A Madison-based jazz orchestra will perform experimental 1960s arrangements of Christmas classics like Nutcracker Suite or Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in Oregon this week.
The Neophonic Jazz Orchestra is set to play its holiday concert at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13, at the Oregon High School Performing Arts Center, 456 N. Perry Pkwy.
The group, which was founded in 2010, performs in the big band jazz style of the Stan Kenton band from the 1960s. Mellophones, a brass instrument with a similar sound to a French horn, add a range and fuller sound most jazz bands do not include.
Director Joel Kaye arranged the music for the show. He said he wanted to do something holiday themed and was inspired by the Duke Ellington arrangement of the Nutcracker.
Ellington created arrangements specifically for his band, Kaye said, and he wanted to do the same.
“What I’ve done for this Christmas performance, I decided to give myself a task.” he said.
Finding music for the band generally is difficult because commercially published music isn’t available for their style of band. So Kaye has to do much of the arranging himself.
“No one has picked up on doing this,” he said. “It takes a lot of extra work with the extra players and providing music because there’s no music published for this size band, so I write almost all of it myself.”
Neophonic Jazz Orchestra is the only band like it in the world, Kaye said. The orchestra has 25 regular members and includes mellophones, giving it a richer and unique sound like the Stan Kenton band had, Kaye said.
Kaye played in that ensemble, and later in a Stan Kenton alumni band which continued the sound. The alumni band did concerts and clinics around the country.
OHS alumnus Rand Moore was exposed to the style at Stan Kenton clinics in high school. He saw the alumni band perform in Beloit and wanted to make the style more available, so he and Kaye formed the Neophonic Jazz Orchestra, with Moore as the drummer.
Along with the Christmas music, they also have selections from the West Side Story in their repertoire, along with other music. The West Side Story arrangements date back to the Stan Kenton days, winning his orchestra a Grammy for best large group jazz performance in 1962.
They will be performing the selections at concerts around the state in February.
Kaye especially hopes that music students will attend the performances.
“Once every two or three years is not a lot (of chances to see professional musicians), and this is a really professional, well rehearsed orchestra and we’d really love kids to come and hear it and be inspired by it,” he said. “That’s what got me started, when I heard a real live band of players.”