Faculty Development Leave Starts…NOW

I have officially started my faculty development leave (used to be known as a sabbatical). That means all of my creative energies can be put toward the piano concerto. Well, actually I have six big band charts to finish before then. Haha. I remember one time a favorite mentor of mine told me my greatest weakness was that I had a hard time saying ‘no’ to anything. Guess I haven’t fixed that yet ūüėČ

As I mentioned on the first concerto post, I will be posting here as I progress on the concerto project. Here’s an update:

Notice the image in this post – yep. Blank staff paper – it can be both the most exciting and most daunting thing about composing. Luckily I already have some ideas down on paper, although they’re just fragments now. This part is often the most fun for me – coming up with the overall musical material, the big structures, the little nuggets of material that will be spun out over the length of the piece. I find that as I get busier as a composer, this part of the process is the one that keeps me coming back, agreeing to do new projects, taking new commissions, and otherwise living the on-again-off-again, hectic deadline-driven life of a composer.

I also find that when I’m juggling several projects at once, I tend to procrastinate on the hard work part and revel in the beginning creative process of each piece. Right now I have to write 3 big band charts for a Nnenna Freelon/John Brown big band Christmas record, a new Radiohead big band chart commissioned by some great high school programs around here, a commission for the ‘Iolani School in Hawaii, a commission for Province 32 of the Phi Mu Alpha Fraternity, and a piece for the Kandinsky Trio to help celebrate their 25th anniversary. Phew! I could spend all summer just working on the fun parts – unfortunately to get anything done on time, it’s better for me to start a piece, get nitty-gritty with the writing and editing, and finish before I start messing around too much with the next piece.

So athough I’m busy finishing up the big band pieces, I have been steadily working to keep informing myself of the great examples of past piano concertos. The Brahms concertos are unbelievable, and I think I’ll be going back to those quite a bit as I go through this process. They’re a bit long for my taste, but are proportioned very well, and the orchestration is great. Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is also a fantastic example of how to treat the piano and orchestra together, and of course the way he uses form and structure is so completely brilliant. There are quite a number of 20th century concertos I’ve listened to in the past month that are simply too dissonant for me – those by John McCabe, Ronald Stevenson, Andrzej Panufnik, and the early Rautavaara come immediately to mind.¬† I appreciate the artistry in them, and the recordings I’ve heard have been typically fantastic, but I just feel that so many of those pieces leave people turned off by art music. Many of those pieces are also so extremely virtuosic that they have virtually no chance of being performed more than once every 25 years (and less often if there’s a good recording).

A great reference book that’s been helping me discover unfamiliar works in this genre is Music for Piano and Orchestra: An Annotated Guide, by Maurice Hinson. Hinson references more works for piano and orchestra than you could possibly imagine.

I’m also making my way through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Principles of Orchestration. The most interesting things so far are his detailed and editorial quips about the various sonic characters of the combinations of instruments. He gets very detailed, such as what happens when you pair vlns I and II in octaves, but they’re divisi and a woodwind is added to the top voice. Great stuff!

That’s it for now – more will come as I keep making my way through this project. Keep posted!

Dan Cavanagh Late April/May Newsletter

Hi all,

It’s been a fun month – new album The Heart of the Geyser came out, we got to host the great Fred Sturm at UT¬†Arlington, and found out I got a sabbatical (Faculty Development Leave) for fall 2012! Also, lots of fun news for the upcoming month.

First of all, if you haven’t had a chance to pick up your copy of the new album, featuring me on piano, bassist Linda Oh and Grammy-winning drummer Joe McCarthy, I invite you to pick up a copy. Lots of ways to do so: my website, OA2 Records, or iTunes. All of the online music services and websites also have copies available for sale.

However you wish to purchase, know that I’m selling copies for $10 each, plus shipping/handling, from my website. I figure you can get a hard copy for the same price as the iTunes download and then have all the great cover art, liner notes, etc. too!

If you’re around the Dallas/Fort Worth area, I invite you to the:

Official CD Release Party for The Heart of the Geyser:

Date: Thursday, May 3
Time: 9pm Р1am
Where: Scat Jazz Lounge, downtown Fort Worth
Cover: $5

I’ll be playing with two great musicians around here:¬†drummer Jaime¬†Reyes and bassist Young Heo. There are also rumors (that I’ve started) that many other great DFW jazz players will be in attendance, and will be doing some playing as well. Of course, copies of the album will be availble at the show.

As part of my fall 2012 faculty development leave, I am writing a 30-minute piano concerto to be premiered in Spring 2013. I am journaling online about the whole process, and I invite you to keep up with it. You can see the first post and any additional posts on my website: http://www.dancavanagh.com/live/categories/piano-concerto. I invite you to join me in the process by interacting on the site.

