Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Until quite recently, trumpeter Bert Joris had a long and enduring relationship with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra [BJO] as its principle composer.
Bert recorded a number of albums with the BJO many of which featured originals compositions that he authored expressly for it.
Bert’s writing and arranging efforts on behalf of the orchestra culminated when it combined with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under the direction of Danielle Callegari to perform a series of Joris’ compositions at deSingel in
on Antwerp, Belgium May 27, 2006, two of which were commissioned as
extended, original works.
A live recording of this performance was subsequently issued as a CD entitled Dangerous Liaisons: The Compositions of Bert Joris as Performed by the Brussels Jazz Orchestra and The Royal Flemish Philharmonic [Talent – Do Music
DOM 2910 900 SP].
In his insert notes for the recording, Tom Janssens wrote the following about the commissioning of Dangerous Liaisons, the highlights of Bert’s career and the history of the BJO.
Given their comprehensive scope, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles did not attempt to improve on them, but thought it more appropriate to bring Mr. Janssens writings to you “as is.”
© -Tom Janssens, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Bert Joris was commissioned by deFilharmonie (the Royal Flemish Philharmonic) and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra to write two compositions for large symphony orchestra and big band. The suggestive titles of these two works (Dangerous Liaison and Between Hope and Despair) already say a lot about the 'dangers' identified by Joris in the relationship between fixed note values and solo improvisations and the pitfalls of the creative process, in which artistic choices were weighed and reweighed and stylistic principles had to be thrown overboard.
Dangerous Liaison was Joris's first composition for large symphony orchestra and big band, and it strongly emphasizes the contrasts between the two ensembles: 'The colour palette offered by this combination is practically inexhaustible. Therefore I thought the most suitable starting point would be a long melody that returns in different settings. At the start, the symphony orchestra plays the female role and the big band the male role, but towards the end, they two become completely fused together. The structure bears the closest resemblance to the classic variation form we use so often in jazz music. Here, it is only interrupted once, by a modal passage.'
Between Hope and Despair has much less contrast than Dangerous Liaison. In this composition, Joris took the opposite approach and sought to achieve a uniform sound for a story about the caprices of human emotions. 'So as to make the orchestras blend as much as possible, I sought a tempo in which ternary and binary interpretation are compatible', explains Joris.
In Anna and Alone at Last, the two orchestras are both individually introduced and then completely fused. Once again, Joris creates a unique interaction between soloists, improvisers and sections. Anna was written immediately after the composer had met 'an extraordinary six-year-old girl' at a garden party. Its music was later used in the score Joris wrote for the film Dennis van Rita (by Hilde Van Mieghem). Alone at Last is a simple blues in C. This form has inspired me all my musical life and it keeps on turning up in my work. However, my own roots aren't the blues, and that's why I left out the C, which is the "root" of this blues, from the bass line, as a kind of joke.'
Bert Joris composer
Bert Joris started studying music at an early age. At first, he studied piano and violin, but eventually, at the age of fourteen, he settled on the trumpet. He had a classic education at the
music conservatory, even though jazz held a greater attraction
for him, being a style that was better suited to developing his creative
talents. From 1978 to 1987, he worked with the Antwerp BRT Jazz Orchestra, which was led by Etienne
Verscheuren. Initially, he played the trumpet there, but he also attracted
notice as a composer and arranger and eventually became a guest conductor.
Meanwhile, Bert Joris continued to build on his reputation as a teacher. In 1987, this led to a teaching position at the famous
in Swiss Jazz School . At about the same time, he launched a
jazz course at the Leuven Lemmensinstituut, which gradually developed into what
is now the school's jazz department. From 1990 till 1992, he was a trumpet
teacher at the Hilversum Conservatory. Bern
In 1992, Bert Joris started up an intense collaboration with the Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine. He has also performed with many other musicians and ensembles. He has toured
Europe with the ensembles of Rob van Bavel,
Robert Jan Vermeulen,
Wolfgang Haffner, Ricardo del Fra, Michel Herr, Enrico Pieranunzi, Joe Haider and Act Big Band. In addition, he formed the Bert Joris Quartet (with pianist Dado Moroni, drummer Ore Pallemaerts and bassist Philippe Aerts). He is often invited as a soloist and/or as a composer-conductor by larger European formations and big hands like those of Klaus Weiss, Al Porcino, the Concertgebouw Jazz Orchestra, the Metropoolorkest and many others.
