Apr 9, 2018
The genesis of musical composition comes from so many sources and muses, books have been written on the topic. For Toronto native Andrew Rathbun, a talented saxophonist, composer and educator, that source has routinely been poetry. In 1998, his recording Jade set to music the verse of Cathy Song, while his 2000 follow-up True Stories focused on the work of fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood.
The Atwood Suites returns to the poetry of Ms. Atwood, but with the music written and performed by the Andrew Rathbun Large Ensemble. The challenges of writing for a big band have been met with a great sense of grounding and flourish. Not only does the music sweep and soar in many passages, but the inclusion of top soloists like trumpet player Tim Hagans, guitarist Nate Radley and drummer Bill Stewart guarantees that the feeling of jazz is never glossed over. Add to this 20+ group of musicians the noted singer Luciana Souza, who with Aubrey Johnson lends vocals to some of the two suites that make up the first of two CDs, most notably the three movements that make up “Two Islands.”
Rathbun does not limit himself to writing and directing projects like The Atwood Suites. He plays sax in any number of groups, performing across the Midwest, with too infrequent visits to New York. As Professor of Saxophone and Jazz Studies at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Rathbun has the opportunity to work with his students and share his gifts as performer and composer.
Podcast 619 is my conversation with Andrew, coming after two feverish days of teaching in anticipation of a brief trip to South America. We discussed the ideas for The Atwood Suites, his experiences working with Ms. Souza and the late Kenny Wheeler on other projects, and his take on jazz education in the Midwest. Musical selections include “V” and “Two Islands II”, the latter of which features Luciana Souza’s vocals.