Unrestricted by the parameters of rigid composition and structure, jazz, in a sense, has set itself apart from its musical siblings. Its inherent freedom and widespread accessibility has attracted a diverse following, ranging from avid listeners to those simply looking for something good on the radio.
“You don’t have to be an expert, you don’t have to come at [jazz] with any intellectual fervor,” says Emily Tabin, executive director of the Westchester Jazz Orchestra. “You just have to have ears, and enjoy it.”
Throughout the past eight years, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra has served as a volume for this sense of musical spontaneity and natural ability to satisfy a universal audience. With its gradual rise to national recognition, the orchestra has solidified itself as one of the premier music groups in New York State.
Founded by the necessity to bring together the best area jazz musicians, the 16-instrument ensemble first assembled in 2003. Tabin, whose initial career path included advertising and litigation, was compelled to follow her truest passion after her final child entered kindergarten.
“All the threads of my creative and intellectual life at that point came together and I was not sorry to give up the more regular day job,” Tabin says. “I’ve always been very interested in music, so along with two other cofounders, we decided to create a band of Westchester with the best of Westchester.”
Since its first performance back in October 2003, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra has played numerous concerts and released two critically acclaimed albums. Jazz Improv Magazine regarded the orchestra’s debut CD, “All In,” as one of the best jazz albums of 2007.
“Our first CD is what really put us on the national radar,” Tabin says. “We kind of came from nowhere and it reached fourth in national radio airplay and got extraordinary reviews.”
The Westchester Jazz Orchestra’s second album “Maiden Voyage Suite” has hardly suffered from the dreaded sophomore slump. Just one month after its release, the CD has reached eighth in national radio airplay for new jazz releases and has received excellent reviews from publications like The New York Times, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Step Temptest.
Inspired by the sweet, oceanic tunes of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage,” the orchestra’s latest album features all five tracks from the original 1965 release. With the addition of a prologue, interlude and epilogue, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra has created its own, distinctive dimension to Hancock’s work while honoring the artist’s original intentions.
“It’s woven together to keep Hancock’s theme of the sea,” Tabin says. “His original CD was meant for five instruments—our orchestra has 16, so obviously there’s more texture and harmonic development in what we’ve created.”
On Sept. 24, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra will showcase two of the album’s songs, “Dolphin Dance” and “Maiden Voyage,” during the premiere of its 2011—2012 concert series at Irvington Town Hall Theater. At 7:15 p.m., artistic director Mike Holober will be hosting an interactive chat with Grammy-winning saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano, which is of no extra cost to ticketholders.
“I’ve been looking forward to collaborating with the Westchester Jazz Orchestra for some time,” Lovano says. “It’s one of the hippest bands on the New York scene, always looking into tomorrow.”
As the orchestra heads into tomorrow, it finds it roots expanding outside of the county, reaching more and more audiences in the tri-state area. With its music going wherever the beat of the breeze takes it, the Westchester Jazz Orchestra will always have one thing to fall back on—the simple ease of the music.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and certainly over time that’s become more an more true,” Tabin says. “We’ve taken people who had individual careers and successful careers with other groups and made a nationally renowned, respected musical group.”