Jazz aficionados around the world are mourning the death yesterday of composer, pianist, and bandleader Dave Brubeck. Just this fall, the Colgate University Orchestra joined the plethora of artists who have covered Brubeck’s work when the brass and percussion sections opened the October concert with the world premiere of a new arrangement of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”
The orchestra, conducted by Marietta Cheng, commissioned the arrangement from Dave Unland, teacher of low brass and tuba player in the orchestra for 33 years. With its lilting, punchy odd time signature and staccato melody, the tune was an inspired addition to a program that also included selections from Aaron Copland’s ballet Rodeo, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (Steven Heyman, piano), Eight Russian Folk Songs by Anatoly Liadov, and Borodin’s Symphony No. 2 in B minor.
“ ‘Blue Rondo’ has always been one of my favorite ‘cool’ jazz tunes — it is very catchy and stays with you after hearing or playing it,” said Unland, who had shared the stage with Brubeck and his sons in a concert of orchestral arrangements of Brubeck’s music back in the 1970s. “I love combining jazz and classical music, as well as rock and classical arrangement. All too often, players of one genre are unwilling, or unable, to cross the aisle and become involved with other types of music. I have a much-more universal approach.”
The brass-percussion arrangement wasn’t Unland’s first for “Blue Rondo” — years ago he arranged it for an eight-voice low brass ensemble plus drum set. “It worked really well and folks liked it, so, when I decided to use the tune for Colgate, I resurrected the old arrangement, revoicing and streamlining it to fit an orchestral brass section.”
The tune’s origin has an international flair. As Brubeck told it, he had heard an unusual rhythm performed by Turkish musicians on the street while on tour. Upon asking the musicians where they got the rhythm, one replied “This rhythm is to us what the blues is to you.”
And now Unland is taking “Blue Rondo” to a new region. He said that members of the San Jose Symphony in Costa Rica have expressed interest in trying the arrangement he did for Colgate when he visits there in the spring, and another version, for trumpet, bassoon, and tuba, will be performed there as well.
Unland, who has also taught at Ithaca College, has performed with the St. Louis Symphony, Philharmonic Orchestra, Joffrey Ballet Orchestra, Ringling Brothers Circus, Six Flags, and Disney on Parade, among other ensembles. Also a clinician, recitalist, and recording artist, he has also been a contributor to Woodwind, Brass and Percussion. He retired from both Colgate and Ithaca this fall.
You can watch the Colgate performance at livestream.com/colgateuniversity, where both of the orchestra’s fall concerts are archived.