UPCOMING EVENTS

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COMING SOON

Peter and the Wolf (see photo gallery)

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SPREAD THE JOY OF JAZZ

Help us promote jazz education, orignal works and performances in New England and beyond. NEJE is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and relies on the generosity of public support. 

SPREAD THE JOY OF JAZZ

 

NEW ENGLAND JAZZ ENSEMBLE

The New England Jazz Ensemble was created in 1991 by trumpeter Mike Jones. Walt Gwardyak, piano player, has been the music director from the beginning. The band was conceived as a weekly rehearsal band and a forum for new compositions. Compositions by Gwardyak, Mastroianni, Holmes, Merz and Person and others formed the band’s book.

In 1994, the band received an NEA grant to travel to the 10th annual jazz festival in Corinth, Greece. Following this trip, Gwardyak wrote the piece “Blouzo” for the band with extended solos for the trombone section.

The New England Jazz Ensemble has recorded 5 CDs, including two live recordings:The latest at the Polish National Home in Hartford, CT with guest artists John Abercrombie, Giacomo Gates and Ali Ryerson in 2010 and another at the Pittsfield Jazz Festival in 2005. A Christmas CD featuring the Duke Ellington Nutcracker and other holiday jazz was recorded in 2003. The first and second CDs, as well as the 2005 Pittsfield 

 

WALTER GWARDYAK - COMPOSER/ARRANGER

Walter Gwardyak is the founding member (1991), music director, and pianist for the New England Jazz Ensemble, a sixteen-piece big band, which has received accolades for their presentation of Duke Ellington’s Jazz Nutcracker and many other original jazz compositions and arrangements.   “These gentlemen can flat out play” were the words of Jack Bowers, who wrote a review of the first NEJE album, Version 3.0, and then put it on his desert island top twenty albums of the year (1995).  Since then Gwardyak has written arrangements, along with Jeff Holmes, John Mastroianni and Phil Person, for the NEJE’s five CDs before the current project, all of which have been praised in the press.  The band has a loyal following and sells its music through downloads far and wide.

In 1969, Gwardyak spent the summer playing with the Buddy Rich band on tour. At that time Buddy Rich was performing music from his latest album called Mercy, Mercy recorded at Caesar’s Palace.  Unfortunately, Walt had to cut short his membership in this famous band in order to return to his job as a science teacher in the Bridgeport Public Schools.

Between 1975 and 1980 Gwardyak worked with the Polydor and Buddha record labels as staff arranger for various groups, including the English rock group, Herman’s Hermits.  During this period he wrote arrangements that added strings, brass and winds to the rock music already recorded by the bands.  This was just before synthesizers became common.  Polydor would contract with singers and groups which had already recorded their music.  Gwardyak worked directly for the producers, Marty Kugel and Al Altman.  Gwardyak also conducted in the recording sessions, and played electric piano with Herman’s Hermits.

He played for several decades with the Sonny Costanzo orchestra in New Haven, and also performed in a trio (Paul Brown, bass, Nick Forte, drums) with guest soloists in Costanzo’s  Sunday night jazz series in the 1970s.  This series featured artists, such as, Zoot Sims, Frank Foster, Curtis Fuller, Lou Donaldson, Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Pepper Adams, John Faddis and Phil Wilson.  These concerts played to packed houses in the 1970s at various jazz clubs in the Greater New Haven area.

Between 1991 and 2011, Gwardyak taught in the Jazz and Pop program at Hartford Conservatory – traditional harmony, arranging, ear training, piano, composition, performance lab, jazz improvisation, small and large jazz ensemble.  While at the Conservatory, he was the Dean of Music for the college program from 2000 to 2011, and was at the center of the summer jazz program for Hartford kids and others in the first half of the 1990s.

In 2009, as part of the schools program of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Gwardyak began playing with the orchestra’s jazz ensemble.  In 2011, the HSO began offering a series called Jazz and Strings, tribute concerts based on important jazz recordings by artists from the 1940s through the 1960s who had recorded work that combined jazz and symphonic ensembles.  There was no printed music preserved from these recording sessions, so Gwardyak’s job was to write out the music from the recordings and then to arrange it for the HSO ensemble.  Concerts performed in this series included the music of Art Pepper (Winter Moon album) Billie Holiday (The Lady Sings the Blues), Cannonball Adderly (Cannon Ball Adderly and Strings), Clifford Brown (Clifford with Strings), John Coltrane (John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album, also Giant Steps album), Ella Fitzgerald (Ella Sings Cole Porter, Ella Sings George Gershwin), Freddie Hubbard (Sky Dive and others), Wes Montgomery (various albums).

Today he works with Diane Mower, jazz vocalist, at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts and teaches jazz piano at Trinity College.  

JEFF HOLMES - COMPOSER/ARRANGER

Holmes is a nationally published and commissioned composer/arranger (B.M.I.), and a multiple recipient of National Endowment For The Arts Jazz Composition Grants. He has written music for John Abercrombie, Ernie Watts, Max Roach, Chris Vadala, Doc Severinsen, Paul Winter, Sheila Jordan, Yusef Lateef, Rufus Reid, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Jack’s Mannequin, and the Big Apple Circus, as well as numerous works for professional, military, collegiate, high school and junior high jazz, concert, and marching ensembles.

He has performed around the world including Russia, Japan, and Australia, and was a featured artist on the Jazz at the Kennedy Center series in Washington D.C with the Billy Taylor Trio. Other activities include ongoing appearances with the Paul Winter Consort, collegiate residencies, as well as headlining with his big band at the 2007 International Trumpet Guild Conference. Holmes received the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Massachusetts Association of Jazz Educators. He is also the featured trumpet performer on the soundtrack to the PBS American Experience presentation “A Class Apart”, and his compositions are included as source music in the 2010 PBS series “Circus”.

