The SFJAZZ Collective has thrived with shifting arrangements. The “house band” of SFJAZZ honors a different significant jazz composer each year creating original arrangements of the artist’s music for the group.
The Collective, which originated in 2004, also has a lineup that has evolved several times over the years. This year the octet brings the music of Miles Davis to the Mondavi Center on Friday, Oct. 14. It features alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón, tenor saxophonist David Sánchez, trumpeter Sean Jones, trombonist Robin Eubanks, pianist Edward Simon, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Obed Calvaire. Wolf and Jones are newest members (2014 and 2015, respectively). Zenón is the last remaining original member of the band; Penman joined in 2005.
Besides creating arrangements of existing music (other composers have included Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Thelonious Monk, Wayne Shorter and Stevie Wonder) each Collective member receives a commission to write an original composition for the band. The rarest aspect of the Collective, though, is that they rehearse for a couple of weeks before going out on the road for tours that often take them around the world.
The New Zealand-born Penman said the time commitment of the Collective is significant, with a worthwhile artistic payoff.
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“For some people it can be daunting to pencil off five or six weeks at a chunk and maybe not see your family,” Penman said from him home in New York. As personnel change, so naturally does the sound and temperament of the group, creating a dynamic that seems to have fueled the group each season.
“I think it’s been interesting and good for the evolution of the band to have so many different voices in there,” Penman said. The Collective has included Joshua Redman, Avishai Cohen, Stefon Harris, Dave Douglas, Renee Rosnes, Joe Lovano and the late Bobby Hutcherson.
“I’ve really genuinely enjoyed every iteration of the band because obviously the musicians are at the highest level,” Penman said. “The different personalities, their own approach to band leading, collaboration and compositional voices. It’s been fascinating to get a chance to work intensely with them.”
This year’s featured composer, Davis, may be the most famous personality the genre has produced, but writing music wasn’t his most important contribution.
“When it comes to his compositions, he doesn’t really have a thick book compared to all the other people we’ve done,” Penman said.
Davis was, however, at the forefront of every major jazz movement – except perhaps free jazz – popularizing or extending innovations often with exceptionally staffed ensembles. Early on Davis mined the great American songbook for material and later there were writers such as Wayne Shorter, Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock in his bands, but he did write some enduring music himself. The Davis compositions the Collective has chosen include “So What,” “All Blues,” “Teo,” “Tutu,” “Bitches Brew” and “Milestones,” which Penman has arranged.
Typically all the new music is brought in during rehearsal and the arrangements are worked out among the group members.
“The sound is something you have to find. It doesn’t necessarilly happen immediately,” Penman said. “When you start playing with new people, you see what it’s going to be. Everyone comes with their tastes and their predilections and hopefully the music is open enough to allow that.”
What: The Music of Miles Davis and Original Compositions
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14
Where: Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center, UC Davis, 1 Shields Ave., Davis
Information: www.mondaviarts.org; 530-754-2787