An associate professor of jazz composition at Berklee College of Music and a protégé of the late great Bob Brookmeyer, who’s featured on her 2006 debut album Clairvoyance, Ayn Inserto has won numerous awards and commissions while producing a gloriously inventive body of work. Full of dynamic movement, striking voicings and lush harmonies, Inserto’s imaginative writing puts her at the forefront of the contemporary orchestral jazz scene.
Sean Jones recently joined Berklee as the chair of the brass department, and is currently Artist-In-Residence at San Francisco Performances and a member of SFJAZZ Collective. Shortly after receiving his master’s from Rutgers, Jones was invited by Wynton Marsalis to play lead trumpet with the Lincoln Jazz Orchestra, where he remained until 2010. Jones has played and recorded with a number of major figures, including Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Heath, Frank Foster, Nancy Wilson, Dianne Reeves, Gerald Wilson and Marcus Miller. In 2011, he toured the Tribute to Miles with Miller, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter.
Inserto’s most recent recording, Home Away From Home, is a collaboration between Inserto and the Colours Jazz Orchestra of Milan and was released in the US by the Neuklang Records on June 9, 2015. The album is earning rave reviews. As Jon Garelick of the Boston Globe writes: “Inserto’s ‘spark’ is fully evident on Home Away From Home: the ecstatic, helter-skelter breaks for drums and horns and the weave of simultaneous trumpet and soprano sax solos on opener ‘You’re Leaving? But I Just Got Here’ the melancholy tone-poem harmonies of ‘Wintry Mix’; an evocative deconstruction of the Joe Henderson classic ‘Recorda Me’; the playful funk of ‘Hang Around’; the lovely melody and languid waltz rhythm of ‘La Danza Infinita.’”
Born in Singapore, Inserto was 14 when her family relocated to California, and within a year had settled in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay, where she was well prepared to take advantage of the region’s extensive jazz educational resources. Inserto had started taking piano lessons as a child, and jumped into music at her Catholic church.
“I was very active in the church choir, and they this one band that had a little more modern sound,” Inserto recalls. “I was playing the organ, and there was lot of improvising that would go on before the service started. A lot of our music only had lead sheets, and I’d make up stuff to go with them.”
Introduced to jazz via the Manhattan Transfer, she learned to read chords from a book of Disney tunes, and soon started substituting her own chord choices to make the songs sound more interesting. By the time she started Clayton Valley High School in the East Bay city of Concord, Inserto was obsessed with music, playing piano in various school ensembles, including the jazz band. She discovered Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner and other piano giants, while continuing to study classical piano. She was also an avid member of the award-winning Blue Devils Drum and Bugle Corps, playing mallet percussion. Inserto’s jazz education took a quantum leap when she attended a week-long Berklee camp held in Los Angeles “where I learned voicings,” she says. “Around that time I also started writing for the school band and the marching band. I got hired to write for the Blue Devils “B” Corps, writing all these mallet percussion ensemble pieces.”
She attended Los Medanos College’s respected jazz program for several years and then transferred to Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay), where she thrived under the tutelage of trombonist/arranger Dave Eshelman, who has mentored several generations of exceptional Bay Area jazz musicians. He recorded several of her pieces with the CSUH Big Band. Encouraged to apply to New England Conservatory by saxophonist and NEC professor Allan Chase, who’s now a member of her Jazz Orchestra, Inserto was drawn to NEC by the presence of Brookmeyer. “I studied two full years with him,” she says. “I was writing from a piano player’s point of view, and he got me into more melodic writing, developing these long lines. After NEC I continued to study with him and he really took me on as a mentor.”
While Brookmeyer’s influence is evident, Inserto has honed an independent musical identity writing and arranging for her orchestra, as well as numerous other ensembles that have commissioned her. She released her second album featuring the band and special guest George Garzone, Muse, in 2008, cementing her reputation as a composer and arranger of exceptional acuity. She has no plans of giving up the Ayn Inserto Jazz Orchestra, but after her collaboration with Colours it couldn’t be clearer why Italy is truly a home away from home.
Composer/arranger/director Ayn Inserto and her Jazz Orchestra are joined by special guest trumpeter Sean Jones on Monday, September 14 at Berklee College of Music for a concert entitled Something Old, Something New. This concert features compositions by Inserto, Jones and Jeff Claassen, lead trumpet player of the band and an assistant professor in the harmony department at Berklee. Also featured will be music from Inserto’s latest album, Home Away From Home, and “Ze Teach and Me,” a tribute to the late Bob Brookmeyer commissioned by the Madison College Big Band. The free concert starts at 7:30 p.m. in the David Friend Recital Hall, 921 Boylston Street, Boston.
Performing in the band are an all-star list of players: Allan Chase, soprano/alto sax, flute; Rick Stone, alto sax, flute, clarinet; Mark Zaleski, tenor sax, clarinet; Kathy Olson, bari sax, bass clarinet, clarinet; Jeff Claassen, composer, trumpet; Dan Rosenthal, Pete Kenagy, and Matthew Small, trumpet; Randy Pingrey, Tim Lienhard, Garo Saraydarian, and Joe Ricard, trombone; Eric Hofbauer, guitar; Jason Yeager, piano; Sean Farias, bass; Austin McMahon, drums.