and Zacc Harris. We'll be heading into Pachyderm Studios on Feb. 21 to record some new and old music of mine, including several newish things meant to feature these particular guys. The record will be released later in the year on Shifting Paradigm Records, so stay tuned. In the meantime we've got a gig at Imminent Brewing in January and the week before the recording at Studio Z (see calendar for more deets) to help get us warmed up and to iron out the kinks as best as we can.

In the midst of that, I'm in preparing to finally release the Triocracy record that's been sitting in the can for a few years. Should be out in late April, also on SPR. (Thank you McKnight Fellowship!)

Also looking to quite a bit of playing with Davu Seru early on this year, including a new Monday night residency Icehouse in February with Davu, Scott Fultz, and Anthony Cox! Davu's really doing what he can to make an impact on the Twin Cities scene, and I'm glad to be a part of that in some way.

And the Twin Cities Jazz Composers' Workshop is firing up again for 2019, and we'll have our first reading session on Sunday, Feb. 24. Some new composers coming into the fold, and we'll be working towards our 2nd annual summer concert in June.

Please stay in touch!


05.31.18McKnight Fellowship

I’m proud to announce some fantastic news. I was just awarded a 2018 McKnight Composer Fellowship!

More details here:


12.02.16"Can You Believe It?" is OUT!

Our CD "Can You Believe It?" is out TODAY! It's available at Red Piano Records, CDBaby, iTunes, and all the usual suspects.

"Can You Believe It? presents a well-rounded and well-crafted set that shows Sanford and company breezily settling into broad stylistic terrain, jazz naturally but funk, rock, R&B, and Latin, too."
-- Textura

"Can You Believe It? places the young trombonist in a small group context – with guitarist Mike Baggetta, bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Russ Meissner – where there is a greater emphasis on improvisation and more opportunity to hear what this particular pair of golden ears hear on their days off."
--Irish Times

06.18.14Beautiful Review by Dan Bilawsky at All About Jazz

"Sanford creates multi-dimensional and mind-altering music that speaks to the creative spark that exists within his soul. This is challenging and rewarding music that's inspired and inspiring."
Dan Bilawsky, All About Jazz

05.25.14Copland Grant

Pretty exciting week. In addition to the rollout of Views from the Inside, I just found out this weekend that I was a recipient of an Aaron Copland Fund 2014 Recording Program grant! Honored to be on the awardee list with heavy artists and organization like Cantaloupe Music (Bang on a Can), the Seattle Symphony, PRISM Quartet, Dan Weiss (Pi Records), Ed Neumeister, and recent MacArthur Fellow Miguel Zenon.


Hey everybody. In case you haven't heard, the JC Sanford Orchestra's debut recording Views from the Inside is now available. Please feel free to pick one up and/or spread the word.

Lots of great pub so far. Here are some highlights:

"Sanford draws on a wealth of large-scale influences ranging from swing bands to contemporary classical music, though without creating a patchwork. Somehow his stylistic swerves flow effortlessly into one another, often melding into strange but beautiful hybrids. The ensemble not only brings strong musicianship but eclectic instrumentation, greatly expanding the leader's already imaginative palette."
4 Stars, Downbeat Magazine

"Adventurous, exciting, mysterious and oddly accessible has Views From The Inside charting a new direction for large ensemble improvisational music. Compelling music with muscle, a cerebral mind-gasm of sound. Easily one of the best releases of this young year."
5 Stars, Critical Jazz

"Many young jazz composers today find that the old 'big band' format has worn so threadbare that they can do nothing with it. As a result, we occasionally get something new like this – often perplexing, but exciting and quite unignorable. Sanford's orchestra, with its motley assemblage of instruments and electronics, can set your teeth on edge at one moment and draw you into a sweet harmonic wonderland the next."
4 Stars, The Observer

"It’s the kind of thing that keeps listeners on their toes, and leads to hitting the play button again and starting again from the top the moment the album ends… just to hear what might’ve been missed on the previous listen. A recording where Sanford’s reach was achieved by his grasp." Highly Recommended
Wondering Sound

"Sanford makes full use of this expansive range of sound and colour, and his intelligent and creative compositions offer a constantly changing sequence of melody, mood and tempo."
4 Stars, The Scotsman

"The ensemble playing is of the highest quality, Sanford’s writing always interesting and with fellow travellers such as the critically acclaimed Darcy James Argue, the future of the big band – jazz or other – makes for interesting times."
Bebop Spoken Here

"A thought-provoking album that poses as many questions surrounding the way ahead for a progressive jazz ensemble as it answers."

