Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Leo Nestor, BA 1974, will compose and conduct for Pope Francis and received the 2015 faculty award for scholarly achievements in the creative arts at Catholic University of America

Leo Nestor, [California State University, East Bay: B.A. Music, 1974] Justine Bayard Ward Professor; Director of Choral Studies; Director, Institute of Sacred Music; Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America received the 2015 faculty award for scholarly achievements in the creative arts.

Prof. Nestor is a member of the conducting faculty and cooperating member of the composition faculty.  He conducts the CUA Chamber Choir and University Singers and guides the formation of graduate students in choral music and musica sacra.  On 23 September, Pope Francis will preside at the Mass of Canonization of Blessed Junípero Serra at which Nestor will conduct the CUA Chamber Choir and CUA Symphony Orchestra.  Nestor has been commissioned to compose music for the Mass, the fourth time such an honor has been accorded to him for the visit of a pontiff to the United States.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Doug Beavers (BA 2000) "Titanes del Trombón" at San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

"Titanes del Trombón" plays San Jose Jazz Fest  8/7

Doug Beavers "Titanes del Trombón" at San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Feat. Frankie Vazquez, Luisito Quintero, Luques Curtis, Wayne Wallace & more

What the critics are saying about the show:

Downbeat Magazine

"Palmieri, Beavers,Tower of Power to Headline San Jose Jazz Festival" (read more)
-Ted Panken

San Jose Jazz Summer Fest: don't miss these 12 acts

“Doug Beavers Titanes del Trombon: Dividing his time between New York City and the Bay Area, trombonist/arranger Doug Beavers is celebrating the release of "Titanes del Trombon," his inviting new album that showcases the legacy of his horn in jazz and Latin music with a Pan-American array of rhythms..." (read more)
-Andrew Gilbert Correspondent

Friday, August 7th, 9p
Miami Beach Club, Salsa Stage
4175 S. 1st. St
San Jose, CA 
Get Tickets

A big thank you again to all of you fine folks who supported the Artistshare® campaign to make Titanes del Trombónhappen!  The record is out and blazing up the airwaves, charting at #2 in Cali Colombia and appearing on the Salsa Brazil list!

3 Ways to get "Titanes":

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

On Pins and Needles: A Visit with A.C.T.’s Costume Director Jessie Amoroso, CSUEB School of Arts and Media Alum BA '94

