Focus On Grace ... Concerto for Jazz saxophone and Orchestra

Thomas Oboe Lee

About this work:

Program note.

Maestro Max Hobart called me in the spring of 2009 and told me to check out this young jazz phenom on the saxophone named Grace Kelly. I said OK, that’s cool. That summer we went to the Regatta Bar in Harvard Square to hear her play with her band, and I was duly impressed by her musicality, soulfulness and chops. Max asked if I would be interested in writing a concerto for her and the Wellesley Symphony. I said, “Sure. It sounds like a great idea.”

One of the most cherished jazz records in my vast collection is the collaboration between Stan Getz and Eddie Sauter entitled “Focus.” Eddie, who used to be an arranger for the Benny Goodman Band in the forties, went on to create the Sauter Finegan Band in the early fifties. The band was one of the first to include the piccolo, oboe, bassoon, harp, celesta, French horn, tuba, xylophone, glockenspiel, chimes, timpani, and other unusual “symphonic” instruments in the standard big band format of trumpets, trombones, saxophones and rhythm section of piano, bass and drum set.

On the album “Focus” Eddie Sauter composed seven tracks of music for string orchestra and rhythm section. Stan Getz did not have a written part - he just improvised over the written music. If you are not familiar with this recording, then you will do yourself a huge favor if you go find it and add it to your own CD collection. The music is phenomenal and Stan is on top of his game, soaring above the strings with endless melodic inventions, flights of imagination and whimsy! It is one of those “desert island CDs” one should not be without.

When I emailed Grace about this project and mentioned Stan Getz’s “Focus,” she said, “It’s one of my favorite albums.” So, we got off on a positive note immediately.

My work, “Focus on Grace … Concerto for Jazz Saxophone and Orchestra,” is very much inspired both by the Stan Getz album and by the performances I heard of Grace and her band. The first movement is based on a funk groove in D minor: Grace’s part is initially written-out but she improvises freely in the coda. The second movement is a boss nova: as in the Stan Getz album, Grace does not have a written part but improvises over a set of chord changes provided by the orchestra. The third and last movement is an Afro-Cuban groove in six-eight: Grace has a written melody at first but soon launches into improvisation on a 12-bar blues in F. She ends the concerto in a free cadenza to show off her virtuosity and saxophone chops.


Year composed: 2010
Duration: 00:16:00
Ensemble type: Orchestra:Orchestra with Soloist(s)
Instrumentation: 2 Flute, 2 Oboe, 2 Clarinet, 2 Bassoon, ,1 Alto Saxophone soloist(s), 4 Horn in F, 2 Trumpet, 3 Trombone, 1 Tuba, 1 Percussion (General), 1 Drum Set, 1 Strings (General)
Instrumentation notes: Solo alto sax part includes jazz improvisation on chord changes.

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