Reflections on Composing #1


This is the first of what I hope will be a bi-monthly composer’s blog. In it I will discuss not only insights from my own life as a composer but lessons gleaned from others, regardless of style. You can find a lot of basic information on the web, as regards the foundations of composing. I would like to focus on ideas that are perhaps less discussed, observations large and small from my own idiosyncratic journey. (more…)

Alternative Guitar Festival #3- 2013

Here is info for AGF: see for a trailer of all the artists.

7:30 pm

Guitarist and composer Andrew McKenna Lee performs his “Sunrise from the Bottom of the Sea” — a psychedelic homage to Jimi Hendrix for solo electric guitar and electronics — as well as other smaller works for solo nylon string guitar. Andrew McKenna Lee’s music has been commissioned and programmed by ensembles and organizations including the Brentano String Quartet, eighth blackbird, Kroumata, Concert Artists Guild, the American Composers Orchestra, the New Jersey Symphony, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. (more…)

Paul Motian memorial at the Vanguard

I was honored to attend the Paul Motian memorial, which was organized by ECM records at the Village Vanguard on a cold Sunday afternoon in January. The first thing I noticed as I emerged into this holy room was a huge, vibrant picture of Paul that sat in front of the bandstand. From the first moment he dominated the proceedings, with his spirit, and with his absence. (more…)

honoring Paul Motian


10 years after I conceived the String Choir Project, a year after the cd was released, I  finally toured these arrangements of Paul Motian’s singular music for 11 days in Europe this Fall. It was on our 4th gig, in Malmo, Sweden, that we performed the music in the way I had always dreamed possible. We achieved an alchemical mixture of spontaneity, fine intonation, ensemble attunement, intimacy, playfulness, and gravitas in a perfect acoustic environment. Sorry to be sentimental, but I almost wept. It was a long time coming. (more…)

Arguing with David Orr about the value of art

I just finished reading David Orr’s book “Beautiful and Pointless: a guide to modern poetry.” Orr writes for the New York Times Book Review and obviously has read a ton of modern work. There’s much to admire in his common-sense insights into what verse has to offer the average reader. He tries to gently lead us into the mindset of modern poets in a humorous, non-threatening way. I like his plain approach; he takes pains to distance himself from the pretense and metaphor-laden earnestness that can typify this type of inquiry. (more…)

New York State Council on the Arts cuts

I have been the lucky recipient of three grants from NYSCA, one of which was a huge asset to my career. The money I got to write my piece for string quartet and jazz quintet, “The Wheel”,  allowed me to make a leap forward artistically, and this piece led to many more grants from various organizations. Now I hear that NYSCA has cut its staff in half and cut much funding. I know that we are in troubled times fiscally- I just hope that everyone remembers how important art is to our world. As I’ve often said art makes us more human, it ennobles us, it lights the world in ways seen and unseen. Let’s hope NYSCA funds are soon restored.

String Choir – Downbeat Review

String Choir

By Jon Ross, DownBeat

Guitarist Joel Harrison’s latest group of arrangements – Paul Motion tunes arranged for string quartets – belongs in a gray area between classical and jazz. this isn’t simply jazz with strings, the subgenre that once bewitched Charlie Parker; Harrison’s record leans more toward classical music, but it’s certainly not the jazz-as-classical mishmash more recently explored by Wynton Marsalis. (more…)

The Music of Paul Motian

String Choir

By John Kelman, All About Jazz

Joel Harrison has stretched the boundaries of form and freedom for over fifteen years, but Urban Myths (HighNote, 2009) and, in particular, the ambitious The Wheel(Innova, 2008), have represented significant evolutionary leaps. The Wheelmarried a conventional horn-led jazz quintet with a classical string quartet, its collection of Harrison originals pushing the limits of cross-pollination by eliminating all preconceived stylistic delineators. The Music of Paul Motian takes The Wheel‘s advancements a step further, focusing on Motian’s writing, rather than the textural and temporally implicit playing approach that has made him such an ongoing role model for generations of drummers. (more…)