Through composing and arranging Earl MacDonald has forged a distinctive musical voice which critics have described as startlingly original, fresh, and visionary. His output is prolific and spans a wide range of instrumentations. In addition to writing for his own bands and recording projects, Earl often receives commissions to write for jazz big bands, both at the professional and student levels. Earl cites his involvement in the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop as being transformative in his development as a composer. Feedback and guidance from Michael Abene, Jim McNeely, Mike Holober and Maria Schneider helped shape his compositional approach. To this day, Earl relishes the experience of hearing ensembles bring his imagined pieces to life.
Composing/Arranging Awards and Accolades
- Jazz Producer of the Year, Independent Music Awards, 2019
- JUNO award nomination for Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year, 2014
- JUNO award nomination, for Traditional Jazz Album of the Year, 2011
- Winner, jazz song category, 10th Annual Independent Music Awards, 2011
- Finalist, ArtEZ Jazz Composition Contest, the Netherlands, 2011 & 2008
- Finalist, Charlie Parker/BMI Jazz Composition Award, 2007
- Sammy Nestico Award, for big band arranging, sponsored by the USAF, 2003
- Grammy-nomination, for “Wanton Spirit,” the title track of Kenny Barron’s 1994 Verve Records CD, composed by Earl MacDonald, 1996.
Big Band Commissions
Should you be interested in commissioning Earl to write a new piece of music, specifically for your band, contact him through this site. Rates are negotiable.
Commissioned works have been written for the:
- New London Big Band, directed by Sean Nelson
- UMass Amherst Jazz Ensemble 1, directed by Jeffrey Holmes
- Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, directed by Dr. Richard Gillis
- Marshall University’s Jazz One Ensemble, directed by Martin Saunders
- Westchester Jazz Orchestra, directed by Mike Holober
- Grant McEwan Faculty-Alumni Big Band
- Amherst College Big Band, directed by Bruce Diehl
- USAF Airmen of Note
- Central Massachusetts District Jazz Band
- Jerrold Dubyk (saxophonist in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
- Tyler Horby (drummer in Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
- Manchester High School Jazz Band, directed by Keith Berry
- University of Connecticut Wind Ensemble, directed by Jeffrey Renshaw
- University of Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, directed by Harvey Felder
Published Compositions and Arrangements
Visit Earl’s eJazzLines online catalog where you can listen to audio samples, read descriptions of each piece, and purchase big band and 10tet charts.
An incomplete list of Earl MacDonald’s compositions and arrangements is posted here. This list will be expanded and updated.
Arranging and Composition Syllabi
As Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Connecticut, Earl regularly teaches small group jazz arranging in the fall semester and big band arranging in the spring. Concurrently, he has also taught jazz and classical music composition. Links to Earl’s syllabi, class schedules and course content are posted below.
- Jazz Arranging 1: Writing Jazz Combo Arrangements – Course Outline & Schedule
- Jazz Arranging 2: Arranging for Big Band – Course Outline & Schedule
- Composition I/III – Fall 2019 Syllabus
- Jazz Composition – Course Outline and Schedule
Articles on Composing and Arranging:
Earl has written extensively on the topics of jazz composition and arranging, detailing his compositional approach and creative process.
Arranging specific songs:
The following articles reveal insights into the craft behind the writing of specific arrangements in Earl’s catalog. At times, he blogged as he wrote, consequently creating play-by-play commentary. In other instances, he provided “postmortem reflections” upon completing an arrangement.
- Cow Tippin’ – a 12-bar blues big band chart, commissioned by Marshall University’s Jazz One Ensemble. (unrecorded, commercially)
- Dig In Buddy – Calgary-based drummer, Tyler Horby hired Earl to write a big band chart based on an original tune. Later, the piece was later adapted for Earl’s 10tet and recorded on the “Open Borders” CD.
- Hit the Road Jack – the (now defunct) Westchester Jazz Orchestra commissioned Earl to write this arrangement for their Ray Charles/Stevie Wonder tribute concert. Subsequently, Earl rearranged the piece to record and perform with his 10tet.
- Mirror of the Mind – this piece was inspired by the music of Aaron Copeland, and was recorded by both his Creative Opportunity Workshop quartet and Yankee Gumbo 10tet.
- Sordid Sort of Fellow – an I’ve Got Rhythm-based big band composition, commissioned by the 2009 Central Massachusetts District high school jazz band. Similar to several pieces above, it was later adapted for 10tet and recorded on the “Open Borders” album.
- What Do You Want From Me?– a song composed by Canadian tenor saxophonist, Jerrold Dubyk and arranged for big band at his request.