In other news, here are a few more shows planned in late April/May:

Georgetown Jazz Festival (Georgetown Univ., Washington DC)
Saturday, April 28, 3pm (approx.)
White-Gravenor Patio/Copley Lawn (Rain Site: Davis Performing Arts Center, Gonda Theatre)
The Georgetown Jazz Ensemble, directed by Aaron Broadus, commissioned a piece from me and is premiering it at the festival! I’m excited that I’ll be in attendance at the concert. The piece, “Wide Angle Lens,” showcases some great rhythm section playing and soloing. Was thinking a lot about photography when I was writing it, even though I’m a cruddy photographer ūüôā More info here.

Chris Milyo Group (Scat Jazz Lounge, Fort Worth)
Thursday, May 10, 9pm Р1am
Cover: $5
We’ll be playing all originals from people in the group! Will be a fun night of modern jazz.

Dallas Jazz Piano Society Starving Jazz Pianist Concert (Sea Breeze Restaurant, Plano, TX)
Monday, May 21, 6:30pm – ?
I’ll be playing alongside other great Dallas/Fort Worth jazz pianists in an evening of jazz piano sponsored by the Dallas Jazz Piano¬†Society. Get your jazz piano fix this night – it’s rare to get so many talented pianists together at once! (they offered free food so we’re all showing up ūüôā

American Jazz Composers Orchestra (Blue Danube, Pantego (Arlington))
Tuesday, May 22, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
Come check out the AJCO in our monthly concert. This is a really happening band doing some moving and shaking. If any of you know of businesses or individuals who would like to assist this non-profit organization, please get in touch! We are currently looking for corporate sponsorship and certain types of in-kind donations (music stands, etc).

Stay in touch! -Dan

Piano Concerto No. 1!

I recently learned that I was awarded a Faculty Development Leave (used to be called a “sabbatical”) for fall 2012. At my university (UT Arlington) we are not automatically granted one every 8 years or so – we have to apply with a specific project in mind and hope it gets chosen. Luckily my proposal was one of the projects chosen this year. My project is to write a 30-minute piano concerto with orchestra, containing a piano part that involves some improvisation. It will NOT be a “jazz” piano concerto, rather a straight-up piano concerto in which the piano part involves some improvisation. I have never been a fan of jazz superimposed into the classical idiom – it always seems contrived.

I’m going to attempt to journal here each day I’m working on the project. Since I’ve never written anything even close to this long or involved, it will be a completely new experience each day. I invite your comments and interaction, too!

My overall idea for the project is to build upon a concept that I’ve been thinking about for a very long time, whether I was aware of it or not. I have always been interested in the interactions between various art forms: painting and poetry, music and dance, etc. My constant inspiration outside music has been poetry; my big band album, Pulse, contains a 15-minute suite, Mississippi Ecstasy, with narration and poetry by Timothy Young. I also have a group that performs once and a while, The Jazz Ecstatic, with poet, saxophone, piano, bass, and drums. My latest album, The Heart of the Geyser, takes its title from a line in a poem by Romanian poet Marin Sorescu.

Recently I came across a book in my university’s library (stack browsing is fun!) called Musical Ekphrasis: Composers Responding to Poetry and Painting (find on Amazon here) by Siglind Bruhn. I am still making my way through the book – it’s a pretty dense philosophy book but full of great insights and analysis of past works. I am trying to directly create that “ekphrasis” in this project. I’ve commissioned three poets to write poems knowing that I am going to use those poems as inspiration for this new composition. Afterwards, each poet will write a new poem based on hearing the music. Kind of like circular artsy telephone! The poets are absolutely amazing: Timothy Young, Thomas Smith, and Katharine Rauk; I invite you to get your hands on all of their works that you can.

My first task is to survey as much of the history of piano concertos as I can through score study and listening. I don’t know if it’s because as I march on in life I become more critical of my own composing, or what, but I feel that if I’m going to write a piano concerto I need to have a deep understanding of the historical and recent span of that huge genre. I have stacks of piano concerto scores in my office, and I’m pretty sure the university’s interlibrary loan staff grumbles my name every time I submit 10 requests to get scores and recordings from other libraries.

One of my primary goals with this informal, monumental survey is to get as much of a grasp as I can of orchestration and pacing in a concerto setting. How much does the piano play alone? How much does the orchestra act as an equal to the piano? When do the piano/orchestra battles happen? These are some of the questions I’m trying to wrap my head around. As I make my way through the literature, I’m finding that the Naxos Music Library Online helps immensely. Hopefully you live near a library that subscribes to their streaming resource, as you can listen to something like over 325,000 albums! So far my favorite discovery is the three piano concertos by the great Finnish composer¬†Rautavaara!

