Folley Jazz Series: Vangaurd Jazz Orchestra / Mood Board

Every year the historic Folley Theater hosts a jazz series and partners with KCAI design juniors to develop the posters for the featured performers. Out of the line up of talents, this year Jessie, Jumper and I were most fortunate to be given the opportunity to design the poster for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra! Together we compiled our research and developed a mood board that represents the band's music, history, influences and etc.

The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is a jazz big band from New York City whose music is characteristically fast tempo-ed bebop jazz. It all began in 1966 as impromptu, midnight practice sessions, formed by trumpeter Thad Jones, who played with the famous Count Basie Orchestra, and drummer Mel Lewis, who played with Stan Keaton. These two, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, along with a handful of gifted musicians formed an ensemble that debuted at the Village Vanguard in New York City, engaging jazz enthusiasts and critics alike with their exuberant sound provocatively and innovatively arranged by Thad Jones, who style provides richly dissonant harmonics voiced over the wide compass of three sections. They were referred to as the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Orchestra. Unfortunately Thad Jones left the band in the 1980's for a music opportunity in Denmark. Despite this, Mel Lewis continued the orchestra until his death from a 5 year long battle with cancer in 1990. Nonetheless, the band, now inevitably a family, still remained spirited, and when asked who was "fronting" the band, one of the veterans exclaimed, "the music". They renamed themselves the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra after the "Village Vanguard" where they first debuted, now directed by John Mosca, lead Trombone with Jim McNeely as the composer in residence and pianist.

Their sound keeps to the integrity of Jones, but also manages to be innovative, keeping them fresh and energetic. The great thing about VJO is the unity of the band, no clash of egos, all the voices in the band are playing together. And it's because of all this, that the band is so widely loved and respected.

From the beginning the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra stressed the nurturing and encouragement of creativity and experimentation, both from the creators, performers and even the audience. Thad Jones would pull from the orchestra to make it sound larger than it already was, even though there were already 16 members. He would shift the ensemble around. For example he would have the flute doubling a muted trumpet or sometimes have just one instrument playing over the bass line. It could be a piano trio or sometimes a great massed choirs of brass. His sound was fat and rich.

The experimentation continues today with the new composer Jim McNeely. He describes one of the central themes in jazz composition as the tension and balance between the individual (the soloist) and the community (ensemble). His current area of interest is creating ensemble structures for groups of soloists, not individual soloists.

About the Mood Board:

While the Vangaurd Jazz Orchestra has a lot of history, they aren’t stuck in the past. They’re always experimenting and commissioning new music to stay fresh. The warm vibrant colors reflect their upbeat and rich sound as well as their progressive nature. We juxtaposed old photos with modern images to allude to their past but also to show their current influences. For instance, the photograph of New York emulates the night life of the city where they first debuted and continue to play today. The vectored rendering style of the city scape reinforces their playfulness and spirit while the texture of Van Gough’s brush strokes in Night Cafe references the rhythm of the music. Lastly, the fat letter forms represent the bold sounds and the thin condensed typeface represents the sharp pops in their compositions.

Here are some videos to help get a feel of the band's past and present:

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