SNJO The Art of Arranging with Geoffrey Keezer

Geoffrey Keezer enjoyed an early career path that just isn’t available to young jazz musicians today. As a seventeen-year-old student at Berklee School of Music in Boston, the pianist was introduced to Art Blakey. The legendary drummer and leader of one of jazz’s great on-the-road colleges, the Jazz Messengers, heard Keezer play and offered him a job.


Keezer declined, preferring to finish his year at Berklee, but at age eighteen, he joined Blakey, becoming the last in an illustrious line of Jazz Messengers pianists including Horace Silver, Bobby Timmons, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Cedar Walton, John Hicks and George Cables.


Following Blakey’s death, a year or so after Keezer had joined the Messengers, the pianist worked with trumpeter Art Farmer and then Ray Brown, the bassist for Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson. Keezer had already recorded his first album as a leader during his year as a Messenger, touring the world and learning about music, the piano and life from the drummer.


Keezer becoming a musician had been inevitable. Born to musical parents - his father a percussionist, teacher and bandleader; his mother a French horn player and music teacher - he was a child prodigy on piano and began playing gigs with his dad at the age of fourteen. He taught himself composition and while leading his own groups and touring and recording with an arrayof musicians including singer-pianist Diana Krall, and saxophonists Benny Golson, Wayne Shorter, Joshua Redman and David Sanborn, he has also become recognised for his mastery of the art of arranging.


“Geoffrey is one of the world’s most gifted, most sought-after musicians and composers,” says SNJO artistic director Tommy Smith. “As well as working with a number of true jazz legends, he has also been recognised in the pop arena through touring with Sting, who described him as a superb technician and improviser, a musician’s musician.”


Over the past twenty years SNJO audiences have been treated to many examples of Keezer’s arranging talents in concert and on record. His treatment of John Coltrane’s Dear Lord featured on the SNJO's American Adventure album and he arranged Keith Jarrett’s My Song for the orchestra’s collection of music associated with the ECM Records label, Celebration.


“Geoffrey’s appreciation and understanding of music are huge,” says Tommy Smith. “He has delivered superbly sensitive arrangements for us of pieces by composers and songwriters from Henry Mancini and Leonard Bernstein to Robert Burns and although I thought his strength lay in ballads, his reimagining of bass guitar revolutionary Jaco Pastorious’ animated Teen Town was strikingly effervescent.”


Under the banner of The Art of Arranging, Keezer will guide the Orchestra through his unique, new treatments of jazz classics by saxophonists Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter as well as specially reimagined arrangements of some of his own music. Since his last assignment for the SNJO, Keezer’s composing, allied to his great talent as a pianist, has been recognised by the American music industry’s top awards, the Grammys, as Refuge, from his twenty-third album, Playdate, won Best Instrumental Composition at this year’s awards.


As Tommy Smith says, “This is well-deserved recognition and we’re looking forward immensely to welcoming Geoffrey back to Scotland.”


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