Cellar Music Group Announces the September 9, 2022 Release of Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra, The Ensemble’s Debut Album, with Celebrated Pianist and Composer / Arranger Steven Feifke and Renowned Trumpeter Bijon Watson at the Helm
Featuring Very Special Guests Kurt Elling, Sean Jones, John Fedchock and more!
Celebrated pianist, composer, arranger/orchestrator and conductor Steven Feifke joins forces with trumpet titan Bijon Watson on the eponymous debut album of their star-studded new ensemble, the Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra. To be released on September 9, 2022 by Cellar Music Group, Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra renews the longstanding tradition of mentorship within the jazz idiom spearheaded by artists like Art Blakey and Horace Silver. This masterful large ensemble features some of the music’s elder statesmen alongside sought-after contemporary performers and budding young virtuosos – a diverse blend of voices creating an overall sound thoughtfully and meticulously sculpted by Feifke’s stellar orchestrations.
Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra features renowned lead trumpeter Bijon Watson whose iconic trumpet sound can be heard in such iconic grammy-nominated ensembles as the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the John Daversa Progressive Big Band, John Beasley’s Monkestra as well as alongside such superstars as Natalie Cole and Michael Buble, and on the score of the award-winning film “La La Land.” Recognized as one of the leading composers for Big Band by the Recording Academy, Steven Feifke is a Yamaha Performing Artist and a two-time semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition. Feifke has appeared on over thirty records before turning thirty years old, and DownBeat Magazine says Feifke’s music is “an air of infectious joy.”
The album’s saxophone section features Alexa Tarantino, Christopher McBride, Thomas Luer, Roxy Coss and Lauren Sevian. Alongside Watson, the trumpet section features Tanya Darby, Mike Rodriguez and Danny Jonokuchi. The trombone section features John Fedchock, Javier Nero, Kalia Vandever and Jennifer Wharton. Feifke heads up the rhythm section accompanied by Will Brahm on guitar, Dan Chmielinski on bass and Ulysses Owens, Jr. on drums. The ensemble features such special guests as vocalist Kurt Elling, trumpeter Sean Jones, and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown.
Feifke and Watson are two like-minded individuals with a profound love and immense acuity for jazz performance and education. The two had the chance to meet after Feifke attended a Monkestra concert, an ensemble of which Watson is a staple member. Though there is more than two decades between them, Feifke and Watson developed a deep friendship and began discussing the feasibility of collaboration. Feifke notes “Many of the ensembles that Bijon plays in are staples in my listening habits, especially the Clayton Hamilton orchestra. Listening to Bijon was such a pivotal part of my musical upbringing that, when composing, I began hearing the lead trumpet part ‘as played by Bijon Watson’. It was a wonderful full-circle moment being able to collaborate with the person who I have been listening to for so many years.” Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra marks Watson’s first big band album release as a co-leader and the first recorded collaboration between the two artists.
Watson proposed the idea of forming a big band with an emphasis on mentorship. “Looking at the history of the ensembles of Blakey and Silver, there is a lost tradition of mixing the generations – our is an ensemble devoted to that. The aim is to incorporate all generations and have the shared experience of coming together to perform,” says Watson. The creation of virtual music videos for the Jazz Education Network (JEN) Conference acted as the impetus for the recording of this album, and several of the arrangements on this album were created for the performances at the JEN conference. “You’ll notice that many of the artists in both generations are extremely passionate and consistent educators” notes Feifke, a recently minted professor of jazz composition and harmony at Berklee College of Music.
Throughout the nine tracks on Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra, Feifke and Watson feature each other’s virtuosity and the personalities of the tremendous musicians that they brought on-board. “I’ve Got Algorithm” opens the album on a high – with soaring melodic lines from Feifke, leading to a tightly harmonized horn melody. The title “I’ve Got Algorithm” is a humorous play on ‘I’ve Got Rhythm’, reflecting on the covid – imposed isolation that saw all of us tied to our computers. The track, which will be the album’s first single, released on May 26th, 2022, features saxophone phenomenon and jazz educator Chad Lefkowitz Brown. Feifke states “Chad and I have been close collaborators since we met at the Stanford Summer Jazz Workshop in 2009. He’s an incredible player and such an amazing educator in his own right.” Chad’s incredible acuity for stunning melodic invention is on full display on this uptempo swing tune.
