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November 17, 2003

Putting the puzzle together: Purdue Jazz Band tackles 'Jigsaw'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Suggest to composer David Cutler that ancient Gregorian chants could spice up a jazz project, and he just might do it. Anything and everything inspires this young composer whose musical puzzle, known as "Jigsaw," gets its world premiere with the Purdue Jazz Band on Friday (11/21).

The piece highlights a concert that features the Purdue Jazz Band, Lab Jazz Band and Concert Jazz Band. Also featured will be the premiere of a student written work, "Playful Cats," by pianist Ryan Hicks, a senior from Fort Wayne, Ind.

The show, which is free and open to the public, starts at 8 p.m. in Stewart Center's Loeb Playhouse.

Although composers don't always attend premieres, Cutler will not only attend but also will perform the improvisational piano interlude in "Jigsaw."

Known for his sense of theatricality, Cutler has the reputation of being a highly visual pianist.

"He's quite a performer," says M.T. "Mo" Trout, director of all three bands. "I'm sure he's going to take us on quite a journey."

The journey that brought Cutler and "Jigsaw" to Purdue started in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina last summer when Trout met Cutler at the Brevard Summer Music Festival. The two played a combo version of "Jigsaw" together at the festival.

"It was about a 300-piece puzzle then," Trout says. He found it so fascinating he immediately commissioned Cutler to expand it for big band.

Among its bits and pieces, "Jigsaw" boasts Eastern European rhythms, reminding jazz fans of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo A La Turk," and klezmer (Eastern European Jewish folk music), and moments when it sounds like the staccato background of a television newsroom.

In yet another spot, Cutler calls for the trombones to be "brassy and nasty," Trout says.

"The first time we looked at this piece it made no sense," Trout says. "Rather than four- or eight-beat patterns, there were 13-beat patterns, and with the uneven distribution of beats it made it hard to figure out where the downbeat was … and chord changes were very challenging because they didn't follow traditional formats."

The piece is "very sophisticated on one hand with its modern music techniques. On the other hand, Cutler just likes to have a lot of fun and prove that sophisticated music doesn't have to be inaccessible to audiences," Trout says.

Cutler says the unique character of his tunes emanates naturally from his view of music.

"I don't consider myself just a jazz, or a classical or a rock musician," he says. "As I was growing up, I just heard many different types of music, and it all became a single music to me. This music is my musical experience, whether it's tango or bebop or Chopin, Gregorian chants or country-and-western. I like it all."

Cutler, a professor of musicianship at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., will write for any kind of ensemble. "Jigsaw" began 10 years ago as a piece for an electronic ensemble. His most noted works include "Vango Tan Gogh," an offbeat, post-modern quintet for violin, accordion, piano, bass and drums that's a far cry from a traditional tango, and "Kartoon Music for the Kriminally Insane and Socially Delinquent," which reflects on the extremely violent, yet delightfully quirky, moments of "Looney Tunes" cartoons.

Cutler will return to Purdue's campus in January for the Purdue Jazz Festival where he will be a featured performer and conduct clinics.

The Nov. 21 concert also will feature the Purdue Jazz Band performing Count Basie's "Avenue C" and a Latin interpretation of the Billy Strayhorn classic "Take the A Train." Purdue alumnus Chet Bauch created the adaptation called "Jose Takes Another Train."

The Concert Jazz Band's portion of the event features Charles Mingus' "Moanin'," and Lab Jazz Band highlights include "Festival de Ritmo" and an old-fashioned tune in a jazz arrangement, the "Trolley Song."

The Purdue Jazz Band's next concert, in combination with American Music Review, will be "Holiday Cheer & All That Jazz" on Dec. 12 in Loeb Playhouse.

Writer: Kathy Matter, (765) 496-6785,

Source: Mo Trout, 494-9110,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

Related Web site:
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