Braden-Rapp | The Strayhorn Project

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Jazz: Contemporary Jazz Jazz: Cool Jazz Moods: Type: Tributes
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The Strayhorn Project

by Braden-Rapp

This pairing of veteran saxophonist-flutist Don Braden and promising young trumpeter Mark Rapp is an inspired coupling. This homage to Billy Strayhorn debuted on the Jazz Week chart at number 20 and has since climbed to number 4.
Genre: Jazz: Contemporary Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Rain Check
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6:25 album only
2. Isfahan
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5:50 album only
3. A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing
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5:57 album only
4. Something To Live For
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3:25 album only
5. Satin Doll
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6:15 album only
6. Daydream
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4:28 album only
7. Johnny Come Lately
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6:21 album only
8. Lament For Javanette
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4:45 album only
9. Chelsea Bridge
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4:39 album only
10. Pretty Girl/Star Crossed Lovers
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2:53 album only


Album Notes
Don Braden: saxophone, flute; Mark Rapp: trumpet; Gerald Clayton: piano; Sachal Vasandani: vocals; Rene Hart: bass; Greg Gonzalez: drumsAlbum Reviews

Liner Notes:
This pairing of veteran saxophonist-flutist Don Braden and promising young trumpeter Mark Rapp is an inspired coupling. It is successful not only due to their considerable skills and by the enormity of the book Billy Strayhorn left here for us to learn, but also by the wisdom of their discerning manager Gail Boyd. It’s not often that a stable of artists comes together in such an easeful manner that artistically exceeds any sense of crass commercial considerations, but this proves to be an exceptional idea. Add to Braden and Rapp, two other of Mrs. Boyd’s artists: the exciting young pianist Gerald Clayton, and the warmly communicative young vocalist Sachal Vasandani. Rounding out the cast is two of Rapp’s cohorts, bassist Rene Hart and drummer Greg Gonzalez.

As an Ohioan I can certainly appreciate the geographic aspect that ties Don Braden (from Cincinnati) to Billy Strayhorn (born in Dayton), from the same corner of that great state. But there had to be more substance than that to compel Braden & Rapp in this direction; after all, we know what a plethora of Strayhorn or Ellington/Strayhorn tributes and projects there’ve been in past seasons. The fact is that skilled musicians such as these continue to be drawn to mine fresh substance from Strayhorn’s peerless contributions. After all, Billy Strayhorn is the genius who laid such sophisticated beauty on us as “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “Passion Flower,” “Satin Doll,” and “Day Dream.” The man Duke Ellington described in his memoirs as “…my right arm, my left arm, and the eyes in the back of my head…” is top shelf in the jazz composer pantheon; so it stands to reason that skilled musicians such as these are not compromised or intimidated by returning to the deep Strayhornian well.

But still, why another Billy Strayhorn homage? “Our project is unique because unlike most performances of Strayhorn’s music, we made particular efforts to give the tunes creative, unusual yet contemporary treatments,” insists Don Braden. From the jump that goal is achieved as their novel approach to “Rain Check” kicks off the date with New Orleans second line echoes. This sense of old wine/new bottles was confirmed in communications with Braden, who insists that “We have re-harmonized, re-rhythmized, and even re-melodized some of his great classics, bending and shaping them with elements from throughout the jazz tradition. We also present textural elements that aren’t typical, such as the groove and vibe on “Isfahan,” which is robust and dramatic, “or the use of the alto flute in relatively rare solo mode” on “Daydream”, Braden asserts. “Isfahan” is further enlivened by a bit of polyphony between Braden and Rapp. For his arrangement of “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” Braden borrows gently from Herbie Hancock’s “Butterfly.”

Posing the same questions about any perception of thematic redundancy to Mark Rapp, the trumpeter characterized this session as “…a favorable circumstance meeting a propitious opportunity.” He went on to cite the relative serendipity of the 2010 95th anniversary of Strayhorn’s birth, characterizing this opportunity to dive headlong into Strayhorn’s deep well as “first an honor, and second impossible to refuse.”