And I hope to see you at our Manhattan CD release show at Greenwich House on May 30 or the Brooklyn release on June 24 at ShapeShifter Lab (see my "Performances" page for details).

03.19.14Views from the Inside PRE-ORDERS now available!

Hi folks. The first review of JCO's upcoming release is in March's issue of Jazz Inside Magazine. You can also now pre-order the physical CD directly from Whirlwind Recordings and get an advance copy before the CD's official release on May 20. Check out the link!

02.25.14"Views from the Inside" page is up on Whirlwind

Check it out. Pre-ordering info coming soon.

02.10.14Promo Vid for new CD

Hey folks. Here is the promo video for the release of my new CD, Views from the Inside on Whirlwind Recordings. Check it out! Pre-order info upcoming.

11.27.13Release Date for Recording!

Hi folks. It's been a while! After a long search, I've found a great label to release JC Sanford Orchestra's debut CD - "Views from the Inside." It'll be coming out on Whirlwind Recordings on May 20 and be available in the US, Europe, and Japan.

I've put a few short clips up of the pre-mastered recording on my website if you'd like to get a taste.

More updates about the release forthcoming. Stay tuned!


04.05.11About.com concert review

Concert Review: JC Sanford Orchestra at Tea Lounge
About.com Rating4 Star Rating
From James Hall

Among the many hidden gems of the Downtown/Brooklyn music scene, few venues possess the resources to host big bands, the 15-to-21-piece behemoths that once made up the most popular portion of the jazz idiom. The Tea Lounge, a Park Slope clubhouse for coffee-swilling freelancers, has become just such a venue over the last year, playing host to Size Matters, a weekly series curated by JC Sanford, himself a big band leader, trombonist, and composer. Sanford’s orchestra performed at Tea Lounge Monday, March 28, 2011.

A native of Minnesota, Sanford honed his composing skills at The University of Northern Iowa and The New England Conservatory in Boston, where he studied with Bob Brookmeyer and earned a D.M.A. in jazz studies. He then spent five years with the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop, whose other participating composers have included Jamie Begian and Darcy James Argue. As this pedigree suggests, Sanford’s music is emphatically contemporary.
Immediately striking is Sanford’s orchestration. Eschewing the traditional big band setup, Sanford includes French horn, oboe, cello, violin, bass clarinet, and tuba in his orchestra. These inclusions drastically affect the color and volume of the ensemble; I’ve heard many bands try to employ woodwinds and strings only to drown them out with bombastic orchestrations, but Sanford’s writing is more sensitive than that. One memorable melody drew on bass trombone, French horn, muted trumpet violin and cello in unison to create a warm, subtle color I’d never heard in any ensemble, classical or jazz.

Sanford stands out as a conductor as well. Having watched many jazz ensemble leaders struggle to cue and conduct while simultaneously holding their instruments, it was refreshing to see Sanford devoted to directing his ensemble. Sanford’s notation, which appeared at times to be non-traditional, requiring out-of-time numbered cues and rubato phrases, suffered none of the transitional hiccups that can so often accompany such music, thanks to his clear, expressive conducting. It’s no wonder that bandleaders such as Alan Ferber and John Hollenbeck have put him in front of their own ensembles.

Highlights of Sanford’s sets at Tea Lounge included two of his “Brooklyn Vignettes," pieces that portrayed the contrasting beauty and grit of the borough with haunting accuracy. “Sunset Park (vignette #2)" juxtaposed the playful simplicity of a vibraphone ostinato with dark cluster chords in the brass. Sanford’s musical reflections on his years in Brooklyn give his music a strong se


I've had fun this past week making 2 visits to the Manhattan School of Music. I had a blast subbing for Jim McNeely conducting some students arrangements/compositions with the studio orchestra on Dec 3, then enjoyed doing a conducting workshop with the graduate jazz vocal class on Dec 7. Thanks to Theo Bleckmann for setting that up.

This week I'm very enthused about the premiere of my new orchestration for the JC Sanford Orchestra at the Tea Lounge on Monday, December 13. I hope folks have the chance to drop by and see/hear the new instrumentation. It's particularly exciting to me having Chris Komer, Charles Pillow, and Taylor Haskins play my music for the first time. Don't miss these amazing musicians plus 12 more great ones this Monday night at 9pm!

09.24.10JCO All About Jazz review

The JC Sanford Orchestra At Tea Lounge: Sound Matters

Published: September 24, 2010

JC Sanford Orchestra
Tea Lounge
Brooklyn, NY
September 20, 2010

While Manhattan gets most of the ink when it comes to live jazz in New York, it isn't the only borough where exciting things are happening. Over the past few years, Brooklyn has become a hub of activity for creative music artistry and modern thinking musicians, and one need go no further than Tea Lounge to check out the burgeoning big band scene in Brooklyn.

This hip little coffee house/bar has played host to a different big band every Monday night since March of 2010, and curator JC Sanford sees to it that the finest large ensembles around get to perform. Sanford's own orchestra had the opportunity to play as part of this appropriately named "Size Matters" series and, more importantly, his group demonstrated that sound matters. The trombonist-composer-conductor writes in an audacious—yet intellectual—manner that taps into everything from twentieth century classical composition to swing traditions, and free jazz to aggressive odd-metered rock assaults.

The first set began with some short, urgent phrases that were spread across the ensemble and these brief fragments coalesced to form a greater whole. The rhythm section immediately took the baton after this idea ran its course. Kenny Berger and Ben Kono—on bass clarinet and clarinet, respectively—each delivered some intense solo work and tangled with one another. Stand tapping—creating an interlocking rhythmic collage—and Buddhist chanting also came into play before the multi-dimensional "Rhythm Of The Mind" reached its conclusion. While Sanford spent a good amount of time conducting the orchestra through his finely calibrated compositions, he managed to fit in some engaging soloing on "Chuck and Jinx." This piece, which featured some terrific short drum set-ups from Ted Poor, was the only swing based tune on the program, easily ranking as the most conventional performance of the set.

"Indecent Stretch" began with Poor's brushes dancing over a single low brass voice. Little by little, a player at a time was added to the mix—thickening the sound on the low end—and the rhythm section quickly grasped control, laying down a brooding riff in seven. Sanford conducted the horns, which sounded brilliantly disembodied with their stretched phrasing working over the busy and imposing rhythmic undercurrent. Poor poured his soul into an interesting drum solo that lead into a loose-limbed, searching section of music featuring tenor saxophonist Chris Bacas. Some calculatedly caustic moments also came through here and the ensemble built a giant wall of sound into the piece.

Throughout the set, Sanford proved to be a brilliant chordal architect, creating tightly voiced chords that were, simultaneously, maddening and marvelous as they enveloped the whole room in an aural haze. "An Attempt At Serenity" is Sanford's musical representation of the struggle between positive and negative energy, with guitarist Andrew Green representing the latter characteristic and clear toned trumpet wonder Nadje Noordhuis representing the former. Light woodwind textures—delivered via flute and clarinet—were present at the outset and an eerie build-up of close intervals on the high-end lead into a deep, cavernous chord from the band. Green's playing came off as appropriately devilish during his turn and Noordhuis, arriving over some arco bass work from Aidan Carroll, was like a ray of sunshine. Sanford used the ensemble to create one of the aforementioned, ever-thickening chords here and the band demonstrated a textbook case of creating long form tension and release as the voices shifted ever-so slightly. An epic chordal crescendo bolstered the dueling voices of Noordhuis and Green and, in the end, the positive trumpet triumphed.

