NIU saxophone professor, composer to perform his newly commissioned suite for jazz septet

Geof Bradfield
Geof Bradfield

Geof Bradfield, a composer and professor of saxophone in the NIU School of Music, will perform his new suite for jazz septet at 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6., in the Music Building Recital Hall.

“Melba!” is a tribute to the great jazz arranger and trombonist, Melba Liston (1926-1999), and was supported by a commission from Chamber Music America’s 2011 New Jazz Works program (with funding by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation).

Personnel will be trumpeter Victor Garcia, trombonist Joel Adams, pianist Ryan Cohan, guitarist Jeff Parker, bassist Clark Sommers and drummer George Fludas. This is the same group that appeared on Bradfield’s acclaimed 2010 Origin Records release, “African Flowers.”

The Melba Liston estate had placed her lead sheets, scores and other documents with Columbia College Chicago’s Center for Black Music Research, and that was Bradfield’s chief resource for investigating the musical record of her life. He immersed himself in Liston’s arrangements for such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Mary Lou Williams and Billie Holiday.

The collection also contains Liston’s lesser-known charts for Motown and Stax, as well as musical data from her residence in Jamaica during much of the 1970s.

Of greatest interest to Bradfield are her prized collaborations with pianist Randy Weston, ranging from the landmark “Uhuru Afrika” (1960) to “The Spirits of Our Ancestors” (1991). This was the music that introduced Bradfield to Liston, directly influenced his acclaimed 2010 Origin Records release, “African Flowers” (named one of the year’s Top 10 jazz albums by the Los Angeles Times), and led to “Melba!”

Album cover of “Melba Liston and Her ’Bones”“When I came up in the 1980s and was learning to play, everything seemed to be about extreme instrumental virtuosity,” Bradfield said.

“The music of Randy and Melba was more complex. It had color and depth and a range of emotional expression. It had a real human element. I also loved the way their music tied a lot of things together: African music and Duke Ellington and bebop harmony and the extreme use of dissonance, which in Liston’s hands could suggest Stravinsky. Their music transcended craft. They created a path from one form of music, and one aspect of culture, to the other. They showed you how everything fit together.”

The movements trace the musical arc of Liston’s life, from “Kansas City Child” and “Central Avenue” to “Dizzy Gillespie,” “Randy Weston,” “Detroit/Kingston” and “Kansas City Homecoming.”

Perhaps in part because she was so private, Liston is not as familiar to average listeners as other great jazz arrangers of her era such as Gil Evans and Oliver Nelson. Bradfield hopes to help change that with “Melba!” The piece illuminates what a remarkable individual she was in achieving such success as a woman in a man’s world and as a bold innovator with her own style and methodology.

This concert is free, open to the public, and will be HD webcast live. The building is accessible to all. For more information, contact Lynn Slater at (815) 753-1546 or lslater@niu.edu.

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