Photo courtesy of the artist.
Speaking with saxophonist and composer Remy Le Boeuf always feels like a masterclass. As he talks about his work, he naturally brings in performance ideas, composition techniques, observations on the likes of Bartók, Copland, and Mingus, and lots of praise for his musical peers. Though already a busy performer and educator in New York, Le Boeuf has recently started a new professional chapter as a big band composer and arranger. Through an unlikely series of personal connections, Le Boeuf received his first big band commission in 2015, and since then, has had arrangements and compositions premiered throughout the world, including by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Remy Le Boeuf’s large-ensemble writing has recently coalesced in his “Assembly of Shadows” Orchestra. The upcoming concert at The Jazz Gallery will feature the premiere of the piece by the same name, “Assembly of Shadows,” made possible by a grant from the American Composers Forum with funds provided by the Jerome Foundation. Continue reading below for some insights into Le Boeuf’s process as a saxophonist and big band composer.
The Jazz Gallery: So how did the big band thing start for you?
Remy Le Boeuf: I started writing for big band when I was eighteen, but I began to take it more seriously in 2015 when I got commissioned by Keio University in Japan to write them a piece for a big band competition.
TJG: How did the commission come about if you weren’t writing big band music at the time?
RLB: My friend Franky Rousseau, an excellent big band composer, introduced me to a guy named Jun Umegaki at a party. Jun had been a fan of my music, and worked with this Japanese big band, Keio Light Music Society, comprised of students from Keio University. They have been supportive of a lot of young New York composers, and had worked with Franky, as well as Miho Hazama, Michael Thomas, and plenty more. Keio commissioned me to write a piece that summer for an upcoming competition, and I got to work with the band via email. They would rehearse and send me recordings, and I’d send back notes and make adjustments to the piece. I became more familiar with large-ensemble textures, and learned more about how to write for the instrumentation and for those specific players. They were so motivated to play my music, and I was excited to be working with them. It was contagious. They performed the piece I wrote, “Strata,” at the Yamano Big Band Competition, and won for the first time in decades. It was a huge high for all of them, and it was so exciting for me to be writing music I loved for such enthusiastic musicians.
I had so much fun writing for Keio that I wanted to write more for big band. I applied for other commission opportunities with the recording I got from Keio, and one of those opportunities was the Jerome Fund, awarded by the American Composers Forum through the generosity of the Jerome Foundation. I proposed writing a piece called “Assembly of Shadows,” and I was awarded the commission. I began writing that in 2016, and now, this fall, I’m finishing it. I’m excited to premiere it at The Jazz Gallery, and the ensemble shares the name of the piece, “Assembly of Shadows.”
TJG: So this is the beginning of an exciting new project. You have an ambitious timeline for the next year, and you are in the middle of a fundraising campaign for your first large-ensemble album. Can you tell me about your vision for this project?
RLB: After we premiere “Assembly of Shadows” at The Jazz Gallery next week, I’m going to start planning the recording, which will likely take place in Spring 2019. By that time, I hope to have raised enough money through my fundraising efforts and applications to various organizations to record, and I hope to release the album in Fall 2019 at the earliest. It takes a lot of resources to make a large ensemble album, including paying everyone appropriately for their full days in the studio, renting the space, tuning the piano, getting hard drives, and hourly rates for engineering, mixing, and mastering. But I have all of this music that I’m really excited about, and I’m ready to share it with the world, so I’m doing everything I can to make it happen. In addition to that, I have a sextet album coming out in April, so I’ve got a lot going on this year.