16 Jazz Composers Selected for Jazz Orchestra Institute Readings

Readings, Workshops & Performances by Three Orchestras in 2016

16 jazz artists from around the country have been selected to participate in the third Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute (JCOI) Readings in 2016. Three orchestras — the Naples Philharmonic (May 25 & 26), American Composers Orchestra (June 15 & 16), and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra (September 20 & 21) — will workshop, rehearse, and give public readings of new works for symphony orchestra, providing audiences the opportunity to hear exciting new works by a diverse array of composers that break down stylistic barriers and update the orchestral repertory.

“the potential to shift the course of concert music”
– National Public Radio

The 2016 JCOI Readings are the culmination of a process that began in August 2015, when 36 jazz composers of all ages were selected from a national pool of applicants to attend the weeklong JCOI Intensive, a series of workshops and seminars devoted to orchestral composition held at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. After completing the Intensive, sixteen composers were given the opportunity to put what they learned into practice by composing a new symphonic work. The composers, working in jazz, improvised, and creative music, were chosen based on their excellent musicianship, originality, and potential for future growth in orchestral composition. While many jazz composers seek to write for the symphony orchestra, opportunities for hands-on experience are few. JCOI aims to provide new resources for both jazz and classical music, promoting the emergence of composers trained in both jazz and new orchestral techniques. James Newton directs the Institute.

JCOI has been the subject of articles in the Wall Street Journal and features on National Public Radio. With the class of 2016, nearly 100 jazz composers have benefited from the program, and so far 27 new jazz works for orchestra have been created and workshopped.

Listen online here
Read the Wall Street Journal feature here

Read Howard Mandel’s Essay and Interview “Jazz and the Future of the Symphony Orchestra” here

The composers selected for the JCOI Readings are:

  • Amina Figarova (b. 1965), an Azerbaijan-born, New York-based pianist and composer who studied classical piano performance at the Baku Conservatory as well as jazz performance at the Rotterdam Conservatory, Netherlands, and attended the Thelonious Monk Institute’s summer jazz colony in Aspen;
  • Jonathan Finlayson (b. 1982), a New York-based, disciple of the saxophonist/composer Steve Coleman who has performed alongside notables including Mary Halvorson, Henry Threadgill, Von Freeman, Jason Moran, Dafnis Prieto and Vijay Iyer;
  • Brian Friedland (b. 1982), a Boston-based whose music is rooted in jazz piano traditions but also shows his love of genres ranging from Balkan Folk to classical minimalism
  • Gene Knific (b. 1992) a pianist, composer, and arranger based in Kalamazoo, Michigan who has performed all over the world including at The St. Petersburg Conservatory, Copenhagen Opera House, Montmartre Jazzhus, Amelia Island Jazz Festival, Mozambique International Festival of Music, and more and has won seven Down Beat Music Awards for his performances and compositions
  • Ethan Helm (b. 1990), a New York-based saxophonist and composer, who co-leads the jazz quintet Cowboys & Frenchmen and whose latest quartet album, The Spoon, was released last summer
  • Robin Holcomb (b. 1954), a Seattle-based composer and singer/songwriter recording for Nonesuch, Songlines, and Tzadik, whose music draws on both her childhood in Georgia and her stints working among avant-garde musicians in New York and California
  • Yvette Jackson (b. 1973), a composer, sound designer and installation artist focused on radio opera and narrative soundscape composition from La Solla, California who holds degrees from Columbia University and the Colburn School for the Performing Arts
  • Sonia Jacobsen (b. 1967), a much-awarded composer, jazz saxophonist, and founding director of the New York Symphonic Jazz Orchestra who grew up splitting her time between Australia and Denmark and is now based in Chapin, South Carolina
  • John La Barbera (b. 1945) who is a renowned composer/arranger working in the jazz world for over four decades whose music has been performed by Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme’, Chaka Khan, Harry James, Bill Watrous, Phil Woods, and many more
  • Guy Mintus (b. 1991), Israeli-born, New York-based jazz pianist and composer, who focuses on music as a gateway to cross-cultural understanding and has collaborated with master musicians from Turkey, Greece, Iran, Morocco, Azerbaijan, Cuba, India and Mali
  • Ben Morris (b. 1993) who graduated from the University of Miami, who is currently pursuing his masters’ at Rice University and has won the ASCAP Morton Gould Award, two Klezmer Company Orchestra Composers’ Prizes, and three Festival Miami Composers’ Awards
  • Dawn Norfleet (b. 1965) a jazz flutist, vocalist, and composer residing in Los Angeles, who is on the faculty at the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and the Colburn School of Performing Arts
  • Hitomi Oba (b. 1984), a Los Angeles-based saxophonist and composer,  who holds an MA from UCLA in Music Composition and whose second jazz album, Negai, released on the Japanese label M&I received a prestigious Swing Journal 42nd Annual Jazz Disc Award
  • Nathan Smith (b. 1983), a Brooklyn-based performer and composer  who leads the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble which performs throughout New York City
  • Emilio Solla (b. 1962), a Buenos Aires-born, Brooklyn-based artist, who has recorded more than 40 albums performing with Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo O’Farrill, Cristina Pato, Billy Hart, Ryan Keberle and many more, and whose latest album, Second Half (2014), was nominated for a 2015 Grammy Award for Best Latin Jazz Album
  • Anthony Tidd (b. 1972) who was born in London but is based in Philadelphia, and has performed with Steve Coleman, The Roots, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Wayne Krantz, Meshell Ndegeocello, Common, Jill Scott, and many more and has produced albums by such well-known artists such as The Roots, Macy Grey, Zap Mama, The Black Eyed Peas, and more.


The Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute is a program of American Composers Orchestra in partnership with the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University and the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. The program is made possible by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Continuing Innovation Program, and the Herb Alpert Foundation, with additional funding provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Fromm Music Foundation and with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. The Buffalo Philharmonic and Naples Philharmonic are members of EarShot, the national orchestral composition discovery network, a partnership with the League of American Orchestras, New Music USA, and American Composers Forum, made possible with the support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The Aaron Copland Fund for Music and with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support of women composers provided by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation.