Who are your musical influences?
Besides my teachers, whom I discuss in an answer below, these artists and their music have had the most notable lasting effect on my writing and performing:
The foundations of my current musical aesthetic were primarily formed by Pat Metheny, Maria Schneider, Vince Mendoza, Jim McNeeley, New York Voices, Gene Puerling, Take 6, Vox One, The Real Group, Kurt Elling, Michael Brecker, Weather Report, Mel Torme, Sting, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Shirley Horn and Bobby McFerrin.
Somewhat recently, I've been largely influenced, of course, by my wife, Julia Dollison, as well as Geoffrey Keezer, Nancy King, Dianne Reeves, Oregon, J.D. Walter, Kenny Wheeler, John Hollenbeck, Mika Pohjola, Rigmor Gustafsson, Bob Brookmeyer, Eberhard Weber, Richard Bona, Moss (as well as all of its individual members!) and a cappella groups such as m-pact, Sixth Wave, Les Grandes Gueles and Cadence, to name just a few. Of course, as a student of jazz, I have a love and appreciation for the great jazz historical jazz artists, too many to name here.
A few of the educational vocal jazz ensemble arrangers that influenced me (and still do) are Darmon Meader, Paris Rutherford, Roger Treece, Jennifer Barnes, Phil Mattson, Michele Weir, Jason Smith, Greg Jasperse, Matt Falker and Gary and Rosana Eckert. Besides the many in this category named above, big band writers that I particularly enjoy and tried to steal from have been Chuck Owen, Steve Owen, James Miley, Dave Glenn, Dan Gailey, Neil Slater, Steve Weist, Fred Sturm, and Eric Applegate.
Some artists and genres I listen to and enjoy aside from vocal and instrumental jazz are: Electronic pop/rock (Imogen Heap, Radiohead, Bird and the Bee, Bjork), Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss, Punch Brothers, Ben Folds, Jonatha Brooke, Jennifer Kimball, Steve Reich, Samuel Barber, Yellowjackets, The King's Singers and Drum and Bugle Corps. Regarding the last one, which some may find strange and others will understand completely, I grew up with drum corps as somewhat of a family tradition, and I've always been attracted to the precision and excellence involved in the activity, as well as the excitement and power of the shows and the effect is has on its audience.
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised in Great Bend, Kansas, a town of about 15,000 to 20,000 people right smack in the middle of the state, on the "bend" of the Arkansas (pronounced "Arr Kansas", or "Our Kansas"...at least as we were told in school) River. Maybe it's not surprising that I was very active in music in my high school, playing drums in jazz, concert and marching bands from junior high until graduation, and singing in a unusually strong choral program (for that part of the country and size of community, especially).
My parents, Bob and Jo Ann Marsh, were 100% supportive of all of my musical aims and are the key reason I'm doing what I love today, and they're still tied for the lead as my number one fans, and the feeling is mutual.
Where did you get your college education? How did you get into the vocal jazz "scene"?
I graduated from The University of Kansas with a degree in Music Education in 2000, and then hung out an extra year for boring logistical reasons, doing a year of Master's degree work in choral conducting and working as a teaching assistant, directing two vocal jazz ensembles. I also taught the same two groups during my last year of undergrad work (although it was volunteer work, for the experience, of course).
After KU, I immediately moved to Denton, TX to attend the University of North Texas as a Masters' student in Jazz Studies: Arranging. I directed the UNT Jazz Singers II for two years and graduated in 2003, heading for Sacramento, where I'd been offered a Part-time faculty position as the director of vocal jazz.
My main influences and mentors at KU were Dan Gailey (director of jazz studies), Simon Carrington (director of choral activities), Norman Paige (my private voice instructor), and the members of the music education faculty, particularly Alice-Ann Darrow and Christopher Johnson, who did well to bring me a healthy and highly useful dose of interest in the academic side of college teaching.
