Rochester, NY — Jazz legend Marian McPartland has been a frequent performer at the Eastman School of Music for 35 years, ever since Rayburn Wright invited her to headline his annual Arranger’s Holiday concert in 1971.
“Everyone admired and respected him greatly,” says the legendary jazz pianist and host of NPR’s Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz. “He was extremely talented, and I learned a lot from him.”
“Ray” Wright is credited with starting and shaping Eastman’s now world-renowned jazz program in 1970, at a time when there were very few — if any — established jazz programs in university settings.
Although Wright graduated from Eastman (BM ’43) as a classical trombone player, he made a name for himself in New York City as a big band and studio orchestra arranger, primarily for Radio City Music Hall.
In the late 1950’s, Eastman invited Wright to start a summer workshop for arrangers — the first time a jazz class had ever been officially offered at the School. The summertime Arranger’s Workshops became eagerly anticipated annual events, eventually growing into Arranger’s Holidays. By the late ‘60s and early 70’s, their popular closing concerts featured big-name performers like Duke Ellington, Dave Brubeck, Carmen McRae, Mel Tormé and Marian McPartland.
With Wright’s unprecedented emphasis on providing students with writing and arranging experience, Eastman School of Music became the place for bandleaders, artists, and television and film producers to contact for fresh material.
“I would call Ray whenever I needed someone to write something for me,” Ms. McPartland remembers. “He would recommend some outstanding students.” Maria Schneider, Jeff Tyzik, Dave Rivello, Fred Sturm and Jeff Beal were just some of his standouts. Wright himself penned an arrangement for McPartland of From This Moment On.
After Wright died in 1990, Ms. McPartland was instrumental in the creation of a scholarship fund in his name. All proceeds from her upcoming concert will go to the Rayburn Wright Jazz Recognition Fund, established to promote and encourage jazz performance and development within the Eastman Community.
Marian McPartland Celebrates Rayburn Wright takes place Wednesday, February 1 at 8 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall. The program will include two-piano performances by Ms. McPartland with Ellen Rowe (former Wright student), Tony Caramia, Bill Dobbins and Harold Danko, as well as trio numbers with Jeff Campbell and Rich Thompson. McPartland, Campbell and Thompson will also play with the Eastman Jazz Ensemble, performing Wright’s arrangements of Perdido and From This Moment On, as well as McPartland’s Ambiance.
Tickets are $35, $27 and $20, with discounts for U/R ID holders. Gold Circle tickets are $75, and include prime seating and a limited-edition live CD of the concert. Tickets are available in person at the RPO Box Office (108 East Ave.), by phone at 585-454-2100, online at www.esm.rochester.edu/concerts, and at all area Wegmans Video Departments.