12 Bay Area Composers You Should Know

On The Corner Masthead

12 Bay Area Composers You Should Know

October 26, 2018 | by SFJAZZ

Myra Melford

With so much focus in instrumental jazz on improvisational skill, it's easy to forget that jazz composition has an equally rich tradition ranging from Duke Ellington to Anthony Braxton and beyond. Fortunately, here in the Bay Area, we have no shortage of adventurous composers looking to bring jazz into the future. On November 2-4, SFJAZZ presents two groups leading this charge – Myra Melford's Snowy Egret and the Ian Carey Quintet+1 – both in the Joe Henderson Lab as part of the "Exploratory Composers" series, but as the list below shows, the Bay Area is deep with compositional talents, many of whom you'll be able to hear at SFJAZZ in the coming months!

Myra Melford

A pianist, composer, educator and bandleader who has built and documented a succession of celebrated ensembles, Melford has set her most ambitious projects on the all-star quintet known as Snowy Egret, which features some of jazz’s most distinctive and melodically inventive improvisers – Ron Miles (cornet), Liberty Ellman (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums) – and performs at SFJAZZ on November 2-3.

Ian Carey

A fluent and often arresting improviser and a composer with a keen sense of form, Ian Carey presents the world premiere of Fire in My Head (The Anxiety Suite) with his longrunning Quintet+1 in SFJAZZ's Joe Henderson Lab on November 4, to close out the "Exploratory Composer" series. An extended, multi-movement work that straddles straight-ahead jazz and chamber music, Fire in My Head explores America in an age of angst (on both a personal and community level), commissioned by Chamber Music America's New Jazz Works Program and deals with themes of personal and community anxiety. Read Ian's introspective notes on the new work.

Marcus Shelby

The bassist-bandleader and current SFJAZZ Resident Artistic Director has been a prolific composer for 25+ years, with special focus on his highly-praised jazz orchestra. His large-scale, history-infused works include Beyond the Blues: A Prison OratorioSoul of the Movement, as well as many collaborations with theater and dance groups. His orchestra, featuring special guest vocalists Tiffany Austin and Kenny Washington, will perform Duke Ellington's Nutcracker Suite at SFJAZZ on December 20, and also perform Shelby's new Blackball Suite at SFJAZZ in his May residency.

Adam Theis

Bassist, trombonist, composer and arranger leads the wildely eclectic Bay Area collective Jazz Mafia. In 2009, SFJAZZ premiered Theis’ ambitious Brass, Bows & Beats: A Hip Hop Symphony with 40+ Jazz Mafia artists at the Palace of Fine Arts. The work was sparked by a generous “Emerging Composer” grant from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation and William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. You'll here a sampling of Jazz Mafia’s signature blend of jazz, funk, classical, and hip hop in the upcoming Jazz Mafia Fest at SFJAZZ on December 7-9.

Adam Shulman

A mainstay on the Bay Area jazz scene, the pianist has performed with heavy hitters such as Stefon Harris, Willie Jones III, Miguel Zenón, and Marcus Shelby. He's also a prolific composer, having released five albums of compelling original compositions. His most recent record, Full Tilt, features a sextet of local all-stars, which performs two all-original  sets in Joe Henderson Lab on April 19. (You can also hear him play music from Vince Guaraldi's holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas in Miner Auditorium on December 21-22.)

Nathan Clevenger

The guitarist has been a fixture on the Bay Area creative music scene since 2003. His six-to-eight-piece Nathan Clevenger Group always features the Bay's most accomplished improvisers, bringing to life the guitarist's intricate and compelling compositions. The group has released two albums (The Evening EarthObservatory) with a third slated to be recorded in the next year.

Destiny Muhammad

Singer and harpist Destiny Muhammad is masterful, exploratory musician known for work with Azar Lawrence, Marcus Shelby, Omar Sosa, and John Santos. Calling the entirety of her musical approach “Celtic to Coltrane,” Muhammad performs regularly at SFJAZZ, most recently in last season’s SFJAZZ Poetry Festival.

Erik Jekabson

Far more than an essential creative catalyst on the Bay Area jazz scene, trumpeter, composer and bandleader Erik Jekabson has played a key role in bringing the region’s deep talent pool into the national spotlight. The founder and driving force behind the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra, he’s built a welcoming sonic laboratory that’s inspired a steady flow of new compositions and arrangements from its creatively roiling ranks. But to fully experience Jekabson’s beautifully burnished sound there’s no better vehicle than his all-star sextet, which recently performed in SFJAZZ's "New Trumpet" series.

Steven Lugerner

The saxophonist and clarinetist (who plays the music ofJackie McLean in Joe Henderson Lab with his band JACKNIFE on November 18) recently released An Eight Out of Nine by his SLUGish Ensemble, featuring original arrangements of songs by his favorite non-jazz artists, as well as one of his own compositions. The album is one of several new releases from the recently minted Bay Area community-focused record label Slow & Steady Records, which Lugerner co-founded.

Lisa Mezzacappa

The adventurous bassist, composer and bandleader has been active in the Bay Area jazz and creative music scenes for over a decade. Her projects range from the noir-inspired avantNOIR ensemble, to Glorious Ravage (inspired by female explorers of the 19th Century), and the Lisa Mezzacappa Six, which performs at SFJAZZ on March 2 as part of the "Leading Women" series.

Sheldon Brown

The multi-reedist and composer premiered his suite Blood of the Air in the Joe Henderson Lab back in 2014. The work features a 10-piece ensemble performing music written around the recorded voice of the late poet Philip Lamantia, and was released on Edgetone Records a month ago, and the CD release show is at The Back Room in Berkeley on October 27.

ROVA Saxophone Quartet

The world-renowned quartet recently celebrated 40 years of adventurous improvisation and performance, with the release of their anniversary album In Transverse Time. The quartet has released dozens of albums, but continues to perform and innovate in the Bay Area and around the globe, playing works composed by their members as well as a multitude of guest composers. SFJAZZ most recently presented ROVA in a tribute to John Coltrane's Ascension back in January, 2017.

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