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Ten Year Suite


The Ten Year Suite - Origins, Stories, and Music

Today I’m posting the conclusory movement to my “Ten Year Suite.” I thought it would be a nice time to share a few things about the piece, where it came from, who played on it, provide a home for all of the movements of the suite, and talk about what comes next.

Watch the piece in it’s entirety here:

A little bit of context...

I’ve always been a fan of large ensemble music in the jazz setting. My first love in jazz was Duke Ellington. Not only for his compositional sense, but his orchestrational mastery. Duke could get so many colors out of his band! Not to mention making musical decisions based on the personalities of the members of his orchestra... Something unique that I have always liked about Duke is that he would compose suites (meaning a series of related compositions that make up parts of a larger whole). The Far East Suite, the New Orleans Suite, the Such Sweet Thunder Suite, Ellington’s arrangement of The Nutcracker Suite, and the Queen’s Suite are some of my favorites and I’ve had the opportunity to perform many of these throughout my collegiate studies and with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra on tour. For me, I think that writing and organizing music in this more long form way, allows the composer to tell a broader and in many ways more detailed story. 

In combination with these Ellington influences, I began to check out some extended works by Wynton Marsalis and others who share in that same story-telling aesthetic by writing multi-movement pieces. The orchestration and combination of instruments in medium size groups like Michael Brecker’s Quindectet, Pat Metheny’s The Way Up, and Gil Evans’ wide-ranging ensembles proved to be equally influential in my development of this piece. While I was at Eastman, I had the pleasure of playing weekly in the band of a fantastic Rochester based composer: Dave Rivello. His band was comprised of 12 musicians: six brass, three reeds, and rhythm section. This band was another example of masterful orchestration, and the complex and individual search for colors within the realm of jazz composition and orchestration. During much of the time I’ve been in New York, I’ve also had the pleasure to play in a fantastic Nonet led by composer and amazing tenor saxophonist Lucas Pino. We’ve had a monthly residency at Smalls Jazz Club for about the last three years, and this band is another example of a composer writing for personalities, not just instruments. 

All of this coalesced at a time after I had finished writing my first two albums for my six piece band (2013’s Exposition and 2015’s The Chase) and wanting to challenge my creativity to write for a new and different ensemble. I decided I wanted to explore a new direction for my music, try a larger ensemble, and involve some instruments that I don’t normally have the opportunity to perform with. Around this time II also received a commission from a New York based non-profit that I’m involved with called the Institute for Creative Music. And the “Ten Year Suite” was born...

The story behind the suite...

The “Ten Year Suite” is a reflection of, and a story about, life and relationships. The piece was born in the summer and fall of 2014, a time when I was realizing that I had been invested in a life in music since 2004 (the beginning of my final year of high school) and there was a lot that had happened in the interim. Many musical relationships had been made, friendships formed and lost, and an ever evolving complex relationship with family as one “grows up" and moves away. 

The piece began as a collection of just a few notes, that expanded (or perhaps exploded is a better word) into the basis for all of the music found in the suite. Here you can see that initial brainstorm:

In life, it seems like people, places, memories, and relationships are all tied up within one another. Often I’m unable to separate one from the others totally. Everything is interconnected! You never know what cursory event might lead to extraordinary things in the future. These movements also reflect the complex nature of our lives and memories.

The Movements...

I - Re:Connection

It isn’t always at first glance that we realize the importance of someone entering our life. Sometimes it isn’t until much later that we realize the impact that person had on us. This could be a friend, a co-worker, peer, anyone really. From this point of realization we’re then set upon a journey to try and encourage this person to re-enter our lives. These days (especially for my generation) our main forms of connection are digital. For better or worse, we often hide behind the convenience and anonymity that digital communication offers, even when we are trying to connect in a meaningful way. Hence, the double meaning found in the title “Re:Connection.” 

II - Middle Distance

Whether it’s a long distance, short distance, or a middle distance, physical space between the past and present always create obstacles. Being apart from family and friends is bittersweet. You’re now open to new relationships that will allow you to grow and develop as a person in a new context. But we often long for the familiarity and comfort that our childhood home and friends provide. For me, I’ve often been trapped in a kind of middle distance between new and old, here and there. This movement aims to capture that bittersweet tug of war between the past and the present.

III - Changing Times

Everyone can relate. You never really know the exact path you’ll follow in life. Even when things seem laid out clearly in front of you, the exact path becomes twisted and windy. But it is these unexpected struggles and detours that end up shaping us into who we need to be to deal with the situations that shall arise further down the path of our life’s journey. This movement is a development of ideas moving from a representation of the “simple”/“sheltered” world of academia, and transitioning into the professional spotlight. 

IV - Are You Sure? 

Our internal self-doubt pops up at the worst times. It is this feeling that can sometimes prevent us from taking action on the goals that matter to us most. This recurring feeling creeps into all of our subconscious at one time or another. This movement is really a representation of that feeling, what it might sound like to be trapped within the reeling mind of someone battling against this doubt to realize their artistic visions/goals. 

V - Sun in Your Eyes

The sun is a symbol in so many ways. It provides life. Its path through the sky presents ideas of the cyclic nature of life. It lights our way. We miss it in the darkness. It lights the faces of those we love in a beautiful, warm, and enchanting way. But if we look straight into it, it seers into our eyes. Looking into the sun is not a pleasant experience. This piece represents the duality of symbols in our lives. Sometimes the very things we seek are the ones that cause us the most displeasure in the process.

VI - The Indefinite Road Ahead

No one really knows what lies ahead. Anything might happen. Good, bad, or neutral, at any time. But we must move forward. Always move ahead. And with conviction. 

VII - Never Enough (Time) 

For me, this piece represents the idea of having presence in the present moment. I tend to be one to look into the future, to plan incessantly. But, if we don’t take the time to be grateful and humbled by the moment that we’re in, how can we be happy? There is never enough time to do everything that we want to do and everyone’s time in this life is finite. This is me trying to stop, and “smell the roses."


All of the guys involved in this project are amazing, and have many of their own projects WELL worth your time to investigate! You can check out their projects by clicking on their name below: 

Michael Thomas - Alto Saxophone

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown - Tenor Saxophone

Andrew Gutauskus - Bass Clarinet

Mat Jodrell - Trumpet

Andrew Renfroe - Guitar

Steven Feifke - Synth

Dave Baron - Bass

Chris Ziemba - Piano

Bryan Carter - Drums

What’s Next? 

Playing music for this mid-size “chamber jazz” type ensemble has been some of the most rewarding playing that I’ve done in my life, and I’ve wanted to share this music with more musicians that just the few who were involved in the New York City premiere. I’ve shared this music in a few other places since this February 2015 performance. In May of 2015 the Institute for Creative Music presented the “Ten Year Suite” as part of their “Jazz is Ugly; Jazz is Beautiful” festival in Rochester, NY. And I presented it again in April of 2015 at Florida State University’s College of Music with a new student “Chamber Jazz Ensemble”. Sharing the story of the music, and sharing the music itself has been a real pleasure. For me it has been a large undertaking to develop and execute this project - but I can’t wait to do it again! I’m booking some additional performances for the ensemble for the summer of 2016 and beyond, and hope to share the piece with more student “Chamber Jazz” type groups in the future! 

If you want to bring the “Ten Year Suite” to your town or school, please send a message to my Booking Agent via:


- Nick