Writing Arrangements for Songs and Bows

Many jazz musicians of my generation did not have a straight forward education and development in music in the early years. Often we take some detours via contemporary popular music, then discovering, due to talent and interest, jazz music as the way of digging deeper into music and recognizing jazz music as the only satisfying way to understand how music works. Being exposed to improvisation one has to learn about melody, harmony and rhythm and the relationship between melody and harmony.

The classical masters seem far away at first, although we discover intuitively many similarities in the melodic lines of the baroque masters, Bach in particular, and the extended harmonies of the romantic composers, starting with Mozart.

I have been fortunate to study with and later become friends with a master of jazz music and music in general at the conservatory: Frans Elsen. Through him I was encouraged to follow workshops by jazz master Barry Harris for almost 10 years and the introduction to Barry’s harmonic system was what enlightened me in really understanding melodic movement in harmony in jazz and accordingly in the works of the great classical composers. Barry’s system really opened my ears and through this influence I started with my first attempts in arranging. The genre of the string quartet seemed appealing to me, because of it’s possibilities of harmonic coherence and virtuosity in performing complex music. Being a string instrument player myself (plucked) I always felt close to the sound of this instrument group and the sonorous coherence of a string group is one of the most wonderful things to experience.

Barry’s harmonic system is characterized by melodic movement that makes extensive use of suspensions, resulting in rich jazz harmonies that have a character of their own and represent Jazz in its full glory. There is a sense of melancholy in this form of music, echoing some of the music of the romantic composers, who started to use chord extensions and suspensions extensively (Barry calls them borrowed notes) and I have always been attracted to this form of musical expression, which touched my heart in an immediate way. (Jazz music can have a melancholic side anyway through the heritage of the Blues).

So through Barry’s and Frans’ approach to music i started to examine and learn a lot from the music of the great composers, the great inheritance of centuries of harmony, voice-leading and counterpoint. My work with the “Metropole Orchestra” has been another important influence, playing the music of many great arrangers and especially the music of the Dutch master Rob Pronk, with whom I also had a wonderful personal relationship. Rob Pronk was in my opinion one of the greatest arrangers ever.

It has always been important for me my arrangements to stay in the realm of the tradition of jazz music as learned through Barry, Frans and Rob, having as a goal to play music that can be identified as jazz, seeing harmony and voice-leading as an intrinsic part of music in general and not belonging to a genre of what we call classical. For me that is the way to find new sources of inspiration to enrich jazz being true to it’s tradition, so I would like you to hear the sound of the string quartet with fresh ears, enjoying the rich and lush harmonies of modern jazz music, an occasional association with the great history of the genre of this great chamber music group is welcome.