Black, Brown & Beige – music for the 21st century

‘It’s probably Ellington’s most ambitious work and when you hear it, it’s striking. It makes quite an impact. I hope we get a full house to hear this wonderful piece.’

Monash University Orchestra | image by Greg Ford (supplied)
Monash University Orchestra | image by Greg Ford (supplied)

At a free concert at Monash University’s Robert Blackwood Hall on Sunday 10 August, outstanding musicians from the Monash Academy of Performing Arts present a number of pieces.

Trombonist Jordan Murray teaches full-time at Monash Academy of Performing Arts and is responsible for the Monash University Big Band. We spoke to him this week in the lead up to the concert and specifically about the jazz components of the program – Black, Brown and Beige by Duke Ellington, and ‘Nexus’ by Don Banks.

Black Brown & Beige features member of the Monash University Big Band and also incorporates some of the orchestral players. The line-up will include a couple of our jazz students in the trumpet section, two jazz students in the trombone section and a jazz rhythm section.

‘It’s kind of orchestral but it also has improvisation or a jazz aesthetic included in it.’

Music for the 21st Century Musician

These two pieces in particular are ideal for an ensemble that includes a combination of classical and jazz musicians.

‘The Academy aims to provide opportunities for students to play and hear a diverse range of musical genres. Not only will they be well-rounded musicians, but their employment prospects are higher when they actually do graduate from university.’

This idea of the well-rounded ’21st century musician’ is a concept that educators at Monash clearly passionately believe in.

‘Regardless of what decision a student makes when they graduate; whether they choose to be in an orchestra or a freelance musician, I think it’s the responsibility of the university to give them an opportunity to play and experience a whole range of different types of music.’

Musicians who have completed a straight jazz degree or a straight classical degree will often find themselves wishing they’d had a broader exposure to other kinds of music.’

Bringing it

Preparation involves a quite intensive rehearsal period of about two weeks.

‘The musicians have to commit to every single rehearsal and are expected to work hard to prepare. It’s not just about the music; it’s about the whole process and making it come together. And when they hear it at the concert they realise – as does the audience – that the magic that happens at the concert is why we play music.

Collaborations and relationships

Monash University’s Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music has formed close ties with the Australian Art Orchestra through the Monash Art Ensemble led by Paul Grabowsky, collaborations with visiting musicians and residencies such as Hard Core On The Fly (each Thursday in August at Bennetts Lane and also in Perth this year for the first time).

MonashArtEnsemble-cover‘With these collaborations, some of our more advanced students are able to form musical relationships with older, more experienced performers. These are working opportunities that simply wouldn’t be available in a classroom context.’

To date the Monash Art Ensemble have recorded projects with people such as George Lewis, Mark Helias, Mary Finsterer, Hermeto Pascoal, George Garzone …’

The eponymous Monash Art Ensemble CD was awarded an Australian Jazz Bell Award in the category of Best Australian Contemporary ‘Avant-garde’ Jazz Album this year.

Is it jazz? Does it matter?

Murray hesitates over naming the type of music that some of these young musicians are playing. ‘Sometimes it’s easier just to say that they play the music of so-and-so. Sometimes that’s the best reference point.’

‘Nexus’, the Don Banks composition to be performed during the concert is an example of the ‘Third Style’ of music that synthesises jazz and classical music. It’s an appropriate vehicle for the kind of musicianship the Monash students are learning.

‘The musicians we’re working with on these projects are not necessarily jazz musicians or classical musicians; they’re improvising musicians who are quite virtuosic on their instrument but they don’t fall easily into any category.

‘For example, I wouldn’t call the Monash Art Ensemble a jazz ensemble. They’re more an improvising music ensemble.’

Projects that stretch the musician and delight the listener

Professor Paul Grabowsky AO is one a team of colleagues – along with conductor Fabian Russell, and creative producer Fred Wallace – who selected the concert’s repertoire.

‘I think that’s what’s great about what Paul is trying to do here. He is trying to create projects that are inclusive. Every project is different and Paul’s always pushing for new angles and new ways of being inclusive. Sometimes it is a big ask. Some students would never improvise. They might be very good to the point of virtuosic on their instrument but to get them to step outside that mindset to be able to improvise can be really hard. But we’ve had some students who have crossed over and had some really great results, and I can honestly say they’ve really enjoyed the experience.’

Inspiring a generation

‘The most positive aspect of my work here is to be able to work with enthusiastic young people who genuinely want to make the most out of their music. I facilitate that as best I can.’

Like any educator in the Australian tertiary system, Jordan Murray has a heavy administrative load. But he admits it’s not all admin. The students have just returned from a study tour with New York University (NYU) visiting Prato in Italy and the NYU campus in New York.

‘Seeing the students exposed to that level of education including master classes with people like Joe Lovano, Bill Frisell, Bill Stewart. Every day they had these top rate musicians coming in to talk to them and during the day they would participate in ensembles run by some of New York’s top teachers and performers. Seeing the students thrive in that, and seeing the pure joy on their faces when they come out of these classes that’s really what does it for me I guess; seeing them fly in that environment is great fun.’


Event Details

Date: Sunday 10 August
Time: 2.30pm
Running time: approx. 2 hours with 20 minute interval
Venue: Robert Blackwood Hall, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton
Cost: FREE
Bookings: Booking before the concert is advised.
This concert is allocated seating. Book prior to select seats prior to the concert.
03 9905 1111 or online at
Download a brochure of the 2014 program:


About Jordan Murray

Outside the Monash context, Jordan Murray keeps busy on the scene as well. Is currently involved in an improvising group with Stephen Magnusson Ronnie Ferella and Mark Sheppard. He also plays in Tim Wilson’s quartet, with Aaron Choulai, and in the Melbourne version of Paul Grabowsky’s sextet.

Between the job and the family and all that, there’s plenty to keep me busy.’




  1. David Sampson

    Congratulations to all concerned for presenting such a wonderful programme. Is it being released as a recording? And any chance of playing it in Sydney? I’ll bet that Duke’s BB&B has never been performed in Sydney and that’s tragic.

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