West Michigan Jazz Society "Jazz Notes" May 2020
Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization formed in 2018 by Dr. Jordan VanHemert (an Associate Professor of Music at Hope College) and Jake Vanderheyden. HCJO is also a new jazz band level member of WMJS. Jordan and Jake met in 2012 while Jordan was an instructor at Jake’s alma mater, Clarkston High School. Today they work together in the West Michigan jazz scene. Since its inception, the organization has developed a three-pronged approach to promoting jazz in the lakeshore region of West Michigan identified by the pillars of advocacy, education, and performance.
The realm of education is critical to their mission. In addition to promoting education by performing clinics and masterclasses, the organization’s key educational initiatives include a school assembly program presented in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan (be nice) and an annual Jazz Soloist Festival, which was recently the recipient of a Michigan Council of Arts and Cultural Affairs grant. Previous grant winners include Judah Guerra and Samuel Avendano, both of whom performed featured solos with the band last year. HCJO is committed to public performances of well-rehearsed, high-quality music. Committed to support up-and-coming writers, the band performed a concert of commissions by the Millennium Composers Initiative. The band frequently performs repertoire by Maria Schneider, Thad Jones, Bob Brookmeyer, Jacob Mann, and staples of the Basie and Ellington orchestras, among many others. They recently recorded with saxophonist Derek Brown (also known as ‘Beatbox Sax’) on an album due out this June. Please visit their website: for more information about their mission. -Jake Vanderheyden
Dutcher Snedeker "All Figured Out" Album Review
Derek Brown is no stranger to innovation on the tenor saxophone. Already a recognized, proficient player, he took the “slap-tonguing” saxophone technique to new levels of virtuosity with his “beatbox sax” style of percussive playing. Combine this with circular breathing and an expansive vocabulary on the instrument, and he has no limit to the length of tunes he can play or the variety of ideas he can articulate as a solo artist. His talents for arranging around this multi-layered performing approach have been critically acclaimed by outlets like NPR’s Weekend Edition, Jazziz Magazine, and Downbeat Magazine, and his videos all across the internet have received millions of views to compliment his Billboard charting status as a professional creative.
For 2020, Derek Brown has returned to his Alma mater, Hope College, to continue his inventive work, further expanding on his beatboxing saxophone style through new compositions arranged for large ensembles for his upcoming third release, All Figured Out. He takes time to arrange, chart, rehearse, and record a live, in-studio concert with a host of musicians that make up the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra, a group directed by Dr. Jordan VanHemert, a current professor at Hope College who also works with the Hope College Jazz Arts Collective. There are also members of the Holland College Orchestra and the Brazilian Drumming Ensemble, adding a variety of sounds and textures to Derek’s compositional tool set. There a host of talented artists that are easy to recognize, from established band directors like trombonist Mark Wells (East Grand Rapids High School Band Director, Big Band Nouveau, Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra) to respected young professionals like drummer Madison George (WMU Jazz student, multiple award-winning group Lushh, Earth Radio) and organist Clif Metcalf (Hammond endorsed artist and current Hope College student). With such a clear level of experience between all of the ensemble participants, Derek crafts an exciting variety of tunes to take his solo act into the “featured soloist” territory of artistry.
Right away, the album opens up with “Prelude,” a lush expression of different sounds that highlight the instruments you’ll hear on the record while also introducing you to Derek’s strong presence as a band leader and personality as a performer. “Human Error” is the first, full composition on the record, centering on some strong saxophone work flowing around a syncopated bassline. The tune features solos from Derek, guitarist Lee Heerspink, and Madison George before ending on a high note that pushes towards the next track. “Again” feels like thematic material pulled straight from a 70’s sitcom, grooving with such an upbeat flare that is just begging for TV syndication. Alto saxophonist Dr. Jordan VanHemert weaves in and out of rhythmic and melodic ideas sourced from the bebop jazz lexicon, pacing his ideas to great effect with his use of chromaticism and melodic phrasing outside of the tonal center. Derek Brown takes full advantage of the his skill sets on the saxophone, from flowing bebop jazz lines to squealing high notes to percussive slap-tonguing expressions, all with the infectious confidence to elevate the ensemble. “A Simple Gesture” shifts things into a fun, spirited half-time groove that kicks off with a beatbox sax solo from Derek to enthusiastic applause from the in-studio audience. His musicianship and phrasing shine on this number, and the songwriting makes great use of space and rhythm in how the ensemble accompanies each soloist. Mark Wells starts through a bluesy solo with powerful low brass flare, followed by Derek’s solo highlighting his virtuosity behind the range and articulation of his instrument, and wrapping up with pianist Andrew DePree, who sits comfortably in the pocket while throwing out some bluesy licks, perfectly compliment Derek’s more active soloing. These moments make for a wonderful demonstration of the Michigan talents sourced for this record.
