Chamber Jazz – Charles Pillow Ensemble

Chamber Jazz – Charles Pillow Ensemble

Label: Summit Records

Release date: Feb 2020

Catalog number: 760


01 While in Pass Manchac
comp: Charles Pillow
02 Charlotte and Evan
comp: Charles Pillow
03 Don't Explain
comp: Billie Holiday
04 Bebe
comp: Hermeto Pascoal
05 Pee Wee
comp: Tony Williams
06 Oska T
comp: Thelonious Monk
07 Abschied, Ray
comp: Charles Pillow
08 Atchafalaya Fiction
comp: Charles Pillow

The music compiled here is the result of an interest in combining the warmer sonorities of alto flute, English horn, french horn, tuba and strings with a rhythm section and soloist to complete a large ensemble picture. Chamber jazz: fusing elements of music from French composers, most notably, Ravel and Debussy with jazz. Result: Tasty outing that you’ll want to hear over and over.

Composers: Charles Pillow, Billie Holiday, Hermeto Pascoal, Tony Williams, Thelonious Monk

While in Pass Manchac features Scott Wendholt from the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Pillow on alto
Charlotte and Evan features Gary Versace on piano and Pillow on alto
Don’t Explain is a tour de force for the one and only Vic Juris on guitar
Pascoal’s Bebe is one of his most well known compositions, practically a Brazilian standard. It’s given a slower treatment here, featuring Gary Versace on accordion, Pillow on clarinet and the percussion and drumming of Rogerio Boccato and Rich Thompson
Williams’ Pee Wee first appeared on Miles’ Sorcerer, from 1967, a period where Wayne Shorter supplied most of the compositions for the group. This one features Vic Juris on guitar and Pillow on alto flute
Oska T is one of Monk’s most underperformed pieces. Here Scott Wendholt and Alan Ferber stretch out and show how versatile they are
Abschied, Ray features Gary Versace
Atchafalaya Fiction features Alan Ferber who shows why he is in such demand and Gary Versace again demonstrates his remarkable talents


Charles Pillow – compositions, arrangements, flute, alto flute, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone, oboe, english horn
Scott Wendholt – trumpet
Alan Ferber – trombone
Chris Komer – french horn
Marcus Rojas – tuba
Todd Groves – bass clarinet, clarinet, flute
Vic Juris – guitar
Gary Versace – piano
Jeff Campbell – bass
Jay Anderson – bass
Mark Ferber – drums
Rich Thompson – drums
Rogerio Boccato – percussion
Hiroko Taguchi – violin
Whitney Lagrange – violin
Lisa Matricardi – violin
Todd Low – viola
Orlando Wells – viola
Alisa Horn – cello
Allison Seidner – cello



The emergence of chamber jazz as a musical genre has been much more prevalent in the last few decades. Blending classical music with jazz improvisation both challenges, and soothes, fans of both musical expressions. There is a pastoral beauty of classical chamber music, that mixes well with the swing that jazz can provide.

Over the years jazz saxophonists ranging from Charlie Parker and Ben Webster, to current artists like Eric Alexander, have risen to the occasion to emote over soaring strings. Trombonist and composer, Bob Brookmeyer, opened the palette, to include full orchestration, going beyond just a string section, adding full brass to expand the sound stage. He mentored Maria Schneider, who with a full jazz orchestra, brought in sumptuous Americana influences, inspired by Aaron Copland.

Multi-instrumentalist, Charles Pillow, is the latest to tackle blending chamber music and jazz. On his new Summit Records CD, Chamber Jazz, Pillow employs non-traditional jazz instruments like tuba, english and french horns, alto flute, and bass clarinet. Chamber music was originally written, centuries ago, to be played in palaces and large rooms, with one musician playing a single part. French composers such as Ravel and Debussy, were noted as influences by Pillow on the eight tracks presented here. Charles wrote four compositions and the other four come from Monk, Billie Holiday, Tony Williams, and Brazilian composer, Hermeto Pascoal. Pillow, himself, plays on seven instruments!

The opener, “While in Pass Manchac,” (an area near New Orleans), begins with soothing strings (three violins, two violas, and two cellos), backed by piano, before the horns enter. Veteran trumpeter, Scott Wendholt solos, as does Pillow on alto sax. It’s a warm introduction for that to come. “Charlotte and Evan,” written for Charles’ children, is lovely as the strings are tender, blending with a horn fanfare. Pillow is again on alto sax, while Gary Versace is featured on piano. The ensemble blend is striking, and Pillow’s alto sax is passionate and inspiring.

Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain” features guitarist, Vic Juris, who recently passed away last New Years Eve, from cancer. His impeccable taste is shown here, and it is easy to be deeply moved by this sublime track. “Bebe” from Hermeto Pascoal, is given a tempered treatment. Gary Versace, the most prominent jazz accordionist today, adds to the “noirish” vibe, bringing a lilt, aided by Charles’ clarinet, and the percussion of Rogerio Boccato.

