Finding Aids Home

Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections
Sibley Music Library
Eastman School of Music
University of Rochester

Prepared by Mathew T. Colbert
Summer 2007 – Fall 2008







Location: C3A 15,1 – 16,6
Extent: 34 linear feet

Biographical Sketch

Rayburn Wright (b. August 27, 1922, Alma, Michigan; d. March 21, 1990, Rochester, New York) led a multifaceted, fully realized musical career in which he excelled as a composer, arranger, conductor, educator, performer and author. After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in trombone performance from the Eastman School of Music in 1943, he enlisted in the United States Army where he served as a trombonist and arranger in the U. S. Army Band until 1945. Following his release from the Army, he served as a trombonist and arranger in the Tony Pastor Orchestra as well with the Glenn Miller/Tex Beneke Orchestra; arrangement responsibilities were divided between Wright and Henry Mancini in the latter group. Wright took additional coursework at the Julliard School of Music and received his Master of Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in 1950. Wright’s teachers included: Henry Brant and Otto Leuning in composition; Burrill Phillips and Bernard Rogers in orchestration; and Vladimir Bakaleinikoff, Paul White, Herman Genhart, Fritz Mahler and Emmanuel Balaban in conducting.

Wright joined the staff of New York’s Radio City Music Hall (RCMH) as an arranger and associate conductor in late 1950. In 1956 he became chief arranger at the music hall, and in 1965 he was named, along with Will Irwin, co-director of music and chief conductor of the RCMH Orchestra. He also made appearances as a guest conductor with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra.

Wright’s professional involvement with the Eastman School of Music began in 1959 when he was appointed to direct the Arranger’s Workshop and Arranger’s Laboratory Institute held each year during the summer sessions. In 1970 Wright was appointed Professor of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media (JSCM) at the Eastman School of Music. Wright, along with Bill Dobbins, played a vital role in expanding the curriculum of the burgeoning JSCM program. He founded the Eastman Studio Orchestra (ESO) in 1970 and assumed the role of director of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble (EJE) when Chuck Mangione resigned from Eastman in 1972; the EJE had been a student-run organization prior to Mangione’s appointment to the faculty. The ESO, which as of the fall of 2008 is still active, combines the personnel of the Eastman Jazz Ensemble (EJE) and Eastman’s two symphony orchestras to perform repertoire that incorporates jazz, classical music, music for film, contemporary pop, and world music. Notable guest artists that performed with the EJE and ESO under Wright’s direction include: Michael Brecker, Thad Jones, Wynton Marsalis, Oliver Nelson, and Clark Terry, among others. Wright and the EJE released four commercial recordings on the Mark Records label and were invited to play the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland.

Wright was a prolific composer of music for television and film. His scores for the television documentary series The Saga of Western Man were twice nominated for the Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He also composed music for television documentaries such as: The Blue and Red Danube, Kitty Hawk to Paris, Soviet Woman and others. His arrangements and compositions have appeared on recordings released by RCA Victor, Columbia, Capitol, Mercury and Vox.

Wright also authored two books: Inside the Score (Kendor, 1982), a treatise on musical arrangement, and On the Track (Schirmer, 1990), a guide to film scoring co-written with former student Fred Karlin.

To honor Wright’s achievements and contributions to the Eastman musical community, the Eastman School of Music established the Rayburn Wright Award, which recognizes Eastman faculty who make significant contributions to the intellectual, artistic and curricular welfare of the school, and the Rayburn Wright Jazz Recognition Fund, which serves to promote and encourage jazz performance and development within the Eastman community.


The Rayburn Wright Collection was discovered by the Eastman School of Music’s Ensembles Coordinator, Katharine Zager, in a storage area in the Eastman School of Music Ensembles Library during the 2007-8 school year. The agency through which Wright’s collection arrived at the Ensembles Library is unknown. Following their discovery, the materials were divided between the Ruth T. Watanabe Special Collections Department (RTWSC) and the Ensembles Library. The Ensembles Library has retained a number of Wright’s arrangements.