Feifke’s arrangement of the Sting song “Until”, originally written for the film ‘Kate & Leopold’, features the iconic jazz vocalist Kurt Elling. Feifke indicates “writing an arrangement to feature Kurt Ellling has always been a dream of mine.” Elling delivers a truly evocative, dynamic performance on this brilliant Feifke arrangement. The ending of this piece features a truly inventive moment where the artist harmonizes with himself to create a beautifully ethereal choir of voices. “To have an artist of Kurt’s stature, caliber, skill-level and integrity to create that moment on your arrangement is pretty special as an arranger, especially as someone who has always listened to Kurt,” Feifke notes. “Until” will be released as a single on June 17th, 2022. Elling is also featured on his own composition, “Sassy,” which originally appeared on Elling’s 2021 release Superblue. The GGJO cover of “Sassy” stays true to the original at the beginning, and slowly builds from a small combo to a raucous ensemble sound over the course of the arrangement. Elling delivers a powerful vocal performance and saxophonist Christopher McBride soars over the ensemble with a tremendous solo.
The final single, “Scenes From My Dreams” is described by Feifke as “my nod to the big bands of yore … it has a lot of familiar themes one may think they recognize – but incorporates modern rhythms and harmony as well, all fitting within that classic swing shuffle big band context.” The composer indicates “I woke up one morning, sat down at the piano and played this piece out from start to finish as if I had dreamt it. I didn’t alter it at all, beyond shaping the solo section to feature one of my heroes of both the trombone and big band traditions – John Fedchock.” Watson invites the comparison between Feifke and Ellington (as well as other big band composer/arrangers such as Bob Florence and John Clayton). Watson notes that Feifke, like these aforementioned composers, “writes to the strengths of the people that he has in the ensemble – I’m super proud of Steven’s writing and the way that there are several eras of the music captured within the album, blending tradition with contemporary sounds. It’s also a testament to the musicians that we have on the album that they were able to bring that to life.”
Iconic trumpeter Sean Jones’ stunning performance on Feifke’s arrangement of South African trumpet player Hugh Masakela’s “Dollar’s Moods” is no coincidence. After graduating from Manhattan School of Music, Feifke’s former professor, then chair of the MSM Jazz Department Stefon Harris, asked that Feifke contribute several arrangements for a concert of Hugh Masekela music featuring Jon Faddis and Sean Jones. This was the first fruitful collaboration between Jones and Feifke, acting as the impetus for the recording of this piece – which is fittingly, a celebration of the work of Hugh Masekela. Masekela had a tremendous impact on both Watson and Feifke. Watson remarks “trumpet players idolize Hugh Masekela, and I grew up with his music playing in my house.” Feifke shares these early influences, noting “I am of South African heritage, my parents were born and raised in South Africa, and I am a first-generation American. Hugh Masekela’s impact was huge on me ever since I was first introduced to his music, at a young age, by my grandmother.”
A highlight from Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra is Feifke’s lush arrangement of “Remember Me” from the Disney Pixar film Coco. The piece features a prodigious performance from Watson on flugelhorn alongside guitarist Will Brahm. Showcasing Watson’s immense versatility, the track features a decidedly more sensitive and nuanced side of the trumpeter’s musical sphere. The ensemble’s beautiful rendition of “Remember Me” revitalizes the tradition of interpreting popular songs from film and musicals within a jazz context, in a sense making the heart-rending song a new addition to the American songbook.
The beauty of the convergence of these two jazz greats is their insistence on showcasing each other’s unique musical voices and that of their heroes, peers and mentees. In this way, they create an ensemble that exhibits the vibrance of jazz, not of any era, but of a truly timeless living art-form.