Adam Unsworth: Philadelphia Orchestra Hornist Makes Jazz Debut With Groundbreaking CD and Two March Performances


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Adam Unsworth, Philadelphia Orchestra French hornist and Temple University Instructor of Horn and Coordinator of Brass Repertoire, reignites the buzz on his jazz debut, excerpt this! The groundbreaking soundtrack for the French horn features six of Unsworth's original compositions. In addition to six songs for sextet, the CD includes three unaccompanied jazz works for horn by Unsworth, Les Thimmig and a Temple University commission by Dana Wilson, setting new boundaries for virtuosity on the instrument.

The release coincides with two Philadelphia performances. On Friday, March 17th, Unsworth takes the stage with his studio sextet at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for two sets, 5:45 to 6:45 and 7:15 to 8:15 p.m., and on the 19th at Temple University's Rock Hall from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.

Joining Unsworth on this venture are Philadelphia players Diane Monroe (violin), Tony Miceli (vibes), Ranaan Meyer (bass), Cornell Rochester (drums) and University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and composer and Unsworth's former teacher, Les Thimmig (bass clarinet and flute).

The instrumentation of horn, violin, bass clarinet and flute, vibraphone, bass, and drums creates an uncommon texture, one that combines classical chamber music elements with improvisation, and truly defines the term chamber jazz.

Looking back on the lead up to the excerpt this! project, Unsworth confesses, “It took me weeks to call up these jazzers. I was terrified they would get a good laugh out of it behind my back. The thought of hanging in with these great players was daunting."

One by one the calls went out, and one by one the acceptances came in. Looking for an atypical jazz timbre, Unsworth looked to instruments generally found in the classical realm. He thought the horn, violin and bass clarinet blended well to fashion this new sound. Unsworth pieced together a virtuosic, yet motley crew, selected what he felt were his best compositions from the last decade and went to work.

Diane Monroe, violin and Ranaan Meyer on bass are graduates of Curtis Institute of Music. Both compose and perform quite capably in many different genres, each with their own respective ensembles. Individually, they combined their classical sensibility with improv fluidity and dexterity, and made rich and informed contributions to rehearsals and sessions.

Les Thimmig is Unsworth's ingenious former University of Wisconsin-Madison composition professor and a highly accomplished clarinet, flute and saxophone player, equally adept in both jazz and classical idioms.

The vibes player was the resident humorist and fired off one inspired idea after another. Tony Miceli's invaluable originality and comic relief eased some tense moments throughout the process. The eleven page-long vibe part on “Third Time's the Charm" “messed with his head. Not your typical jazz chart."

Unsworth considers the MVP of the bunch to be drummer Cornell Rochester. The rumor mill had it that he was great but he was also a rocker, so Unsworth had initial reservations. “The first time Rochester walked into the studio, he immediately removed his shirt and sat down. He brought outstanding grooves, insatiable curiosity and high energy to the sessions. Every time I'd make a suggestion to him in rehearsal, he'd look to the ceiling for at least fifteen seconds to apparently regroup, then came back to us as if he was the recipient of some divine inspiration. I now believe that to be true."

Prior to recording, Unsworth met and rehearsed with each player individually. Unlike classical preparation, jazz guys think, “What can I bring to this?" When they ultimately came together as a unit, they had eight hours of rehearsal, followed by a dry run performance at Chris' Jazz Caf. The next three days each included five hours of intensive recording. Unsworth commented that he didn't know if it was his disposition as a leader, but “studio time turned out to be an open group collaboration," more teamwork than he had originally anticipated. “Having artistic say-so was nice too, yet I remained open to hearing their ideas about my music." The outcome was the kind of 'group-hug' thing that goes on at the end of summer camp. It was an amazing experience and has Unsworth more musically invigorated than he has ever been in his life.

The greatest experiment of Unsworth's career has morphed into, “When can I do this again?"

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is located at 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Admission is $12 for adults, $9 for senior citizens (62 and over); $8 for students with I.D. and children 13-18; children 12 years old and younger are admitted free at all times. For further information on the Friday evening performance, contact Frank Luzi, Senior Press Officer at 215-684-7864 or fluzi@philamuseum.org

Temple University's Rock Hall is located at Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Admission is free. For further information on the Temple University recital, contact Irene Petratos-McKinney, Director, Music Administration, Esther Boyer College of Music at 215 -204-8307 or irene.petratos-mckinney@temple.edu.

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