As I continue my work, I’m going to keep posting here. Hope you’ll join me on this journey!

The Heart of the Geyser

the Dan Cavanagh Trio – The Heart of the Geyser

Heart of the Geyser Album Cover Graphic Join the email list to receive an exclusive download with an unreleased track and sheet music (lead sheet) from this album!

– $10.00 + s/h [or purchase via iTunes]
Some Great Reviews:
Acclaimed as a composer, Dan Cavanagh shows he’s equally at home at the keyboard for this release. Supported by Linda Oh’s exceptional bass playing and Joe McCarthy’s noted rhythmic sophistication on drums, Cavanagh tiptoes and sprints through an intriguing and beautiful selection of modern jazz piano repertoire. OA2 Records released this disc on April 17, 2012.

Listen to Samples:

Full Track Listing

  1. Josephine
  2. Square One
  3. Bilder
  4. Matrix (C. Corea)
  5. Prelude No. 4 in e minor (Chopin)
  6. Dark Ivory Tower
  7. Spills
  8. Uncertainty
  9. The Good Life
  10. Londonderry Air

Dan Cavanagh April Newsletter

Hi all,

For all of you in the northern hemisphere, I hope as the spring approaches you are welcoming more sun and warm weather. It’s already getting into the mid 80’s here in Texas!

First, a special announcement:¬†my newest CD, and first CD as a piano trio leader, is being released on¬†April 17 by OA2 records!¬†The Heart of the Geyser was recorded and mixed last year by the 3-time Grammy-winning engineer Bob Dawson at Bias Studios in Springfield, VA. I am extremely proud of the writing and playing on it. On the CD, I’m joined by amazing Latin-Grammy-winner Joe McCarthy on drumset, and the unbelievable Linda Oh on bass, who has been getting the call from so many great jazz bandleaders in New York, including Dave Douglas, Kenny Barron, Steve Wilson, etc.

The Heart of the Geyser is available for pre-order here: http://www.dancavanagh.com/live/recordings/. On that page you can hear a few samples, and if you order before April 17, 2012, you will receive the pre-order discount price of $10 (plus s/h). If you order, the album will ship on April 15. While you’re there, make sure to check out my other two releases: Horizon with Dave¬†Hagedorn, and Pulse, my big band release.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I have a new website. Be sure to visit and check it out. It’s much easier to purchase big band charts and listen to samples here:¬†www.dancavanagh.com/live/music/. I also have a new video section: www.dancavanagh.com/live/music/video/, where you can view some recent video of a concert on which I was fortunate to play with the great Randy Brecker in¬†Las Vegas, among other great musicians.


As always, every Sunday I play the Birraporetti’s jazz brunch in Arlington. 11am – 2pm.

The American Jazz Composers Orchestra plays the 4th Tuesday of each month at the Blue Danube Restaurant in Pantego. This month it’s Tuesday, April 24, 7:30pm – 10pm, and there’s no cover. Our intern, Eric Morrison, has posted some live sound clips of the band here: http://www.soundcloud.com/ericmorrison.

On April 28, the Georgetown University Ensemble, under the direction of Aaron Broadus, is premiering my piece “Wide Lens.” The university commissioned the piece for their jazz festival this year. I’ll be out there for the premiere – if you’re in the area I’d love to see you at the concert!

You might also want to check on the jazz happenings at UT Arlington: http://www.uta.edu/music/.

Keep in touch!


www.dancavanagh.com | Follow Dan on Twitter | Find Dan on Facebook

Univ. Nevada Reno Percussion Ensemble to premiere Daemon Call

The University of Nevada Percussion Ensemble, directed by Dr. Andy Heglund, will premiere Daemon Call, for percussion ensemble and vibraphone soloist. Dave Hagedorn will play the vibes part. March 9, University of Nevada, Reno’s Nightingale Concert Hall. Hagedorn and Cavanagh will also play the second half of the concert. More info here.

Univ. of Miami to Perform Radiohead Project

The University of Miami’s Studio Jazz Band will perform the entirety of the Radiohead Jazz Project on Wednesday, Feb. 29. James Miley and I will both be there, doing some clinics with the students on our arrangements and enjoying the concert! More info here: http://www.miami.edu/frost/index.php/frost/frost_events/frost_studio_jazz_band/. You can get the charts and a CD for the Radiohead Jazz Project at Sierra Music Publications.