The BMI Jazz Composers Workshop is a regular meeting of emerging and/or developing jazz composers. The focus of the workshop’s activity is “big band” (“jazz orchestra”/”large jazz ensemble”) composition. The purpose of the workshop is twofold: to foster the musical growth of the individual composers, and to create a body of work that helps to extend the language of composition for the jazz orchestra. The workshop enables composers to come together in order to share ideas and to learn from one another. There is no fee for participation. Membership in BMI, while encouraged, is not a prerequisite. Members must be at least 18 years old.
The workshop was founded in 1988 by acclaimed composer/trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, composer/educator Manny Albam and author and jazz authority Burt Korall. Currently, the workshop is led by composers/educators Jim McNeely, Musical Director, and Mike Holober, Associate Musical Director. They understand the current state of jazz composition and have a strong sense of what can be accomplished through such an undertaking.
The BMI Jazz Composers Workshop stresses exploration, ranging from the traditional to the new. The primary emphasis is placed on individuals and their ideas, along with the acquisition and understanding of techniques that make possible the execution of thoughts and the development of personal language within the big band setting.
Jim McNeely notes: “We seek in the workshop to create a structured environment — freedom with discipline — in which writers can more easily express themselves, a context in which they can get away from the constriction of commercial writing assignments. It is our intention that the jazz composer examines the past, write in the present, aim for the future.”
Mike Holober added, “The workshop is the perfect setting for rapid growth in expanding your jazz orchestra craft and palette. With the support and interaction of fellow writers, and the motivation of being part of community of your peers, the climate is ideal to discover new things about composing and about yourself as a composer. The opportunity to hear your work read by the BMI Jazz Composers Orchestra is a priceless tool in this process.”
The workshop meets on Tuesdays from September through May in BMI’s New York office and is divided into two sections: Intermediate and Advanced. Each group has between one to three meetings per month, and regular attendance is expected. The classes comprise professionals, according to degree of proficiency, experience and development. If growth is rapid, a member of the Intermediate class may be moved into the Advanced group.
Members also have the opportunity to hear their work played in monthly reading sessions with the BMI/New York Jazz Orchestra, a 17-piece jazz ensemble. The BMI/NYJO performs at the BMI Summer Showcase Concert, which features a number of works developed in the workshop. Included in the summer concert program are the pieces that have been designated as finalists in the BMI/Charlie Parker composition competition. The winning composer receives the Manny Albam Commission to compose a new work for the following year’s concert. Previous winners have included Rufus Reid, Jamie Begian, Noriko Ueda, Darcy J. Argue, Sherisse Rogers, Asuka Kakitani, Jeff Fairbanks, and Sara Jacovino.