It was just good fortune that I wound up at KU, I think. I might have gone to Kansas State University, but KU's scholarship package turned out to be more appealing, and I was generally a KU sports fan. Pretty awful reasons, in retrospect, to choose a school, but it worked out brilliantly. KU was/is a wonderfully forward-thinking institution, with a liberal atmosphere that shaped much of who I am today. I started as a Music Theater/Voice major, but changed to music education after I spent a couple semesters around the jazz department, singing first in the #2 vocal jazz group and then making it into the six-voice Jazz Singers, in which I'd spend a total of five years. Dan Gailey was initially Jazz Singers' director, and then he passed the group's direction to Mitos (Cox) Andaya, from whom I also learned a great deal. I got the bulk of the foundation of my current musical aesthetic (leaning toward contemporary jazz and using instrumental influences strongly in my vocal writing) from Dan, who is a world-class jazz composer/arranger. Dan and Mitos both encouraged me to bring in my early arrangements (you won't see many of those in this catalog anymore!) into the Jazz Singers set, and Dan helped put me in touch with Gene Aitken and the UNC Jazz Press, who published my charts and gave me my first exposure to vocal jazz directors. Gailey also encouraged me to work on my jazz piano chops by putting me in his excellent Jazz Ensemble I in my junior year. My first jazz piano gig, actually, was with that band at the IAJE conference in New York in 1998, playing with David Liebman! Dan's willingness to let me teach the #2 and #3 vocal jazz ensembles at KU gave me a great way to try out some arranging ideas, so I wrote a lot for those groups and added to my early "catalog" of charts. This experience also helped me as I was getting into grad school and hoping to work as a teaching assistant.
Simon Carrington was one of the founding members of the legendary Kings' Singers, and his first job after retiring from that group was as the director of choral activities at KU. I was very fortune to have the same tenure there as Simon, and the first traditional choral group in which I sang was an eight-voice contemporary choral group called Oread Consort, made up mostly of upperclassmen and graduate students. I eventually sang in the other two advanced choirs under Carrington's direction, affording me the opportunity to take some wonderful tours to England and Brazil and to sing a great deal of challenging, diverse, interesting and beautiful choral repertoire. Carrington is throughly talented with a deep understanding of a wide range of musical styles, and his openness and appreciation of jazz was incredibly gratifying to me throughout my time in his program.
My singular reason for attending UNT was to study jazz arranging with Paris Rutherford. Of course, the fact that UNT was/is one of the very top tier jazz studies institutions in the world meant that I'd be surrounded by supremely talented classmates, and I'd have the opportunity to make very fine music and set up high expectations for myself and my students in the future. Still, the most crucial part of my UNT experience was my arranging study with Paris, which brought a new perspective and a dose of reality to my writing. I learned a great deal about voice-leading and harmonic motion from Paris, and he was able to reign in my early tendency to put every idea I could possibly think of into every chart. An equally crucial part of my time at UNT was my sort-of apprenticeship under Paris. He gave me a huge amount of practical advice about being a college professor and professional musician that benefits me nearly every day.
Rosana Eckert was also an important influence on me at UNT, of course. I only studied jazz voice with her for a semester, but being around her and seeing her work with all of the jazz voice majors gave me a strong sense of what it means to be a respectable professional musician and educator. She's also a brilliant jazz vocalist, of course, an expert improvisor and excellent arranger. Dan Haerle, Mike Steinel, Neil Slater and the rest of the world-class jazz faculty created an environment of excellence, accountability and opportunity, and they provided an ideal model for a collegiate jazz faculty.
The reason I felt I needed to answer the second question in conjunction with the first is that my college education absolutely set the foundation for my professional work today. I think four other factors played major roles in my ability to work as an arranger, clinician and vocal jazz director today: 1. My early and persistent development of my website and email mailings to a growing list of colleagues in vocal jazz education, 2. Attending IAJE conferences each year from 1998 to 2007, 3. Working as a clinician and adjudicator at an ever-increasing pace and with an expanding geography and (perhaps most importantly), 4. Creating, and making available, full demo recordings for nearly all of my arrangements, most recently with the vocal assistance of my wife, the amazing Julia Dollison, who provides an excellent model for high school and college jazz choir members, making it more desirable than ever to use my charts as educational tools in the classroom.
That's it. I've just written the longest sentence of my life, and it's time to move on.
What instruments do you play, and when did you start playing them?
There are some early recordings of me singing when I was three and four, and my parents sang to me quite a bit, but my first formal music instruction was in piano at age seven, and I studied off and on until I graduated high school. By the time I finished, I wasn't proficient in classical technique, but had gained the facility to read fairly well and improvise by ear in a sort of jazzy pop style. I would often divert from my normal practice routine to work on any of around a hundred simple pop-style piano/vocal love songs.
Meanwhile, in fifth grade, I started playing drums in school band, and I quickly took on marimba as a secondary percussion instrument. I started taking drumset lessons in seventh grade, playing in jazz bands until I graduated high school. Because of my genetic affinity for drum corps, I particularly enjoyed marching band, and I played in drum line in high school.