"Your Word Alone" closed out the first set and featured rising-star violinist Christian Howes and Kono. Steady quarter notes underscored the music at first, creating imagery of troops marching in the distance, and the feel of the song moved toward a bastardized, woozy ballroom tango at a few points. Howes' solo, more "out" than "in," was a real treat and the ensemble's volume was definitely near-deafening by the end of the song. The rhythm section delivered some scorching rock riffery—alternating between bars of four and five—as they lit up the room with their intense performance. Nobody would argue that size matters when it comes to ensembles, but conception, composition, execution and individual personalities matter to this group too. That's what makes the JC Sanford Orchestra so sensational.

09.21.10JCO Lucid Culture review

The JC Sanford Orchestra Rip up the Joint

Barflies at CBGB in 1976 may have reacted to the Ramones the same way the customers at Tea Lounge Monday night reacted to the JC Sanford Orchestra, that is, if laptops had existed the year Johnny Bench put the Yankees out of their misery early in the World Series. Everybody looked up from their keyboards, startled. And pretty much everybody stayed. This unlikely, upscale Park Slope coffee-and-beer joint might or might not end up being to big band jazz what CBGB was to punk, but for now it is the place to see pretty much every good large-scale jazz ensemble in New York that’s not led by a Schneider, a McNeely or the ghost of Mingus. Sanford is its impresario, and this was his group, many of the same cast who’d played so memorably on his Sanford-Schumacher Sound Assembly album from a couple of years ago. Conducting as well as contributing a long, soulful trombone solo on one song, he steered the crew on a mighty swing through a mix of numbers from that album along with plenty of towering, majestic and deceptively playful newer material that often crossed over the line into third stream and soundtrack-style atmospherics. Ceativity leapt from the charts, and the band seized it joyously.

They opened circular and fluttering with Rhythm of the Mind, with solo spots for blippy bass clarinet by Kenny Berger, Ben Kono taking it up warily on clarinet a bit later, the whole band nonchalantly bringing it down for a few bars’ worth of Buddhist chanting like it was the most natural thing for a jazz band in New York to be doing at that particular moment. Chuck and Jinx, a swinging, genial tribute to a man and his cat, saw bassist Aidan Carroll taking a deliberate stroll against Mike Eckroth’s ringing, sparse electric piano, bemused high brass playing the owner (or actually, the owned) while Ted Poor’s drums impersonated the irrepressible, furry creature who, whether or not we admit it, always runs the show. Poor would also elevate the long, shapeshifting Indecent Stretch, a partita of sorts, to magnificent heights, kicking up a storm with the piano and bass, later leading an increasingly agitated crescendo in big, determined steps beneath the rest of the group’s uneasy atmospherics.

An Attempt at Serenity was aptly titled and genuinely tormented in places, Nadje Noordhuis’ trumpet comforting and resolute alternating with guitarist Andrew Green’s vividly twisted, downright evil, bent-note phrasing. Would hope triumph in the end? For awhile it looked like it might, despite distant hints to the contrary that added yet another layer of suspense. It ended quiet, atmospheric and somewhat ambiguously. They wrapped up their first set with a blazing version of Your Word Alone, a big thank-you note to a friend and mentor of Sanford’s who from the sound of things singlehandedly scored him a plum teaching position. The composition gave the band a chance to express considerable humor, especially in the big crescendo that led to the joyous “eureka" moment where the contract (or the check) appears in the mail, violinist Christian Howes (whose latest album with Robben Ford and Eddie Floyd is a treat) ripping casually through an eerie, phantasmagorical solo played through a watery chorus-box effect. Through one tricky false ending after the other, the band quoted liberally from the Mission Impossible theme as individual voices - notably Kono – appeared and vanished almost in a dub reggae style. The remarkably young audience – many of whom appeared to be high school kids animatedly trading music and doing homework – roared their approval. Hey, big band jazz was the default music of the under-20 crowd seventy years ago. Could happen again.

09.17.10Press release for our collaboration with TAKE DANCE

TAKE Dance Collaborates with PULSE Music Ensemble OCT 14-15
September 17th, 2010 11:42 pm ET
By Shaina Moskowitz, Manhattan Events Examiner

Led by Artistic Director/Founder Takehiro “Take" Ueyama, the TAKE Dance company premieres The Distance of The Moon, a full-evening work featuring six different musical selections choreographed by Ueyama, Jill Echo, Kile Hotchkiss and Julie Tice. Known for its penchant for musicality, TAKE Dance has commissioned PULSE, a federation of six award-winning composers, to create multi-genre works for this debut collaboration.