On Pins and Needles: A Visit with A.C.T.’s Costume Director Jessie Amoroso

Jessie Amoroso, A.C.T.  Costume Director. (Photo via K.M. Soehnlein)
“Everyone’s running on fumes,” says Jessie Amoroso, American Conservatory Theater's (A.C.T.) costume director, during previews for Love and Information, the first play to premiere at the brand-new Strand Theater.
You may have spotted this recently unveiled building, with its bright scarlet exterior, high glass windows, and flashing Jumbotron, giving a burst of color to a concrete-gray stretch of Market Street near 7th.
It’s not every day, or every decade, that San Francisco gains a new venue for world-class theater, which makes the launching of the Strand a major cultural event for the city—and a stressful whirlwind for A.C.T. Though it’s the company's smaller second home, just a third the size of the Geary Theater, the Strand will open with a big bang.
Love and Information, from acclaimed playwright Caryl Churchill, is a fast-twisting kaleidoscope of 150 characters over 57 scenes, each flashing a momentary view of modern life. On the page, Churchill (A Number, Top Girls) experimentally provides only scraps of conversation, with little indication of who’s speaking, what they’re doing, or where they’re located. A.C.T. chose to set this production in SF, “to tell the story of our home, as we see and experience it,” says Amoroso, the play’s costume designer.
Springboarding off the idea that “the audience might see a glimpse of themselves on stage,” Amoroso studied the shoppers, tourists, tech workers, and street people passing by the Strand during construction. “I spent many days just shooting the locals with my iPhone,” he says. Some of the show’s 150 costumes only appear for a few seconds; all of them had to be designed for maximum impact, so the audience could quickly read each character.
Amoroso’s interest in clothing began with his grandmother, his first sewing mentor, and continued at Cal State Hayward, where he studied theater. Being a costume designer requires both artistic vision and pins-and-needles technique. As fewer people sew at home and fabric stores shut down (SF once had 20; there are now just four), a prolific costume shop like A.C.T.’s often has to look far and wide to find fabric and specialty items to build costumes. Amoroso notes how the field of costume design is changing: “There’s a lot more graphic design, printing your own fabric, getting things made online, using email and digital Dropbox. But a lot of it’s just old-fashioned 19th Century sewing techniques in a 21st Century medium.”
Creating a complicated production in a brand new theater with a new staff should leave Amoroso tearing his hair out, but he cheerfully claims tech week (the run of performances leading to opening night, during which every technical detail—lighting, sound, props—is fine-tuned) is his favorite part of the process: “Once the costume is inhabited by the actors, you really see what it can do. You’re flying by the seat of your pants to get things just right, which might mean dying or distressing fabrics, getting new accessories, or cutting a costume all together because it just doesn’t work on stage.” With so many moving parts, the goal “is not to hold too dearly your ideas.” He observes, perhaps with a touch of understatement, “Sometimes the dream you start with is not the dream you finish with.”
The dream of the Strand Theater, in the works since A.C.T. purchased this former movie theater—which from 1917 to 2003 showed everything from silent films and Hollywood premieres to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and even porn—is now a reality. Amoroso and his costume department will make changes right through the final preview. Opening night is Thursday, June 17. After that, the designers can refuel their tanks, while local audiences see this vision of modern San Francisco for themselves.
K.M. Soehnlein is a novelist (You Can Say You Knew Me When, Robin and Ruby). His most recent piece for 7x7 was a profile of film producer Brian Grazer.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

CSUEB Alumna Ayn Inserto honors her late, great mentor in a new piece

Ayn Inserto honors her late, great mentor in a new piece

It’s not uncommon for an artist to attend a school in pursuit of a specific mentor. For the composer Ayn Inserto, that school was New England Conservatory, the mentor, Bob Brookmeyer. Inserto had solid training behind her already — at Cal State Hayward, not far from her family’s East Bay home, with the esteemed trombonist, bandleader, and educator Dave Eshelman. But she wanted to take her work to the next level, and for jazz composition, Brookmeyer — whose students have included Maria Schneider, John Hollenbeck, and Darcy James Argue — was the man.
Inserto was first drawn to Brookmeyer when, as a pianist in a big band during her freshman year, she played his “Ding Dong Ding.” She was drawn to his music’s linear drive, that it was completely modern, and yet swinging. “Also, at the time,” she says, “he was one of the few greats that was actually teaching at a graduate program. The opportunity was surreal.”
When the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra crams into the tiny Lily Pad in Cambridge on Monday night, the show will probably include work from Inserto’s latest CD, “Home Away From Home: Colours Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto,” recorded in 2013 with the Italian band of the title. But the centerpiece will be the Boston premiere of “Ze Teach and Me,” dedicated to Brookmeyer. “The first movement is about Bob, and the second movement is me,” says Inserto. “Ze Teach,” she explains, was Brookmeyer’s sign-off in e-mails.
Inserto, now a professor of composition at Berklee, studied with Brookmeyer as she was earning her master’s degree at NEC in 1999-2001. She continued studying with him informally until his death in 2011. Her 2006 debut CD, “Clairvoyance,” featured Brookmeyer as a trombone soloist.
Inserto had applied to NEC as a piano performance major. But Allan Chase, then the conservatory’s chair of jazz studies and now himself at Berklee, heard her lead a performance of one of her original compositions at an International Association of Jazz Educators conference in Anaheim, Calif. Recalls Chase: “I said, Wow! OK!”

