The Artist

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble

"Profound, imaginative, well-developed pieces for [19] musicians, grown out of jazz and classical music, built around soloists but never subservient to them. As a big-band jazz composer, Mr. Hollenbeck was already good; now he’s become great."
— Ben Ratliff, NY Times

“Hollenbeck's composing for his Large Ensemble has now developed a deeply personal language, retaining jazz values as it launches into a pan-stylistic orbit.”
 — Martin Longley, All About Jazz

John Hollenbeck is one of the rare artists who have mastered the tradition of big band composition while crossing aesthetic boundaries and speaking directly to the time we live in today. His music is a daring mix of pure, heart-on-sleeve lyricism and robust rhythmic propulsion, and an audacious example of the power of big band jazz to express emotions well beyond swing-era clichés. His music for this group has earned acclaim for its rich, panoramic orchestral textures that retain the power of its members’ individual voices.

Unlike most contemporary big bands, this is no random agglomeration of freelancers – the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble is an actual band consisting of top New York musicians. John had been writing for big band since he was in college at the Eastman School of Music and eventually formed the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble in 1998 as an outlet to write the kind of music that wasn’t being written for this style of big band: "I saw some things that could be done that weren't being done, and I thought there might be some other possibilities with a group that still has traditional instrumentation but the music itself is not traditional." He gathered together a core group of musician friends who he had studied with at Eastman, and then selected a group of New York City musician friends and colleagues to complete the ensemble, creating a fine balance of camaraderie, integrity and talent - the perfect outlet for the creative expression of his music.

“John Hollenbeck’s 18-piece Large Ensemble can explode with rhythmic drive and technical dazzle, or it can evoke serene calm, tone poetry and even prayer. It’s a big band for a new eclectic world, building on the legacy of seminal big-band composer Bob Brookmeyer and other role models. Hollenbeck holds it together with intricate drumming, compositional acumen and searing wit as he marshals the resources of top jazz improvisers, including saxophonist Tony Malaby and vocalist, Theo Bleckmann." 
— David Adler, TimeOut New York

Sunnyside Records celebrates the June 2015 release of John Hollenbeck’s fifth large ensemble album, Songs We Like A Lot, a second collection of Hollenbeck’s arrangements and originals including songs made famous by Cyndi Lauper, Daft Punk, The Carpenters, The Fifth Dimension, Pete Seeger and more. The recording features vocalists Theo Bleckmann, Kate McGarry, pianist Uri Caine, and The Frankfurt Radio Bigband, who commissioned and recorded the album. Among the Hollenbeck originals is “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground,” a composition that originally appeared on the Claudia Quintet’s What is the Beautiful? Bleckmann sings words by poet Kenneth Patchen in both versions. Another poet’s words figure in the Hollenbeck original “Constant Conversation” — those of 13th-century poet and mystic Rūmī.

Sunnyside Records released the prequel Songs I Like A Lot in 2013, featuring vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann, and pianist Gary Versace. The album, also commissioned and recorded by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, is an exhibition of imaginatively remolded songs from a diverse array of musical worlds.  According to DownBeat’s Frank Alkyer: “With Songs I Like A Lot, John Hollenbeck has created an absolute masterpiece of arranging” and showcases John's arrangements of songs by Jimmy Webb, Imogen Heap, Ornette Coleman, Freddie Mercury and others. Hollenbeck’s arrangement of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress” from this album was nominated for a 2014 Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).

“These may be songs Hollenbeck likes, but it's how he hears them and, subsequently, arranges them for this large ensemble that's indicative of an unerring ability to find good music in any corner, nook or cranny, turning it into something personal without ever losing what made it so good in the first place.”
— John Kelman, All About Jazz

The John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble’s second CD eternal interlude and their debut CD A Blessing also earned Grammy nominations for Best Jazz Large Ensemble Album. As The New York Times’ Nate Chinen said of the group’s second CD: “The drummer and composer John Hollenbeck inhabits a world of gleaming modernity, and “Eternal Interlude” (Sunnyside), the second album featuring his Large Ensemble, reflects both the clarity and brightness of his vision.” Hollenbeck’s compositions have also been recorded by Austria’s Jazz BigBand Graz on 2006’s critically acclaimed Joys and Desires.