“Vantage Point” is a tune that plays around with the compositional idea of passing harmonic and melodic material between the different ensemble sections. From this initial idea, the tune then opens up to some soulful organ playing and solo trading between Clif Metcalf and Derek. There are a couple wonderful moments where only a few instruments are left playing and the rest of the ensemble is clapping, allowing a shift in the dynamics, textures, and providing a softer starting point to then grow into the climax of the tune. The title-track, “All Figured Out,” shows Derek’s singing abilities, speaking to that constant pressure in society to be all-knowing, when in reality everyone is still learning and growing. Clif Metcalf returns for a solo, showing his phrasing chops with some choice blues licks and gritty chordal work. There is also the addition of a lyrical, bluesy solo from alto saxophonist Tim Grieme, who studied jazz in West Michigan with Dr. Jordan VanHemert, currently attends GVSU and is a member of the In The Blue Jazz Ensemble. Derek’s solo in particular plays off of the arrangement well, setting up some trumpet hits with his percussive slap-tonguing on one of his passes. “The Pursuit” feels like speeding down the Autobahn until your car takes flight to the skies, with rich ensemble textures soaring to powerful high points that include some wonderful string layers from the Holland Concert Orchestra. The “break-in-the-clouds” moment definitely appears when the tune opens up for interacting saxophones solos between Derek and tenor saxophonist Caleb Elzinga (GrooveGround Music, Blushing Monk), who is a recognized live and studio saxophone musician and has been a regular collaborator with Derek since Derek moved back to West Michigan. Derek lays down a beatbox accompaniment for Caleb to soar over, showcasing his ability to keep the momentum in his solo ideas while trading lick for lick with Derek’s fluid motion. Right before the end, Madison George sneaks in an energetic solo that plays off of the rhythmic backbeat of the accompaniment before driving the ensemble home to the end of the piece.
“Hoping for The Best” further elevates that feeling of joy that permeates this entire album, expressing a delight in making music with so many individuals and hoping for everyone’s mutual success along the way. Derek’s soloing throughout plays around with developing his slap-tonguing ideas alongside the bass line while also cutting through the accompaniment with fast-paced melodies and powerful high notes. The album ends with “The Good Fight,” a tune that features The Brazilian Drumming Ensemble at Hope College in some key spots, both as a standalone group and within the full ensemble. This arrangement features a lot of what makes this album so great to listen to: interlocking rhythmic ideas, an ebb and flow to the how layers and textures get introduced and when they disappear or evolve, exploring other sounds and genres (when it abandons a mixed meter accompaniment for a bluegrass-style pulse), and involving so many different instrument sounds and genres. The track ends with Derek’s final sax note soaring into the stratosphere, offering one final expression to an album packed full of wonderful listening experiences.
Derek Brown really outdid himself with All Figured Out. To take something so inventive and place it within a larger ensemble context really showcases his ability as a performer, arranger and composer. Whether it’s playing rhythmically with “beatbox sax” vocabulary, gliding across the jazz history books with his bebop language, or effortlessly expressing musical ideas alongside so many great Michigan collaborators, Derek has shown his ability to take his playing prowess and writing skills into new avenues. It’s an intersection of fleshing out a technique into concrete compositional ideas, involving a community around his Alma mater to emphasize his education and roots on the instrument, and crafting memorable moments for performers and listeners alike on every tune.. This is a new staple in the modern big band catalog and deserves all of the attention and programming!
Album Liner Notes:
All songs composed/arranged by Derek Brown and performed by the Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra unless noted:
- Featuring members of the Hope College Orchestra
2. Human Error
- Solos: Derek Brown, Madison George
- Solos: Jordan VanHemert, Derek Brown
4. A Simple Gesture
- Solos: Mark Wells, Derek Brown, Andrew DePree
5. Vantage Point
- Solos: Derek Brown and Clif Metcalf
6. All Figured Out
- Vocals/Lyrics: Derek Brown. Solos: Tim Grieme, Clif Metcalf, Derek Brown
7. The Pursuit
- With members of the Hope College Orchestra. Solos: Derek Brown and Caleb Elzinga, Madison George
8. Hoping for the Best
- Solos: Derek Brown
9. The Good Fight
- Featuring the Hope College Jazz Arts Collective and Brazilian Drumming Ensemble. Solos: Derek Brown
The Holland Concert Jazz Orchestra
Alto 1- Tim Grieme ; Alto 2- Charlie Jordan; Tenor 1- Bill Bier/Tommy Pancy; Tenor 2- Caleb Elzinga ; Bari- Mike Hamann.
Trumpet 1- Shawn Nichols; Trumpet 2- Austin Hunt; Trumpet 3- Keith Walker; Trumpet 4- Rick Holland.
Trombone 1- Mark Wells; Trombone 2- Aaron Hettinga; Trombone 3- Logan Vanderlaan; Bass Trombone- Adam Graham.
Guitar- Lee Heerspink; Hammond Organ- Clif Metcalf; Piano- Andrew DePree; Bass- Liam Coussens; Drums- Madison George
The Hope College Jazz Arts Collective
Alto Sax- Houston Patton; Tenor Sax- Elijah Maxwell; Bari Sax- Patrick McGeehan; Trumpet- Daniel Wade; Trumpet- Will Zywicki; Piano- Leah Reinardy; Bass- Clif Metcalf; Drums- Carlos Flores
Members of the Hope College Orchestra
Violin I- Anna Janowski; Violin II- Lian Robinson; Viola- Abigail Finnegan; Cello- Elizabeth Bachwich
Hope College Brazilian Drumming Ensemble
Director- Dr. Christopher Fashun
Anna Janowski, Lian Robinson, Elizabeth Bachwich, Ryan DeWitt, Samantha Mattingly, Emma Wayland
Recorded Feb 21-22, 2020 by Drew Elliot at the Hope College Recording Studio
Mixed by Drew Elliot
Mastered by Black Belt Mastering