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The rise of choral jazz

Composer Will Todd.
Composer Will Todd.

The genre of ‘choral jazz’ has become increasingly prevalent among choirs, with the jazz mass the ultimate form. Settings of the Latin mass by Lalo Schifrin and Scott Stroman have enjoyed popular following, while more recently Bob Chilcott’s A Little Jazz Mass and Nidaros Jazz Mass have established the genre in the wider choral tradition, reaching choirs from across the choral spectrum and audiences young and old.

Composed in 2001, Will Todd‘s Mass in Blue is a further example of the genre, presenting an innate fusion of jazz elements within choral writing. The composer describes the piece as ‘a real watershed work’, combining his passion for jazz with his previous experience of church and choral music, including as a boy treble.

As a choral composer Will Todd rose to prominence with pieces such as My Lord has come and The Call of Wisdom (commissioned as part of the celebrations to mark Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee), while as a jazz pianist he records and performs extensively with his own trio. His playing can be heard, for example, on the Vasari Singers’ recording of Mass in Blue and on OUP’s Mass in Blue backing CD.

2014 sees the publication of a new edition of Todd’s Mass in Blue, in which the composer has sought to enhance the flexibility and accessibility of the work while retaining its essence and drive. For instance, the choral parts and textures have been simplified in places, while the piano part increases support to the choir and has been revised to accommodate players of more modest ability. Optional exemplar solos are provided in the instrumental parts (piano, bass, and drum-kit, with optional saxophone) and additional cues have been added to the piano part to aid rehearsal.

Why? Will Todd observes that he has ‘experienced the work in a wide variety of guises and venues’, and the revised edition should allow the piece to travel still further. For a composer who says that his music is ‘about bringing people together’, the jazz mass is the perfect vehicle. The form lends itself to universality, with its synthesis of the sacred and the secular, of a traditional text with contemporary jazz styles, and an ability to unite musicians from diverse musical backgrounds.

Image credit: Choir Sing Cheer Joyfull Voices Vocals A Capella. Public domain via Pixabay

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