In 1986, he toured
Europe together with the renowned drummer and
band leader Mel Lewis, which led to an invitation to conduct Lewis's big band
club The Village Vanguard, in a project with his own music. The sudden death of
Mel Lewis put an end to this project. In 1998, he traveled to the US, where he
scored a great success with the SJS Big Band, with which he conducted work of
his own, e.g. in the famous Birdland jazz club, with Clark Terry as guest
soloist. This success was confirmed in 2003 when he was invited to come and
present his music, together with the BJO, at the most prestigious and
international meeting of jazz musicians from all over the world: IJAJE in New
In 1998, Bert Joris received the Django d'Or Award and in 1998, he was voted the best Belgian jazz trumpet player by the listeners of RTBF and VRT and the French-language Belgian music press. As the house composer of the BJO, he has produced three CDs: September Sessions, The Music of Bert Joris, and Meeting Colours with Philip Catherine.
The pianist-composer Kenny Werner is a big fan. The composer Maria Schneider calls them her favourite orchestra. The reviewers of the professional magazine Down Beat voted it the eighth-best big band in the world and the best European big band.
In 1993, Frank Vaganee, Serge Plume and Marc Godfroid decided to set up a new professional big band. Shortly before that, the
BRT big band had disappeared, and with it, the possibility for composers
and musicians to perform big band music at a high quality level. The new
ensemble was given the name of Brussels Jazz Orchestra (BJO), because its
first performances took place in the jazz club The Sounds, where the ensemble organized a weekly session. The core
strength of the BJO consists of a traditional big-band line-up (five
saxophones, four trombones, four trumpets, piano, bass and drums), to which
more musicians can be added as required for different projects Brussels
Most of the repertoire of the BJO consists of productions of their own creation, ranging from concertante productions to soloist and multimedia projects. This has earned them concerts with many leading musicians, including Philip Catherine, Toots Thielemans, Chris Joris, Kenny Werner, Maria Schneider, Wallace Roney, Tom Harrell, Gianluigi Trovesi, David Liebman, Bob Mintzer, McCoy Tyner, Kenny Wheeler, Phil Woods, Gustavo Bergalli and deFilharmonie. The BJO works in close collaboration with the composers Bert Joris and Frank Vaganee, who are the house composers of the ensemble, but they also work with other Flemish and Belgian big band arrangers/ composers such as Michel Herr, Erwin Vann, Bob Porter and Gyuri Spies.
Meanwhile, the BJO has built itself a solid reputation at home and abroad. In
, the band has played every significant
jazz venue. Internationally, the BJO has been invited to the Belgium , Netherlands , Luxembourg , France , Ireland , Portugal , Spain , Austria , Croatia , Italy and the Sweden , invariably to great press acclaim. USA
BJO is also the driving force behind various educational projects, including the biannual BJO International Composition Contest, big-band workshops for amateur musicians, and a big-band tour with the orchestras of the conservatories of
and Antwerp and the Lemmensinstituut of Leuven. Ghent
The discography of the BJO currently comprises six titles: Live (VRT Radio 3), The September Sessions (W.E.R.F.), The Music of Bert Joris (W.E.R.F.), Naked in the Cosmos - the BJO Plays the Music of Kenny Werner (Jazzimpulz), Meeting Colours (Dreyfuss) and Countermove (W.E.R.F.). All these recordings were warmly received by the Belgian and international press.
More info, video and sound clips on www.brusselsjazzorchestra.com.
With the help of the ace graphics team at CerraJazz
LTD and the assistance of the StudioCerra
production facilities, we have put together the following video which uses as
its audio track – Alone At Last - the final selection from Bert’s performance
with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic under the direction of Danielle Callegari
in conjunction with the Brussels Jazz Orchestra at deSingel in Antwerp, Belgium
on May 27, 2006.
Bert solos on trumpet followed by Dieter Limbourg on alto sax.
And here is a video from an earlier feature on JazzProfiles that features Bert’s playing on Happy Tears from the Meeting Colours collaboration between guitarist Philipe Catherine and the Brussels Jazz Orchestra.
After listening to these performances, you might agree with us when we assert that Bert Joris is one of the brightest and best musicians on today’s Jazz scene in either a small group setting [as noted in our previous feature] or when writing for and performing with a big band.
It’s nice to have him around.