Like many musicians, I have been inspired by the grand visionary works of jazz greats such as Pat Metheny, Duke Ellington, Bob Brookmeyer, Kenny Wheeler, and others. In the summer of 2015, after having just heard the Pat Metheny Unity Group, I found myself searching for a way for UNC Jazz Lab Band I to create an original large-scale work that would contribute something new to the field of jazz. After many conversations with musical friends and colleagues, I came up with the idea of a musical reimagining of Romeo and Juliet. The concept was to invite some of today’s best jazz composers to write music that would be unified by one thing: Shakespeare’s most famous play.
Having decided to include writers both from within and outside UNC, I selected individuals whose musical voices were best suited to the emotions of a particular scene or character. One of the few directions I gave was that no themes from other versions of Romeo and Juliet, such as those by Prokofiev or Tchaikovsky, were to be referenced. The composers worked completely independently, but in an amazing bit of musical fortune, the pieces ended up fitting together as if there had been communication between the writers throughout the process. Through its nine individual pieces, the suite presents creative depictions of major themes and events, as well as two character portraits. These are bookended with opening and closing movements that help complete the whole.
Thank you to the composers for the amazing artistry they brought to their work, as well as the many musicians who were deeply committed to this project.