“TAKE Dance thrives on collaborating with contemporary artists in other genres," says Ueyama. “It’s one of the major motivating factors in our creative process." The choreographers have been working day-in and day-out with PULSE’s group of composers. TAKE Dance and its members’ organic and evocative movements have helped shape and execute the music of each piece. Music will be performed on-stage “live" by some of today’s top jazz and classical artists (line-up TBA).

The program is inspired by the short story The Distance of the Moon from Italo Calvino’s phantasmagorical 1965 book Cosmicomics. The story depicts a time before history when the Earth was so close to the Moon that people could climb ladders and jump onto the Moon’s lunar surface.

Ueyama pairs his “forceful, fluid movement" (Bloomberg News) with Joseph C. Phillips Jr.’s classical/jazz compositional style in a pas de deux depicting the love story between the Moon and the Earth. Set to The Distance of the Moon - music that conjures up wonder, mystery, and beauty - the work is a metaphor for two lovers, like the Moon and the Earth, slowly moving apart and never feeling closeness again. Ueyama’s second piece is a men’s quartet portraying quasi-human creatures who discover the Moon set to And Dance By the Light of the Moon by composer/saxophonist Joshua Shneider.

Jill Echo, a former Paul Taylor dancer and founding member of TAKE Dance, brings two works that illustrate the various effects that the Moon has on us. In Moonshine, theatrical choreography and funk-laced music by composer/guitarist Jamie Begian together portray the enigmatic influences the Moon has on a group of seven people. Add a bar scene with the effects of alcohol and you get a comedy of mayhem and uninhibited behavior. In contrast, Echo’s second piece depicts the Moon’s luminous beauty and its ability to ignite one’s unconscious. Set to TBA composed by Japanese artist Yumiko Sunami, Echo applies the Moon’s ethereal powers to a quintet of women through four phases – New Moon, Ascending Moon, Full Moon, and Descending Moon.

Similarly, choreographer/dancer Julie Tice, a fellow Paul Taylor alumnus, is also captivated by the changing phases of the Moon. In a new piece set to Lunar Cycles by composer/trombonist JC Sanford, Tice explores the Moon’s transformations and how they affect people’s characters.
Rounding out the program is the choreographic debut of TAKE Dance member Kile Hotchkiss. Featuring a quintet outlining the alignment and dissolution of a lunar eclipse, this piece explores the measures of shadowed darkness from astral projections, all to the music of Imperfect Syzygy by composer Darcy James Argue, Topping the “Composer Rising Star" and “Arranger Rising Star" categories in the 2010 DownBeat Critics Poll, Darcy James Argue sets the tone with his much talked about “wickedly intelligent dispatch from the fading border between orchestral jazz and post-rock and classical minimalism" (New York Times).

About TAKE Dance
TAKE Dance is a New York City based contemporary dance company that explores the integration of expressive and physical movement. Artistic Director Takehiro “Take" Ueyama, a native of Japan, graduated from the Juilliard School before joining the Paul Taylor Dance Company. After eight years touring with the Taylor Company, Take founded TAKE Dance.

TAKE Dance has performed in New York at Central Park SummerStage, Joyce SoHo, Dance Theater Workshop, Columbia University’s Miller Theater, and the Thalia Theater at Symphony Space. The Company has also performed for four consecutive seasons PS/21 in Chatham, NY and at various summer dance festivals including Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, SaratogaArtsFest, Downtown Dance Festival and DanceNOW [NYC]. Additional venues include New Noises Festival at Perry Mansfield in Colorado, Kaatsbaan International Dance Festival, and Nort Maar Fete de Danse. TAKE Dance is also the subject of an award-winning documentary film entitled A YEAR WITH TAKE DANCE which was chosen by the New York International Independent Film Festival as the winner in the category of Best Dance Documentary for 2009.