I started taking classical voice lessons around my freshman year of high school, and that remained a steady part of my training through my undergraduate study at KU. I was fairly involved in music theater from age 14 to 18. Upon entering the University of Kansas, I intended to be a double-major in classical voice and percussion, but the professors wanted to encourage me (with scholarship money) to focus on one or the other, and so I chose to become a Music Theater/Voice major, and I was involved in two light opera productions at KU before changing majors (a topic covered in an earlier FAQ reply). I stopped playing drums altogether in 1995, although I still have a particular passion for it and would love to get back into playing. Since about 1998, my piano playing and singing have largely focused on jazz, as has my musical taste.
About the Music
I bought your chart and want to make a few changes to it for my group. Is that alright?
I'm happy to hear the many different ways of interpreting my arrangements, whether that means making subtle changes to feel or phrasing or more drastic changes to form, changes, voicings, scat syllables...whatever. I do it all the time, as a director, when I'm using other writers' charts, and I think it's a very important strategy for running a group. If you do make big changes, I hope you'll send me a recording so I can check it out!
I bought a bunch of your charts while I was teaching at a different school, but I've got a new job now. Am I supposed to re-buy those charts if I'd like to used them at my new school?
Yes, please. It's part of copyright law and the print licenses I have with the rights holders, so I very much appreciate my director colleagues who are honest and pay for the music and materials again when at a new institution, as easy as it would be to just re-use the digital files.
About Vocal Jazz and Arranging
I'm an arranger as well, and I'd like to learn more about self-publishing. How do you obtain licenses to sell your own arrangements of other writers' songs?
All the info you need to know about the process really is on the websites of Alfred and Hal Leonard, but I've found that it's a little tricky to find and put together, so I'll try to summarize here.
To obtain permission to arrange, particularly meant for cases where you're writing a commissioned chart or even just a new chart for your own school group to perform, you'd first try to go through Tresonamusic.com to secure that license, in the name of the group meant to perform the chart. These licenses generally cost somewhere between $150 to $250, and the response is usually affirmative and the waiting time varies between one day and about four weeks.
For the purpose of selling pre-existing arrangements of yours on an ongoing basis, the type of license you need is a "print license" (Alfred Music uses the term "sub-out" as well), and Tresona can't help with that. For these, you need to go directly to Alfred's site or Hal Leonard's site, depending on who owns the copyright. You can get a head start on learning to WHOM to go for the license by just pulling up the lead sheet on musicnotes.com or something and looking at the copyright info at the bottom of the page. Then compare that info to the "imprints" lists on the HL and Alfred sites in their copyright FAQs to see where to start. Then, with Alfred, you can use their web form to apply for a print license, and with Hal Leonard, you send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with all the info they request on their site. Then you wait for as much as a month to find out their decision about licensing, and if they approve, you'll send them a check and two copies of the license they send you, and they'll mail you back the final fully executed version, then they'll ask you to send them a copy of the chart with the copyright into included on it.
Part of requesting a sub-out print license is making a guess at how many copies of the chart you think you'll sell, and then requesting licenses for that many sales (and if you run out of licenses, you re-apply for a new number of licenses and expect it to take the same amount of time). If you're going to do print publishing (mailing out physical sheet music), the rate you'll owe the publishers will be 15% of your retail price. If you're going to send secure digital files, like pdf files that are sent by a special server that you set up (a file delivery system, as opposed to just sending them via email), the rate is 50% of retail. They know you don't have as much overhead with digital, so they take more.
Occasionally, a chart won't be handled by either of the two major corporations, and you'll end up dealing directly with independent publishers, like the people Tower of Power use, for example, or other small to mid-level songwriters and artists. Your success there can be a little less predictable, as it's possible that you may not hear back from those folks, but you may also have very good luck in dealing with indie publishers, as I have recently.
Which notation software do you use?
I'm currently a Sibelius user and a big fan. I was a Finale user from fairly early versions like 3.1, all the way through Finale 2007, but I made the switch when the bugs I was experiencing with Finale made the rest of the challenge of using the program efficiently unbearable. I found that the interface of Sibelius 5 (with which I started) made my work move more quickly almost immediately. The learning curve was manageable, and these days, working on Sibelus, my writing is as fast and efficient as ever. I'm currently writing most of my initial arranging ideas directly into computer notation, whereas I generally advise those not fluent in notation software to at least sketch their ideas by hand first and then finish at the computer. I find very little lag time between the idea coming into my head and my being able to enter it into Sibelius satisfactorily. Furthermore, in the moments during which I need a mental/creative break, or in which the well has temporarily run dry, I can work on the sort of tedious tasks of entering lyrics, dynamics and articulations, and making formatting edits. It's become an amazingly efficient process for me, as long as I have the discipline (which I need at this very moment) to commit myself to writing!