In addition to his new quartet CD “Of One's Own” on Miles High Records, Holmes’ recent recording projects include CDs with the New York Latin All-Stars (“Chicago Exitos!” – horn arrangements and trumpet), and the New England Jazz Ensemble (“It’s A Grand Night For Swinging” featuring new arrangements by Holmes for guest soloist John Abercrombie), contributions to CDs by the Paul Winter Consort (“Earth Music” –piano & composer), and Robert Lamm (trumpet), and, a forthcoming Jeff Holmes Big Band release. In addition to the quartet and his big band, Holmes plays lead trumpet with the New England Jazz Ensemble, Earl MacDonald and the Hartford Jazz Society’s New Directions Ensemble, and Rob Zappulla, as well as drums with the Amherst Jazz Orchestra.

Professor of Music and Director of Jazz and African-American Music Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Holmes directs the award-winning UMASS Jazz Ensemble I, and Studio Orchestra, which have been featured in invitational appearances at the International Association of Jazz Educators, the Jazz Educators Network, and MENC/NME conferences, as well as numerous collegiate jazz festivals/competitions nationally. Over the years, individual students and ensembles of the Jazz & African-American Music Studies program from UMASS have received recognition from DownBeat in virtually every collegiate jazz and pop category. He is also the Artistic Director of the Jazz In July Summer Workshops at UMASS, and continues to guest conduct Junior and Senior District/ All-State jazz ensembles throughout the country, in addition to being in demand as a guest artist, adjudicator, clinician, commissioned composer and lecturer.

Holmes held the position of visiting Professor of Music/Jazz Studies at Hunter College in New York City from 1994 –1996, during which time he led his own New York big band, subbed regularly in the Vanguard Orchestra and on Broadway, and, played with Vince Giordano’s Nighthawks and the Ed Palermo Big Band among others. He is also a former panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts, columnist for JazzPlayer Magazine, and served as a member of the Massachusetts Music Educators Association board of directors.

Jeff Holmes grew up in Lynnfield MA, and earned degrees from the Eastman School of Music where he studied with Rayburn Wright and Bill Dobbins, among others. 

JOHN MASTROIANNI - COMPOSER/ARRANGER

John has performed, toured and/or recorded with artists such as Mel Lewis, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Smokey Robinson, Louie Bellson, Charli Persip and Supersound, Harvie Swartz, Jim McNeely, Jay Leonhart, Rufus Reid, Gerry Mulligan, Lew Anderson, Clint Holmes, Roger Kellaway, the Glenn Miller Band, Sonny Costanzo, Johnny Mathis, Aretha Franklin, Natalie Cole, Donna Summer, Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow, Nick Brignola, the New England Jazz Ensemble, and many others! He also has performed with the Rhode Island Philharmonic, the Norwalk, New Haven, and Hartford Symphonies, and at the Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, Shubert, Palace, Goodspeed Opera House and Oakdale theaters. John also played in the orchestra for the Broadway(NYC) production of TheThree Penny Opera and has been a featured artist at the New England Saxophone Symposium. John's three recordings as a leader, entitled Cookin' On All Burners (Stash), The Time Being (Jazz Alliance), and Live at the Silvermine (Jazzheads), have all earned him critical acclaim.  He is also a featured soloist and composer/arranger on the New England Jazz Ensemble recordings, Version 3.0 (Brownstone), Storm Before the Calm (Sea Breeze), and Wishes You A Cookin' Christmas (Sea Breeze).  John is currently a performer and recording artist for the Jazzheads label (NYC).

In addition to being a free-lance musician, John performs with his own quartet, and leads his own sixteen piece jazz orchestra for which he composes and arranges all the music. John's music has been performed and recorded by his quartet and jazz orchestra, the Sonny Costanzo Big Band, the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra, the Army Blues Band (Washington D.C.), the New England Jazz Ensemble, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, DIVA, and many high school, college, and professional jazz ensembles throughout the United States. His big band charts are currently published by Walrus Music Publishing/Otter Distributors, and Barnhouse/Smart Chart Music Publications.

John earned a B.S. in Music Education and a B.M. in Jazz Studies from the University of Bridgeport, and an M.A. in Jazz Performance/Composition from New York University. He has studied saxophone with Phil Woods, Dick Oatts, Joe Lovano, and Gary Klein, and composition with Jim McNeely, Bill Finegan, Tom Boras, Neil Slater, and Mike Carubia.

John has taught at New York University, Albertus Magnus College, the University of Bridgeport, the New York State Summer School for the Arts, Bridgeport Central High School, New Canaan High School, Hall High School in West Hartford and currently, Canton High School where her is also District Music Supervisor. John is also an adjunct jazz faculty member at the University of Connecticut, and the founder and music director of the Young Artists Summer Jazz Workshop. In December 2002, John was named by SBO Magazine as one of 50 directors in the United States that make a difference, and in March 2004, John was chosen by the Connecticut Music Educators Association (CMEA) as the Secondary School Teacher of the Year. In 2010, he was honored by Starthmore’s Who’s Who as an individual who has demonstrated leadership and achievement in his profession. John was chosen as the 2013-14 West Hartford Public Schools Teacher of the Year, and he was a quarter finalist for a 2014 Music Educator GRAMMY Award. Most recently, John has been named the 2014 Connecticut Teacher of the Year!