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Transcona student meets Marsalis

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Devon Gillingham’s penchant for composition brought him to New York once — and it’ll keep him there for years.

Gillingham, a Grade 12 Transcona Collegiate Institute student, travelled to the Big Apple earlier this month as the winner of the first Essentially Ellington Gerhard W. Vosshall Student Composition/Arranging Contest, which landed him a recording session with jazz legend Wynton Marsalis on May 9. At the session, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra recorded Gillingham’s winning composition Remember to Forget. To hear the composition, click here.

Gillingham gave orchestra members instructions on how to play the tune, and he said they were co-operative, even if he had to explain himself a time or two.

"It was very intimidating to stand beside Wynton for an hour and have him say ‘why’d you do that?" said Gillingham. "(I said) ‘Well, because I thought that’d be cool’. (He said) ‘I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just wondering why.’"

Gillingham said the experience taught him plenty about composition, as members of the orchestra gave him notes about what he could do to further improve as he writes more and more.

"A couple guys in the band gave me a couple things saying ‘you could have written it this way, or this doesn’t quite make sense for us — we know what you’re doing, but it would have been clearer if you wrote it this way,’" he said. "They gave me suggestions as readers, what’s easier for them when they’re doing a recording session in an hour, what could help them do it faster."

Gillingham was impressed to see how the band operates, noting how quickly it was able to agree with an articulation suggestion brought forward by saxophonist Ted Nash.

As well, as part of the trip, he had a meeting with composer David Berger, who critiqued the entries and helped select a winner. Gillingham said the main message he took from the session was to try to restrain himself a bit.

"The feedback was: ‘Devon, you’re trying to do too much in this piece — you have the young player syndrome,’" he recalled. "He said ‘But that’s also what I told Wynton the first time he gave me a piece.’

"That’s more intimidating, I guess, but it makes it come across in a better way."
He said there was also plenty of encouraging feedback as well from all involved.

Gillingham will return to New York this fall when he begins jazz and contemporary music education at The New School, which he said narrowly edged out Berklee College of Music.

Locals will have a chance to see Gillingham in action before he heads back stateside, though.

His sextet featuring noted Winnipeg musicians Aaron Shorr, Will Bonness, Curtis Nowosad, Andrew Littleford, and Niall Bakkestad-Lagare will perform as part of the TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival on June 22 at 7 p.m. at Old Market Square.

The sextet is the opening act for Quincy Davis and the U of M’s Promise.

As well, he helped write Taxidermy: The Musical with Connor Wielgosz last year. The show will be a part of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival this July. For more on the show, visit
Twitter: @HeraldWPG

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