Scope and content

The materials that comprise the Rayburn Wright Collection are drawn mostly from Wright’s years on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music’s JSCM department. Materials retained from his years as a student at the Eastman School of Music and at Columbia University, as a member of the United States Army Band and as an assistant conductor and arranger at RCMH in New York City are included as well. Altogether, the Rayburn Wright Collection contains: music by Wright and by other composers and arrangers in manuscript and in published form; correspondence; photographs; literary manuscripts; press clippings; books; sound recordings; and ephemera.

Restrictions on use

There are no restrictions on the use of the materials of the Rayburn Wright Collection; reproduction of the contents will, however, be provided to patrons only in accordance with the provisions of the United States Copyright Law.


The Rayburn Wright Collection is one of a growing body of collections documenting the expansion of jazz education and performance at the Eastman School of Music. As of the fall of 2008, it is the first collection of a faculty member from the JSCM program to be deposited in the RTWSC. Other collections that support jazz education held at the Sibley Music Library include: The Ron Carter Audio Archive and Collection, the Marian McPartland Collection and the Beatrice McMullen Collection. A significant number of recordings of performances by ensembles conducted by Rayburn Wright are present in the Sibley Music Library’s Recordings and Reserves Department as well as the Eastman Audio Archive.


Series 1:  Scores

This series is comprised of: a number of Wright’s manuscripts for his original compositions and arrangements, compositions and arrangements by other composers and arrangers in manuscript and published form, presentation copies given to Wright by former students and colleagues, study scores and works with no composer or arranger attribution. The scores were received by the Sibley Music Library in no discernable order and have been arranged alphabetically by title in each sub-series. A number of items were extracted from the alphabetical sequence of sub-series c and are now housed separately in an oversize storage box. A number of the published scores in sub-series 3, sub-sub-series 1 have been truncated and condensed, presumably for productions put on by RCMH in New York City. According to John Dosso, former music librarian at RCMH, it was standard practice for arrangers at RCMH to “tab”, or truncate and condense, published scores to accommodate the time restrictions for productions (Francisco, 1979, pg. 79).

Sub-series a:    Original compositions

Sub-series b:   Arrangements

Sub-series c:    Works by other composers and arrangers

Sub-sub-series 1:    Performance materials

Sub-sub-series 2:    Presentation copies

Sub-sub-series 3:    Study scores

Sub-series d:   MS with no attribution

Series 2:          Papers

This series is comprised of Wright’s working papers. The documents are divided into three sub-series, namely: professional papers, academic papers and personal papers. The academic papers are further subdivided into papers created for pedagogical purposes and papers generated by Wright as a student. The papers were received by the Sibley Music Library grouped in envelopes containing mixed formats, a number of which are organized under Wright’s own headings. These headings have been preserved in the folder titles. The documents have been arranged alphabetically by whichever of the following was used to identify the document(s): Wright’s original headings, document title, general theme or authors’ last names.

Sub-series a:    Professional papers

Sub-series b:   Academic papers

Sub-sub-series 1:    Pedagogical materials

Sub-sub-series 2:    Student materials

Sub-series c:    Personal papers

Series 3:          Library

This series contains a portion of Wright’s collection of books. The majority of titles deal with matters of musical composition and arrangement, orchestration, conducting, jazz studies, music history and music for film and television. The books are arranged alphabetically by author. In instances where author attribution is lacking, the title is used to file the work in the alphabetical sequence.

Series 4:          Recordings

This series contains a portion of Wright’s collection of audio recordings. Reel-to-reel tape is the predominant format, although cassette tapes are included as well.  Each format has been assigned to its own sub-series. Within each sub-series, the recordings are arranged alphabetically by ensemble names, artists’ last names. In instances where the recording bears no ensemble or artist name, the title or heading assigned by the creator is used to file the work in the alphabetical sequence. In some instances the housings for some recordings… In addition to these holdings, nearly nine hundred commercial recordings in LP format previously owned by Wright were transferred to general acquisitions of the Sibley Music Library.

Sub-series a:    10 ½” Reels

Sub-series b:   5” Reels

Sub-series c:    7” Reels

Sub-series d:   Cassettes

Sub-series e:    45 RPM EPs

Sub-series f:    33 1/3 RPM EPs


Francisco, C. The Radio City Music Hall: An Affectionate History of the World’s Greatest Theater. New York: Dutton, 1979.