GENERATION GAP JAZZ ORCHESTRA by pianist Steven Feifke and trumpeter Bijon Watson is now available
Acclaimed pianist, composer, arranger/orchestrator and bandleader Steven Feifke has teamed up with trumpet titan Bijon Watson on the self-titled debut album from their star-studded new ensemble, the Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra. Renewing the long tradition of mentorship within the jazz idiom led by artists like Art Blakey and Horace Silver, this masterful grand ensemble features some of music’s oldest statesmen alongside sought-after contemporary performers. and budding young virtuosos – a diverse mix of voices creating an ensemble sound thoughtfully and meticulously sculpted by Feifke’s stellar orchestrations.
The Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra features renowned trumpet player Bijon Watson whose iconic trumpet sound can be heard in iconic Grammy-nominated ensembles like the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, John Daversa Progressive Big Band, John Beasley’s Monkestra as well as alongside superstars like Natalie Cole and Michael Buble, and on the award-winning film score “La La Land”. Recognized as one of the Recording Academy’s leading Big Band composers, Steven Feifke is a Yamaha performing artist and two-time semi-finalist in the Thelonious Monk Jazz Piano Competition. Feifke appeared on over thirty records before he turned thirty, and DownBeat Magazine says Feifke’s music is “an air of contagious joy”.
The saxophone section of the album includes Alexa Tarantino, Christopher McBride, Thomas Luer, Roxy Coss and Lauren Sevian. Alongside Watson, the trumpet section includes Tanya Darby, Mike Rodriguez and Danny Jonokuchi. The trombone section includes John Fedchock, Javier Nero, Kalia Vandever and Jennifer Wharton. Feifke leads the rhythm section accompanied by Will Brahm on guitar, Dan Chmielinski on bass and Ulysses Owens, Jr. on drums. The ensemble includes special guests such as vocalist Kurt Elling, trumpeter Sean Jones and tenor saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown.
Feifke and Watson are two like-minded individuals with a deep love and immense acumen for jazz performance and education. The two were lucky enough to meet after Feifke attended a concert by Monkestra, an ensemble of which Watson is a key member. Although there were over two decades between them, Feifke and Watson developed a deep friendship and began discussing the feasibility of a collaboration. Feifke notes that “Many of the ensembles in which Bijon plays are staples in my listening habits, especially Clayton Hamilton’s orchestra. Listening to Bijon has been such an essential part of my musical upbringing that, when composition, I started to hear the main trumpet part ‘as played by Bijon Watson’. It was a wonderful time to come full circle to be able to collaborate with the person I’ve been listening to for so many years.” Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra marks the release of Watson’s first big band album as co-leader and the first collaboration recorded between the two artists.
Watson came up with the idea of forming a big band with an emphasis on mentorship. “Looking at the history of sets from Blakey and Silver, there is a lost tradition of mixing generations – our is a set that is dedicated to that. The goal is to incorporate all generations and have the shared experience of coming together to play,” says Watson. Creating virtual music videos for the Jazz Education Network (JEN) conference provided the impetus for recording this album, and many of the arrangements on this album were created for the JEN conference performances. “You’ll notice that many artists of both generations are extremely passionate and consistent educators,” notes Feifke, recently appointed professor of composition and jazz harmony at Berklee College of Music.
Throughout Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra’s nine tracks, Feifke and Watson showcase each other’s virtuosity and the personalities of the formidable musicians they’ve brought on board. “I’ve Got Algorithm” opens the album with a bang – with soaring melodic lines from Feifke, leading into a tightly harmonized horn melody. The title “I’ve Got Algorithm” is a humorous piece on “I’ve Got Rhythm”, reflecting the covid-imposed isolation that has tied us all to our computers. The track, which will be the lead single from the album, released on May 26, 2022, features saxophone phenom and jazz teacher 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 such an incredible player and such an incredible educator in his own right.” Chad’s incredible acumen for mind-blowing melodic invention is on full display on this uptempo swing track.
Feifke’s arrangement of Sting’s song “Until,” originally written for the movie “Kate & Leopold,” features iconic jazz singer Kurt Elling. Feifke says “writing an arrangement to star Kurt Ellling has always been a dream of mine.” Elling delivers a truly evocative and dynamic performance on this brilliant Feifke arrangement. The end of this piece features a truly inventive moment where the artist harmonizes with himself to create a beautifully ethereal chorus of voices. “Having an artist of Kurt’s stature, caliber, skill level and integrity create this moment on your arrangement is pretty special as an arranger, especially as someone who has always listened to Kurt” , notes Feifke. “Until” will be released as a single on June 17, 2022. Elling is also featured on his own composition, “Sassy”, which originally featured on Elling’s 2021 Superblue release. The GGJO cover of “Sassy” stays true to the original at the start and slowly transitions from a small combo to a raspy overall sound over the course of the arrangement. Elling delivers a powerful vocal performance and saxophonist Christopher McBride soars over the set with a terrific solo.
The latest 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 that one might think they recognize – but also incorporates modern rhythms and harmony, all within that classic big band swing shuffle backdrop.” The composer says “I woke up one morning, sat down at the piano and played this piece from beginning to end as if I had dreamed it. heroes of the trombone and big band traditions – John Fedchock.” Watson invites 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 those aforementioned composers, “writes about the strengths of the people he has as a whole – I’m super proud of Steven’s writing and how there are multiple eras of music captured on the album , blending tradition with contemporary sounds. It’s also a testament to the musicians we have on the album that they were able to bring this to life.”
Iconic trumpeter Sean Jones’ stunning performance on Feifke’s arrangement of South African trumpeter Hugh Masakela’s “Dollar’s Moods” is no coincidence. After graduating from the Manhattan School of Music, Feifke’s former teacher, then chair of the MSM Jazz Department, Stefon Harris, asked Feifke to contribute several arrangements for a concert of music by Hugh Masekela featuring Jon Faddis and Sean Jones. It was the first fruitful collaboration between Jones and Feifke, acting as the impetus for the recording of this piece – which is rightly a celebration of the work of Hugh Masekela. Masekela had a huge impact on Watson and Feifke. Watson remarks that “trumpeters 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 descent, my parents were born and raised in South Africa, and I am a first-generation American. Hugh Masekela’s impact on me has been huge ever since. that I was first introduced to his music, at a young age, by my grandmother.”
A Generation Gap Jazz Orchestra highlight is Feifke’s lush arrangement of “Remember Me” from the Disney Pixar film Coco. The piece features a prodigious flugelhorn performance by Watson alongside guitarist Will Brahm. Showcasing Watson’s immense versatility, the track showcases a decidedly more sensitive and nuanced side to the trumpeter’s musical sphere. The ensemble’s beautiful rendition of “Remember Me” revitalizes the tradition of performing popular songs from films and musicals in a jazz context, making the heartbreaking song somewhat of 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 vibration of jazz, not of an era, but of a truly timeless living art.