Ueyama’s work has been staged for the Tallahassee Ballet, PHILADANCO for the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University Dance Program and for the Dance Departments at the Juilliard School, Purchase College, Vassar College, Princeton University, The New School, Marymount and Randolph College among others. www.takedance.org

Joseph C. Phillips Jr. founded the composer federation Pulse in 2004 with Darcy James Argue, Jamie Begian, JC Sanford, Joshua Shneider, and Yumiko Sunami, composers who shared a desire to create and perform music that has no rigid divisions or categories. Music that is more plastic and fluid in its combination of jazz, contemporary ‘classical’, and ‘popular’ genres creating a highly expressive, engaging, and refreshing group not bound or defined by any one musical style. Through regular concert performances and collaborative projects, Pulse continually seeks to challenge and inspire each other and listeners.

TAKE Dance Premieres The Distance of the Moon
Choreographers: Takehiro Ueyama, Jill Echo, Kile Hotchkiss, and Julie Tice
Dancers: Kristen Arnold, Elise Drew, John Eirich, Kile Hotchkiss, Gina Ianni, Mariko Kurihara, Clinton Edward Martin, Nana Tsuda Misko, Jake Warren, and Marie Zvosec
Music: Joseph C. Phillips Jr., Darcy James Argue, Jamie Begian, JC Sanford, Joshua Shneider, and Yumiko Sunami Lighting Designer: Jason Jeunnette

WHEN: Thursday, October 14th & Friday, October 15th @ 8:00PM
WHERE: Judson Memorial Church, 55 Washington Square Park, NYC. Train A/B/C/D/E/F/M to West 4th Street
TICKETS: $20 General/$15 Seniors & Students. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.brownpapertickets.co

09.06.10Pulse/TAKE Dance collaboration Kickstarter page. Please feel free to chip in!


09.01.10Size Matters large ensemble series interview on Lucid Culture

JC Sanford Leads the Brooklyn Big Band Renaissance

Tea Lounge, a cavernous former delivery truck garage in Park Slope, is a somewhat unlikely location to have become Big Band Central in New York, with a series of weekly shows to rival anything that’s playing at the Vanguard or Birdland. JC Sanford – lyrical trombonist, innovative composer, popular big band conductor, and now an impresario – created the Monday series, and recently took some time away from rehearsals and logistics to give us the lowdown:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: People in the know all know that Monday night is the new Saturday – and has been for a long time in New York. Maybe ever since the days of the week were invented. But why don’t you do this, say, on a Saturday?

JC Sanford: Monday night in NYC has historically been “big band night." Thad Jones and Mel Lewis - now the Vanguard band – Gil Evans at Sweet Basil; Maria Schneider at Visiones; Toshiko Akiyoshi at Birdland, and Howard Williams at the Garage….Obviously most of those situations don’t exist anymore for various reasons, but I wanted to carry on that Monday night big band tradition, but this time in Brooklyn. It does create some conflicts, but it doesn’t look like anybody’s not managed to field a complete band as of yet.

LCC: This month you have the Jeff Fairbanks Jazz Orchestra on September 6, then on the 13th the Javier Arau Jazz Orchestra, your own JC Sanford Orchestra on the 20th, and the Jamie Begian Big Band – whose new cd Big Fat Grin is great fun – on the 27th. Can you give us an insider view of what they sound like, and why it’s worth the shlep out to the Slope if you don’t live there?

JCS: Well, one thing that’s so great about this series is the variety you’ll see and hear from week to week. This month is no different. Jeff Fairbanks’ repertoire is a mix of modern jazz and Asian music, including a suite he wrote about Chinatown. Javier, a Bob Brookmeyer protégé like myself, has a great sense of form and color. I like to think of his works as thematically cinematic. My vibe has long been to push the limits of what is “expected" in a specific musical setting without totally abandoning the essence of the genre, sounding adventurous while remaining “accessible." I combine a lot of elements of traditional jazz, classical, and pop music. And yes, Jamie’s music is FUN. He can be truly dedicated to an idea or mood or bust out a quirky groove at any point.

LCC: Why the sudden popularity of new jazz for large ensembles? Can we credit Darcy James Argue for springboarding it – or at least being a magnet for it, or is this a scene that’s always been bubbling under the radar?

