Richards teams up with Rob Parton Big Band

(From left) Eric Richards, assistant professor of composition and jazz studies, and Rob Parton, leader of the Rob Parton Big Band.
(From left) Eric Richards, assistant professor of composition and jazz studies, and Rob Parton, leader of the Rob Parton Big Band.

An online collaboration ended with a standing ovation for Eric Richards.

The assistant professor of composition and jazz studies premiered a three-movement concert work in December during the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. The composition was created after a request from the leader of the Rob Parton Big Band, a 19-piece jazz ensemble.

"They are a professional jazz orchestra of amazing musicians who have played with some of the biggest names in entertainment," said Richards. "They were selected to perform at the clinic. They had been playing some of my music in jazz venues around Chicago, and they asked me to compose a concert work for them to perform at the clinic."

Richards immediately set on compositions that featured Parton's expertise on the trumpet. He developed a few ideas, but failed to settle on a theme to tie the music together. Enter Jazz Ensemble 2 trumpet player David Stephens.

"I was talking about the composition and David suggested that I try to capture each movement with trumpet bells made of different materials," Richards said. "The material has a great effect on the overall tone and color of the sound."

The idea tied the composition into one cohesive unit - with Parton playing on instruments of gold, copper and silver. The first and third movements featured Parton on the trumpet. In the middle he played the flugelhorn.

Prior to the performance, Richards worked sparingly with Parton and his ensemble. Most of their interactions were online, with only a short face-to-face practice time during sound check before the performance.

The composition, "Fantasy for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra," was the final performance of the night. As he stepped to the stage to conduct, Richards became a bit nervous.

"I knew they could play and I knew I could conduct, but I was worried about us not being used to each other," said Richards. "But they watched me. They knew the music. And we worked really well with each other.

"It was exhilarating. They hit it out of the park and got a standing ovation. It was an amazing collaboration."

The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic is one of the largest music conferences worldwide, drawing more than 15,000 delegates.

While he has moved on to creating other compositions, Richards is working to premiere "Fantasy for Trumpet and Jazz Orchestra" in Nebraska. The piece is available for download online at The rough, live concert mix was recorded by the Mark Custom Recording Service.

- Troy Fedderson, University Communications

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