When each was asked what separates their Strayhorn project from others, it was clear the saxophonist and trumpeter have quickly bonded a mutual admiration alliance. “It is the sound that separates us from other projects,” says Rapp. “Don has the ability and dexterity to play “Giant Steps” at blazing tempos, but he is committed to authentic, in-the-moment expression with no need to entertain ego and showoff such pyrotechnics,” is how Rapp characterized his immensely skilled yet humble, Harvard-educated partner. “Mark loves to groove, and is a very imaginative arranger,” affirms Braden. “He has a unique sense of space, time and texture that distinguishes both his playing and writing. As a trumpeter his sound is clear and contemporary and he’s not afraid to take chances in his improvisation.”

By Willard Jenkins
Home Of The Independent Ear


to write a review

By Elysa Gardner, USA Today. February 2, 2010

"Billy Strayhorn gem"
Pianist Gerald Clayton and singer Sachal Vasandani caress this Ellington/Billy Strayhorn gem on the jazz band's debut.

By: BWW News Desk, December 8, 2009

Braden-Rapp Presents Their Debut CD 'The Strayhorn Project'
BRADEN-RAPP - the new band led by world-renowned saxophonist, flautist and composer DON BRADEN and MARK RAPP, one of Downbeat Magazine's "top emerging trumpeters" - has released their debut recording The Strayhorn Project. Paying tribute to jazz composer, arranger and legend, Billy Strayhorn, the new CD is comprised of songs ranging from The Far East Suite's "Isfahan" to jazz classics like "Satin Doll," "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing" and "Something To Live For." The disc, produced by Billy Terrell also features Gerald Clayton on piano, Sachal Vasandani on vocals, Rene Hart on bass and Greg Gonzales on drums.
Released by Premium Music Solutions, The Strayhorn Project is currently available digitally on iTunes, and the Limewire, with an official release on January 4. They will be performing at special release events at Blues Alley in Washington DC on December 14 and Feinstein's at Loews Regency in New York City on January 25. For more information, please visit
DON BRADEN has toured the world leading his own ensembles, and as a sideman with greats such as Betty Carter, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Roy Haynes, and many others. He has composed music for everything from duo to full symphonic orchestra, for recordings, film and television. He is an imaginative, technically excellent, soulful saxophonist, and his harmonic and rhythmic sophistication give him a unique approach to improvising as well as composing and arranging. Braden serves as Music Director of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center's Wachovia Jazz for Teens Program. For four years, he served as music supervisor for Bill Cosby's CBS sitcom "Cosby" and was the co-composer and producer of theme songs for "Little Bill" and Cosby's Nickelodeon animated series "Fatherhood." Braden is also the proud recipient of a Doris Duke Foundation Jazz Composition grant, which will fund the creation of a new work for his Octet.
MARK RAPP has played sold out shows at The Blue Note, Joe's Pub and The Jazz Standard in New York, Yoshi's in San Francisco and such venues as the JVC Newport Jazz Festival, Dizzy's at Jazz Lincoln Center, JazzTime Festival in Croatia, Jazzland in Vienna and more. Mark, who was most recently featured on a Travel Channel documentary, "has his own way of defining jazz and is constantly inclined to take his music further," according to Jazz Times. Having played with everyone from Branford Marsalis to Hootie and the Blowfish, his critically acclaimed debut CD Token Tales is being played around the globe.
Billy Strayhorn joined Duke Ellington's band in 1939, at the age of twenty-two. Ellington liked what he saw in Billy and took this shy, talented pianist under his wing. By the end of the year Strayhorn had become essential to the Duke Ellington Band; arranging, composing, sitting in at the piano. Billy made a rapid assimilation of Ellington's style and technique. It was difficult to discern where one's style ended and the other's began. The results of the Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration brought much joy to the jazz world.
Strayhorn lived a tremendously productive life. He influenced many people that he met, and yet remained very modest and unassuming all the while. He coached Lena Horne in classical music to broaden her knowledge and improve her singing. He toured the world with Ellington's band and for a brief time lived in Paris.
Strayhorn's own music is internationally known and honored. It has been translated in French and Swedish. Some of Strayhorn's compositions are "Chelsea Bridge," "Day Dream," "Johnny Come Lately," "Rain-check" and "Clementine." The pieces most frequently played are Ellington's theme songs "Take the A Train" and "Lotus Blossom". Some of the suites on which he collaborated with Ellington are "Deep South Suite" in 1947; the "Shakespearean Suite" or "Such Sweet Thunder" in 1957; an arrangement of the "Nutcracker Suite" in 1960; and the "Peer Gynt Suite" 1962. He and Ellington composed the "Queen's Suite" and gave the only pressing to Queen Elizabeth of England. Two of their suites - "Jump for Joy" from 1950 and "My People" from 1963 - explored the struggles and triumphs of blacks in the United States. Both included a narrative and choreography. Strayhorn conducted the latter at the Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1963.
In 1967 Billy Strayhorn died of cancer. Duke Ellington's response to his death was to record what the critics cite as one of his greatest works, a collection titled "And His Mother Called Him Bill," consisting entirely of Billy's compositions. Later, a scholarship fund was established for him by Ellington and the Julliard School of Music.
Premium Music Solutions was created by music industry veteran Billy Terrell to focus on advertising, music and video production, distribution and marketing for both new and established artists.
The wardrobe for Mark Rapp and Don Braden is provided by Blanc de Chine. For further media information, including song samples, photo galleries and more, are available at