What Chase heard that day wasn’t “the standard textbook of how to arrange for a big band, but an original composition, with personality, originality, and ideas. It had a lot of spark.” As an undergraduate, Inserto was already skillfully deploying modern harmonies most young composers struggle with in graduate school. Chase, now a member of Inserto’s band, concluded that she “was a strong pianist, but an amazing composer.”
Inserto’s “spark” is fully evident on “Home Away From Home”: the ecstatic, helter-skelter breaks for drums and horns and the weave of simultaneous trumpet and soprano sax solos on opener “You’re Leaving? But I Just Got Here”; the melancholy tone-poem harmonies of “Wintry Mix”; an evocative deconstruction of the Joe Henderson classic “Recorda Me”; the playful funk of “Hang Around”; the lovely melody and languid waltz rhythm of “La Danza Infinita.”
Inserto steers away from conventional jazz arrangements in which a series of soloists improvise over the same short tune. Instead, a soloist improvises over a continually unfolding narrative.
The idea that an improvised solo should serve the piece as a whole was central to Brookmeyer’s teaching. “He really didn’t want you to just stick a solo in there,” says Inserto. “The soloist is there to take us to the next part of the piece. Bob would ask, ‘You put a soloist here, what’s the purpose? What are you going to give the soloist to help him or her relate to the tune?’ ”
Chase gives a hint of what makes Inserto’s pieces appealing for players and listeners alike: “They’re hard, but nottoo hard.” Rhythms and note patterns, he says, “lay well” on the instruments, but they’re never predictable. “I’m by far the oldest member of the band,” says Chase, 59. “And I’m totally on the edge of my seat playing the music. It’s like flying an airplane into the Grand Canyon: You can do this, but don’t make a wrong turn.”
Inserto laughs as she says that she likes to “end with something simple — we put the band through enough torture.” Thus the salsa romp “Subo” that ends “Home Away From Home.” She also likes to cook, so there’s always food at Inserto rehearsals.
Inserto prefers a bit more dissonance in her work than Brookmeyer did in his pieces, but she wants her music to be accessible too. Brookmeyer, she says, always counseled: “You need to take your ear off and put it on the piano,” and hear the piece with the objectivity of an audience. These days she sees herself drawing more, in pieces like “Hang Around,” on the hip-hop, funk, and pop she grew up with. Brookmeyer, she says, “is always in my head, nagging me, but I also feel like I can trust myself more.”
Bonus tracks
A couple of provocative duo performances are on tap this week at the Lily Pad (617-955-7729, On Friday night, composer and saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock and her husband, drummer Tom Rainey, celebrate the release of their free-improv set “And Other Desert Towns.” Then on Tuesday, singer Kristin Slipp and trumpeter Joe Moffett, as Twins of El Dorado, open for solo baritone saxophone-and-synthesizer man Jonah Parzen-Johnson. . . . Latter-day bluesy chanteuse Madeleine Peyroux plays Berklee Performance Center on Sunday (617-266-7455, . . . On Wednesday, trumpeter Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra celebrates the release of its new “Hot Town” CD with reimaginings of pre-swing jazz from the likes of Fess Williams (and his Royal Flush Orchestra), Charlie Johnson, and Tiny Parham, as part of the MFA’s summer series in the Calderwood Courtyard (800-440-6975, . . . On July 26, singer Nnenna Freelon headlines the second annual Cambridge Jazz Festival on a bill that also includes drummer Ron Savage and his trio, pianist JoAnne Brackeen, percussionist-bandleader Eguie Castrillo, pianist Laszlo Gardony, and the Tóth Brothers. That’s at University Park Commons, Sydney Street, on the MIT campus, noon to 6 p.m., and it’s free (617-945-8052,
At: Lily Pad, Cambridge,
Monday at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $10; 617-955-7729,
Jon Garelick can be reached at