JCS: I think the existence of so many groups comes from a few different places, actually. Years ago, Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam started the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop where burgeoning composers were able to bring in their large ensemble music to be critiqued by master composers and eventually read down by a group of professional players. These days Jim McNeely leads the workshop, and so many writers have been through there. I would say a majority of the bandleaders that have been a part of this series at least spent a few minutes in that program at some point. Also Brookmeyer obviously influenced so many composers through the years, but he also did it tangibly as a teacher at New England Conservatory for several years. So many of his students have graduated, moved to New York, joined the BMI workshop, and their started their own bands. I think Maria Schneider’s popularity and distinctive voice really inspired a lot of folks, too. Luckily some folks like myself, and even more so Darcy, have been lucky enough to have a healthy dose of all three.

But to answer your question directly, I think Darcy is more a representative of the possible future of big bands rather than the present. At this point, his dramatic rise to success has happened too quickly for us to see its effects on other bands yet, as a majority of the bands on this series have been around for several years already. He has figured out a way to generate interest in his product in a way I didn’t think was possible anymore, though. I think we all, as large ensemble leaders, should be inspired by his meteoric rise. It’s encouraging to me, and makes me think that there is hope for us all on some level. Hopefully this series can be an avenue for that kind of exposure.

LCC: This is music you have to absolutely love, to play it live: if you’ve got twenty people in the ensemble, even with a gig at a swanky club, nobody walks away rich afterward. Back in the 30s and 40s, bands would sustain themselves by doing long stands at hotel bars or places like Minton’s. How does a big band sustain itself these days?

JCS: Well, I think you’re seeing that these days it’s pretty rare for any large band to do many long stands at all, even the super-established ones. I mean, that’s a great tradition they’ve established of having Maria Schneider playing all week at the Jazz Standard during Thanksgiving, but even that is only once a year. So, generally big bands sustain themselves by not playing very often and having a leader who’s willing to take a hit to their wallet. Folks like John Hollenbeck have a successful performing career, so he can, from time to time, drop a few dollars on a great gig at le Poisson Rouge or something. Most of the players in these bands know the deal: you’re not going to make much on a big band gig, generally. But they do it because they want to play great music, and there seems to be plenty of opportunities to do that these days.

LCC: Your Sound Assembly album, from 2008, is a real favorite of mine. You’ve got some gems on there: a convolutedly fun tribute to a man and his cat, a crazed, Mingus-esque subway rush hour tableau and an astringent, ambient number influenced by Charles Ives. Any chance you’ll be playing any of them on the 20th?

JCS: Thanks. I’m still sussing out the exact program for the gig, but we will definitely play a few tunes from that record, including the feline foray and the MTA tribute, which will be, unlike the current organization, fast and efficient.

LCC: I get the feeling that if Tea Lounge keeps up doing this, it’ll become a sort of CBGB for the new wave of big bands. What do you think?

JCS: I’m really hoping so – as long as being the CBGBs of anything doesn’t include it sadly closing down, to the severe consternation of its audience. What I am noticing is that in addition to the regular clientele, a lot of musicians are hanging there. They want to check out what other folks are writing and support their fellow strugglers. The Tea Lounge is a really great vibe. Good grub and good drinks – including full bar – and since there’s no cover – just a $5 suggested donation – it’s really easy to just drop in and hang. People bring their kids. It’s mellow and fun. And the sound of the room is pretty good, too, which is more than I can say about a lot of the places big bands are forced to play in this city.

LCC: Can I ask a really obvious question, as far as the venue is concerned: will the September shows start on time? Sometimes what’s advertised as a 9 PM show at this place turns into 11 PM in reality…

JCS: That’s actually a very practical question. I think these folks are pretty prompt. The latest you’ll see anything start there is 9:15. This might be because these are composer/arranger-led bands, they want to get through all the charts they have programmed.

08.31.10Darcy Argue's blog on Size Matters

I've been sizing you up and stuff

People often do not believe me when I tell them that the real reason I started a bigband after moving to New York was peer pressure. But I am not kidding when I say that putting together an 18-piece ensemble to play my own music started to seem a lot more reasonable in light of the fact that basically everyone I knew was also doing it. New York is blessed (or cursed, I guess, take your pick) with a staggering number of composer-led, progressive-minded bigbands, and now, thanks to my Pulse colleague JC Sanford, those bands have a home.