by Lewis Whittington EDGE Contributor, Sunday Dec 27, 2009

"This is a rare, cohesive and sumptuous jazz recording."
CD Review: Braden-Rapp, The Strayhorn Project

Billy Strayhorn was Duke Ellington's collaborator, but has only been given credit for the scope of his contributions, two generations after his death. It will never be known how much of a musical hand in the Ellingtonia can be credited to Strayhorn, but as composer and especially arranger, he was invaluable to Duke's sound. Strayhorn, best known for "Lush Life" wrote dozens of songs, many favorites among jazz artists. He kept in the background partially he was comfortable with that, but also because he was gay in a very homophobic business.

Recent tributes to Strayhorn include recordings by Diane Reeves and Elvis Costello, now saxophonist and flutist Don Braden and trumpeter Mark Rapp have released The Strayhorn Project delves deeper into the Strayhorn musical streams.

There is careful attention in this recording to the fluidity of sound, a dynamic that can often be dimensionless in studio jazz. Some tracks with period stylizations as launch pads to progressive threads build on Strayhorn's melodic lines. Braden, Rapp lead a fine quintet that includes
Gerald Clayton on piano, Rene Hart on bass and Greg Gonzales on drums.

Warming us up with a seemingly rote version of "Rain Check," a popular Strayhorn swing, but pumped up with solos. The band really gets down to business as Braden's haunted flute introduces "A Flower in a Lovesome Thing" and this band's unity and poetic jazz power is evident.

Next, they completely uncork a bold interpretation of "Isfahan" (which Strayhorn originally titled "Elf") from Ellington-Strayhorn opus "The Far East Suite." This track not only shows understanding of Strayhorn vernacular, but really illuminates the orchestral character, time travels into a post cool slam.

Singer Sachai Vasandani brings a burnished lushness to the great standard "Something to Live For" in front of an midnight blue arrangement that actually is reminiscent of the underground recording by Strayhorn himself singing a exotic, boozy version of "Lush Life." But it is on Daydream that Vasandani really has something new to bring and creates such intimacy in his phrasing. His vocals are not to merely decorate The Strayhorn Project.

Brandon is once again superb on "Satin Doll,"" in a quicksilver arrangement with freewheeling handoffs with Rapp, sidewinder riffs that dance off into blue fields. Bassist Hart introduces the skinny on Johnny Come Lately as the hornists spar kept in line by Gonzales' brushes and Clayton's chord punches.