“Pee Wee” from Tony Williams, written for Miles Davis’ 1967 album, Sorcerer, brings out the best of the blend of the two genres. Both moody and introspective, the strings and rhythm section together are a dream team, with Juris, and Pillow taking lead. A lesser known Monk tune, “Oska T” follows. Marcus Rojas, roars on tuba, and I hear a New Orleans second line vibe, with call and response. Trumpet and trombone escalate the energy. A great arrangement…

“Abschied Ray” was written for Charles to honor his father, who passed away around the time this CD was coming together. The strings add to its beauty, and Gary Versace, on piano, helps bring out its beauty. Our visit with chamber jazz ends with “Atchafalaya Fiction.” Inspired by the largest wetlands in the US, located in Louisiana, the track runs almost eleven minutes, by far the longest number on the CD. It begins slowly, escalating when Alan Ferber’s trombone enters for an extended solo. Gary Versace’s piano voicings bring on reflection.

Charles Pillow has exceeded in strong fashion fusing the strengths of classical chamber music with jazz improvisation, in providing a program of gorgeous music that is quite welcome in these trying times.

-Jeff Krow for Audiophile Audition



Composer and arranger Charles Pillow also supplies woodwinds as he leads a deft mix of jazz and strings in a rich masala mix of tones on this album of originals and jazz standards. Of the latter, the tensile strings combined with (the late) Vic Juris on guitar for a dramatic flamenco sketch of “Don’t Explain,” and there is childlike joy amongst Pillow’s flute hovering over Mark Ferber’s drums on Tony Williams’ “Pee Wee”. The horns of Alan Ferber/tb and Scott Wendholt/tp provide a fun herky-jerky pulse to the clippety clop of Thelonious Monk’s under-performed “Osaka T” with bohemian pizzicato’s provide by the strings create a cheery “Bebe” along with Todd Groves’ rich clarinet. Of the leader’s tunes, Wendholt is sweet and Pillow’s alto is bright on the layered “While In Pass Manchac” and the team bops on a dreamy “Charlotte and Evan”. The textures are  pastoral and always mix the colors well, making each song a holistic idea, with nary a sense of gimmickry. The rainbow of sounds glows and glistens.

-George Harris for Jazz Weekly



On Charles Pillow Ensemble’s “Chamber Jazz” album, the Eastman School of Music professor plays flute, alto flute, clarinet, alto and soprano saxophone, oboe and English Horn — all of them brilliantly. Pillow has also written four of the tunes and arranged all eight beautifully for 20 musicians, including seven string players. But those feats would mean nothing if the music wasn’t gorgeous from start to finish.

The concept behind “Chamber Jazz” is to filter elements of great French Impressionist composers like Ravel and Debussy through a jazz sensibility. Whether the vehicle is “Bebe” by Brazilian composer Hermeto Pascoal, or Pillow’s “While in Pass Manchac,” Pillow’s voicings and melodic turns are simply magical. Another Eastman professor, Gary Versace, is the second star here on piano, and especially, on accordion. There are too many musicians to mention but guitarist Vic Juris is outstanding on Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.”

-Ron Netsky for Rochester City Newspaper



This album is a follow-up to the Charles Pillow critically acclaimed 2018 release. Pillow came up with the concept for this new project titled, “Chamber Jazz” to blend elements of classical music with jazz.

“The project came about as a way to fuse elements of classical music with improvisation and to evolve further as a composer. Playing with a string section is deeply satisfying and by adding bass clarinet and a small brass section to the mix, I found additional captivating tonal palette possibilities,” Charles Pillow shared.

This is an easy listening, romantic production that features four song(s) composed by Charles Pillow and four popular jazz tunes including the Billie Holiday standard “Don’t Explain.” It’s arranged uniquely, beginning with a very Latin flavored guitar introduction by Vic Juris and sexy drums roll beneath, played by mallets. Charles Pillow has known Vic Juris for years and has been playing with him in David Liebman’s Big Band for over a decade. The horns are beautifully harmonized and the strings add emotional drama and romance to this arrangement.

The Hermeto Pascoal composition, “Bebe” is a well-known Brazilian tune. Pillow and his Chamber Jazz group slow the tempo and feature Gary Versace on accordion. On this arrangement, the string section shivers like trembling bird wings and Charles Pillow picks up his clarinet. Some of the songs featured and written by Pillow celebrate his family. There is the tune, “Charlotte and Evan” that is dedicated to his daughter and son. “Abschied Ray” is a tribute to his father who passed during the time this music was being arranged and recorded. Charles Pillow’s Louisiana roots are strung, like a stream of long, blue, gold and white silk ribbons through his compositions. Born in Baton Rouge, LA, he attended college at Loyola University. He earned his Master’s Degree in Jazz Studies at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he is currently Assistant Director of Jazz Saxophone. In 1987, Pillow relocated to New York City and was sucked up into the studio session scene. His versatile talent contributed to records by pop icons like Mariah Carey, Jay Z, R&B balladeer, Luther Vandross, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and even Frank Sinatra. He played straight ahead jazz and big band music with luminaries like David Liebman, Tom Harrell, John Scofield and smooth jazz with David Sanborn. But he’s truly at his best when he leads and records his own band. This is a prime example.

-Musical Memoirs