Which recording programs do you use?
Before I became a Mac person in January 2008, I was doing all of my multitrack recording in Sonar. Since then, however, I've been a faithful user of Digital Performer, starting with version 4.5, and now up to version 7, which is proving to be the most stable so far. I preferred DP initially because of it's groundbreaking integrated graphic pitch correction, something that's become inevitable in vocal jazz, particularly with my own singing on demos (not Julia's, however...she's just that good!). I learned about Celemony's Melodyne around October 2008, and I haven't looked back since, as it's the most natural, easiest-to-use, most stable way to pitch correct on the planet, I believe. And the new Melodyne editor, with it's mind-blowing polyphonic pitch detection and correction, is just insanely empowering. I won't go too far down this road in this reply, but if you happen to be interested in talking more about project studio production, please post to the forum and start a thread. I'd love to contribute, as will others, I'm sure.
Where do you start when you're writing an arrangement?
First, I have to take stock of the goal of the chart. What's the nature of the commission, from every angle...difficulty, number of parts, ranges, creative leeway given, mood, etc.? Then I'll usually transcribe anything that needs transcribed and transpose if the melody will put the sopranos (assuming we're talking about a standard SATB chart) in such a low range that I won't be able to hang any chords off their lines. Generally, when sopranos are singing in a key that works well for a tenor soloist (but up an octave for the gals), a chart can work pretty well for a group. Conversely, female soloists who learn jazz standards from their vocal jazz ensemble charts should recognize that they'll want to transpose to a lower key.
If I'm given a great deal of creative freedom (which we'll assume, for the sake of this answer), I'll often look at just the melody, without chord changes, and experiment initially with some different grooves, vamps or concepts at the piano, and I'll try to immediately limit my options so I don't sit and think about each subsequent chord. If I have the freedom to write in a contemporary, modal fashion, I'll sometimes use a device like a planing grip position or a pedal point to provide harmonic surprises while offering the listener some kind of common thread, even if it's an unusual kind of consistency. "Seven Steps To Heaven," from my own catalog, is an example if such an approach. I was told to just "do my thing" with this one...the director wasn't concerned if his audience could really recognize much of the tune. I love those commissions, although the charts don't always fly off the shelves afterward. They're very musically rewarding and exciting to work on, as you'd guess. (Other charts in my catalog in this category are "Footprints," "Impressions," "Silent Night," "Three Blind Mice,"
Sometimes the reharmonization will be subtle, employed on just 20% (or so) of the chords, and only after a portion of the tune has gone by with original changes. Some rhythmic hits will be added, and maybe even an entire section of the form can come from original ideas, but the assignment is not to go totally wild with crazy, new, modal or atonal ideas, but to write a "tasty" chart that's recognizable but fresh. My vocal jazz mentor, Paris Rutherford, really specializes in this kind of chart, I think, and I learned a great deal from him about writing these types of arrangements. From my catalog, "But Beautiful," "Emily," "Headlock," "Here I Am, There I Go," "I Love You," "Selfless, Cold and Composed," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "That Old Black Magic," and "Virtual Insanity" all work like this.
Occasionally I'm given the task of taking total inspiration from a recording that the commissioning director loves, and in that case, my creative decisions are limited to voicings, use of soloists vs. ensemble (backgrounds, etc), and maybe some form alterations. In my catalog, "April in Paris" and "Minuano" are good examples of that kind of assignment and approach, and they happen to be two of my more popular charts. (Also, check out "Esperanto," "Juju/Footprints," "In Your Eyes," "Ngiculela," and "Samba do Cantor.")
Finally, once in a while I get a request to do a strict transcription, which requires attention to detail, but the music is entirely that of someone else. In the process, I may be making different decisions about voice-leading than the source music, but the goal is to reproduce, live, something that is recorded but elsewhere unavailable in print. "Hide and Seek" and "Slow Me Down" are the two examples of this in my catalog.
The question above is "Where do you start?" and so I'll leave it at this point, having gone a little further into the process and just the starting point. Real study in theory and arranging, in addition to years of careful listening and practice go into working at this craft, and I hope young vocal jazz writers keep appearing, so the music will have fresh voices for many more years.
I've recorded on of your arrangements with my group and would like to obtain a mechanical license from you. How can I do this?
The nature of copyright law is such that you don't come to the arrangement publisher (me, in this common question) seeking a mechanical license. Instead you should first check with the Harry Fox Agency to see if the license is available through them. If the title isn't listed, you'll have to search the ASCAP, BMI and/or SESAC websites to find the publisher's information and start your next inquiries there.