There is somber sonorities by Rapp, Clayton and Gonzales in "Lament for Javenet," ala "Sketches of Spain" reverie. Clayton channels Ellington's intonations on "Chelsea Bridge," a solo Strayhorn composition that gives musical clues in how Strayhorn may have influenced Duke's piano style, most telling in those philosophic keyboard runs that became Duke's late career signature.

Vasandani is back to sing the session out breezily on "Pretty Girl / Such Sweet Thunder," but it never segues into Thunder's thunder, one of Strayhorn's most brilliant compositions a centerpiece of Ellington last big band sound. Perhaps a welcome second disc?

Brandon-Rapp and company is performing this music starting in New York next month, another indication of their commitment to The Strayhorn Project. This is a rare, cohesive and sumptuous jazz recording.

Lewis Whittington writes about the performing arts and gay politics for several publications.

NEXT Magazine, CD Review by David Hurst. March 19, 2010

"A selection of esoteric classics...that will have you swooning in ecstasy."
Headlined by renowned saxophonist Don Braden and trumpeter Mark Rapp, the new band Braden-Rapp
has released its debut recording, which pays tribute to legendary jazz composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn.
The Strayhorn Project is a kick-ass collection of esoteric classics like "A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing," "Satin Doll"
and "Daydream" that will have you swooning in ecstasy.


"Brings enjoyable freshness to Strayhorn’s melodies"
If you are a fan of the music of Billy Strayhorn, then The Strayhorn Project (Premium Music Solutions) by saxophonist DON BRADEN and trumpeter MARK RAPP is sure to catch your ear.

The group that also includes Gerald Clayton on piano, Rene Hart on bass and Doug Gonzalez on drums brings enjoyable freshness to Strayhorn’s melodies. The arrangements by Braden, Rapp and Clayton are perfect vehicles for the kind of imaginative blowing that each of these cats provides. Among the selections are some of Strayhorn’s most memorable creations like “Isfahan,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Something to Live For” and “Chelsea Bridge.” Vocalist Sachal Vasandani contributes his talent to “Something to Live For,” “Daydream” and a pairing of “Pretty Girl” with “Star Crossed Lovers.”

Braden, a resident of South Orange, is among the brightest saxophone stars in jazz. Rapp has a growing reputation as one of the most talented of the younger trumpet players. The chemistry between them and their affinity for the music of Strayhorn makes for an album that engages the listener from first notes to last.

George W Carroll, The Musicians' Ombudsman

CD Review: December 9, 2009
Don Braden-Mark Rapp / The Strayhorn Project

This CD project is a true successful experiment in the art of re-composing the composition. The harmonic and rhythmic deception in both 'Satin Doll' and 'Chelsea Bridge' is in a word fortuitous and striking, et al. The center of this marvelous group is the compelling magnetism Gerald Clayton brings to his piano chair. The character of his playing is strong. Yet he shows us a subdued lyricism side as well. Very delightful and well worth enjoying him in his own right. That said, the combined group displays extraordinary skill in their musicianship. As you listen to their project, you will realize that Braden and Rapp both have built a suitable medium for us to imbibe as we take in the tremendous emotion expressed therein. The project comes to fruition very deliberately and impressively with exciting digressions into the world of harmony and melody. I must address as well the musical dialogue between these fine players creating an overall tonal scheme of both subtlety and imagination.


George W Carroll
The Musicians' Ombudsman

By Nancy Ford, Out Smart magazine. February 2010

"Will make you long for an unfiltered cigarette in a '40s cocktail lounge."
Groove Out Shorts, Reviews/previews by Nancy Ford
Braden-Rapp: The Strayhorn Project

The music of the Duke Ellington protege arranger and "A Train" composer is showcased here in fine jazz fashion.
Includes lovely versions of the openly gay Strayhorn's megahits, "Satin Doll" and "Daydream." But the lush
"Something To Live For" will make you long for an unfiltered cigarette in a '40s cocktail lounge.