The "Size Matters" series, curated by the estimable Mr. Sanford, runs every Monday night at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope (sets at 9:00 PM & 10:30 PM). The series launched earlier this year and features a different Brobdingnagian beast every week -- I've been to several shows I've been uniformly blown away by the writing and playing.

The September schedule is here -- there are some great hits coming up, including bands led by Jeff Fairbanks, Javier Arau, JC himself, and another Pulsekateer, Jamie Begian. In October it's Asuka Kakitani, Russ Spiegel, Noriko Ueda , and Gary Morgan & PanAmericana. Great things are happening in this space. Plus, you basically have no excuse not to come because there is no cover. Although I know I can count on you to do the right thing by these hardworking bigbandleaders and drop at least five bucks (the "suggested donation") in the tip jar.

08.17.10All About Jazz article about the present and future of big bands


06.22.10WNYC's take on our live streaming gig at Le Poisson Rouge as part of the Undead Jazz Festival



08.17.09Dusted Reviews for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble "Eternal Interlude"

John Hollenbeck’s second Large Ensemble album, Eternal Interlude, is an even more rewarding experience than 2005’ A Blessing. It finds the group exploring a wide variety of lean and opulent textures and expanding the palette of the percussionist’s typically complex and fascinating compositions.

The monumental title track’s opening bristles with tension in the service of a series of multi-timbral chords that shimmer with soft piano, swelling winds and malletted percussion. Hollenbeck’s orchestration, always intriguing in both his large ensemble and his Claudia Quintet, has taken a bold leap forward, most apparent in the way high flutes float over the morphing swells and ebbs. The main melodic material mixes romanticism and modernity in a brew of rhythmic surprise, but the piano keeps interrupting it with smart little arpeggios that later become a more integral part of the structure. There’s so much happening in these opening minutes that a more analytical study seems necessary, so multifarious are the morphing timbres. Gradually, and most enigmatic, the voice of Theo Bleckmann slides out of the transparency, most apparent just before the first major change and organ interlude. As regular rhythms become more pronounced and the volume increases, the melody is treated in fully harmonized orchestration.

These timbral concerns pervade the rest of the disc, but this is not simply an album of heads and solos. A notable exception is Ellery Eskelin’s scorching tenor saxophone contributions on “Perseverance," but tightly composed passages abound. These are constantly changing forms that share elements with jazz, progressive rock and modern classical music. The opening of “Guarana" goes way outside the boundaries of conventional tonality, sporting little whoops and yips over tantalizing percussion, while the composition proper drives relentlessly forward on a sinewy melody. By contrast, the diminutive “No Boat" glides forward, looms briefly in gorgeous washes of harmony and fades as quickly as it came, sounding like updated Berg with a hint of minimalism for good measure. Radical yet somehow touchingly simple, it’s a perfect album closer.

A dense recording like Eternal Interlude simply doesn’t work if improperly engineered, and luckily, the production is stunning. Each sound is balanced, clear in context without sacrificing unity. Of course, conductor J.C. Sanford’s role is paramount, and he brings these pieces to life. This is one of the most satisfying and continually fascinating large ensemble discs I’ve heard in some time, a real treat from start to finish.

By Marc Medwin

04.23.09Interview with Syracuse Post Standard re: the premiere of my silent film score for Ben-Hur

JC Sanford On Scoring the 1925 Silent Film "Ben-Hur"JC Sanford On Scoring the 1925 Silent Film "Ben-Hur"

Posted by Peter Chen / The Post-Standard on April 23, 2009 at 09:42 PM

JC Sanford, director of jazz studies at LeMoyne College, wrote an original film score for the 1925 silent movie, "Ben-Hur." The movie has a running time of 2 hours 20 minutes, which meant Sanford had to create 3,200 measures of music to cover that time. He will be directing and playing with the CNY Jazz Orchestra, along with a simultaneous screening of the movie, at the Palace Theater, at 7 p.m., Friday. The screening is the opening event of the Syracuse International Film Festival 2009.