I grew up as a classical player, and I still warm up on J.S. Bach's two-part inventions, preludes and fugues. It wasn't until college, when I heard Oscar Peterson's "Tristeza on Piano," that I fell hard for jazz.   I've written for big band for three decades, starting in the 1980s on the road with monster drummer Buddy Rich. But only recently did I turn to adapting my classical-jazz experiments to this high-octane medium. With "BACHanalia" - the title of this album and the name of the band - I've been able to bring jazz and improvisational elements to classical works I love. It's let me participate, in a way, in pieces I'd found daunting to play as a soloist.  - Bill Cunliffe

J.S. Bach's "The Goldberg Variations," which as recorded by Glenn Gould, has been a source of wonder and intimidation for me. A few years ago, Rob Watson, a colleague of mine on the Cal State Fullerton music faculty, suggested I contribute something to his Bach festival.  Bingo!  The Goldberg sounded like a great idea for a big band. My version became "Goldberg Contraption," a nod to cartoonist Rube Goldberg's fantastically complicated machines.  Here it's a fine vehicle for trombonist Bob McChesney, a spectacular soloist.

When I heard the first movement of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto in college, I really went nuts.  The melodies were so evocative, the harmonies rich and complex, like a lot of jazz I like. And the thing had such a rhythmic engine going that could translate into jazz; The up-tempo samba groove felt right for this.  I've loved Rob Lockart's playing ever since we studied at Eastman together.  I think he's an unsung hero of the tenor saxophone, and in the few times we performed the piece before recording it, his solos were among my favorite parts. 

I recently wrote a couple of things for the great trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who at 89 was still playing up a storm.  For a performance with one of my student bands, he'd suggested Manuel de Falla's music for the ballet 'The Three-Cornered Hat." It worked so well that I revisited my original lineup for this album, going back into the studio to add the Falla, and while I was at it, C.P.E. Bach's Solfeggietto, in a Bud Powell-inspired arrangement.  The Falla turned out to be a nice showcase for trombonist Ido Meshulam, trumpeter Jon Papenbrook and tenor saxophonist Jeff Ellwood.

Denise Donatelli's worless vocals add lovely colors to J.S. Bach's "Sleepers Wake" as well as "The Three-Cornered Hat" and "Solfeggietto." She's also featured in Cole Portor's "I've Got You Under My Skin," one of the three nonclassical charts sprinkled throughout this album. Terell Stafford has been one of my favorite trumpet players since I taught with him at Temple University and played in his band, so I brought him in for our live recording sessions at Vitello's restaurant.  His distinctive ballad sound is the highlight of Oscar Levant's dark places.  And the wonderful saxophonist Bob Sheppard is featured on "Afluencia," a medium-tempo 6/8 tune I had written and recorded years ago, also with him in my Latin band, Imaginación. 

I have to mention the wonderful artistry of drummer Joe La Barbera, who played so brilliantly on everything you're hearing here. It's hard for me to imagine this project without him. 

Personnel: Bill Cunliffe: leader, composer, arranger, piano, background vocal (7); Wayne Bergeron: trumpet (2, 3); John Daversa: trumpet (5); Dan Fornero: trumpet (5); Jamie Hovorka: trumpet (1, 6, 8); Kyle Martinez: trumpet (7); Kye Palmer: trumpet (1-3, 5-8); Jon Papenbrook: trumpet (1, 6-8); Terell Stafford: trumpet (2, 3, 5); Bob Summers: trumpet (1-3, 5-8); Jeff Driskill: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute (5); Nathan King: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute (7); Brian Scanlon: alto, soprano sax, clarinet, flute (1-3, 5, 6, 8); Bob Sheppard: (1-3, 6-8); Jeff Ellwood: tenor sax, clarinet, flute (1-3, 5-8); Rob Lockart: tenor sax, clarinet, flute (1-3, 5-8); Tom Peterson: baritone sax, bass clarinet (7); Adam Schroeder: baritone sax, bass clarinet (1-3, 5, 6-8); John Chiodini: guitar (7); Larry Koonse: guitar (1-3, 5, 6-8); Alex Frank: bass (4, 7); Jonathan Richards: bass (1-3, 5, 6, 8); Joe La Barbera: drums; Denise Donatelli: vocals (1, 4, 7, 8).

Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Metre Records

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