Insights from our 2023 Composer in Residence Oliver Taylor

Often, when audiences attend a WAYJO concert, they experience the polished, well-rehearsed, and refined versions of the works.

2023 Composer in Residence Oliver Taylor

However, behind each new piece lies a lengthy process of composition. From finding inspiration and crafting the title to recognising musical influences, forming a narrative or ‘story’ behind the work, writing and re-writing the music, collaborating with band members, and so much more—it’s a comprehensive journey to create just a single new work.

That’s why we wanted to give an insight on what it takes to be a composer writing for a big band, and who better to ask than our 2023 Composers-in-Residence?

We recently had the opportunity to ask Oliver Taylor for his experience of crafting his new work, ‘Epoch,’ for WAYJO as part of our Composer in Residence program. Oliver has been a band member with WAYJO since 2020, and is a saxophonist in the Wednesday Night Orchestra.

Can you share a bit about your background as a composer?

I have been composing and arranging for the last 6 years for jazz, contemporary and funk ensembles. I write my own original music and have performed it with my quartet and with the contemporary music band “Bad Neighbour”. I have also composed and arranged music for chamber ensembles and, thanks to WAYJO, I was able to write and record my very first big band composition.

Tell us about your composition and where the inspiration came from.

Score extract from Oliver Taylor’s ‘Epoch.’

My composition “Epoch” is inspired by how my recent graduation from studying has led to a new chapter in my life, one where I find myself experiencing a newfound freedom to pursue music in a way that is much more personal way. This piece surmises the feeling of a musical “open road” and the newfound creative possibilities of being a musician in today’s world. The composition itself feels very much like a journey and is orchestrated to feel light and hopeful yet driving.

Can you share some of your musical influences?

I’ve always loved the sound of Maria Schneider orchestra, especially the album The Thompson Fields. I love how light and sweet the orchestration is. I am also influenced by the compositions of impressionistic pianists Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy and how they orchestrate musical stories. Some of my other influences include the likes of Jan Gabarak, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman, Ambrose Akinmusire, Charlie Haden, and Carla Bley among others.

What has been your biggest lesson/takeaway as WAYJO’s Composer in Residence?

My biggest takeaway from my residency with WAYJO is that a composition is always evolving, and you can’t be attached to what you think is you ‘final version.’ Having the opportunity to workshop my piece with the band and listen to the valuable feedback from Mace and the band members made me reorchestrate and rearrange the musical material in a way that lends itself to the composition’s overall playability and fluidity. When it comes to writing big band charts, less is certainly more.

How have you worked with the Musical Director and orchestra to bring your composition to life? And how did you find writing for an orchestra you are a part of?

I have been a member of WAYJO since 2020 and have been lucky enough to play the compositions of previous Composers in Residence. I think these experiences helped me understand what style of big band music I like and what a strong, playable original composition should look like. It was an absolute joy and privilege to have my Wednesday Night Orchestra family workshop, record and perform my music. It is incredibly difficult logistically to have a strong, well-rehearsed big band available in Perth and I’m grateful that I can have some of my closest friends play my music and give their valuable feedback.

Where to from here? What other musical projects are you working on?

I am currently composing and arranging cross-genre music for smaller groups, including my own quintet. I hope to record my debut album soon and am lucky enough to be playing on my close friend and fellow WAYJO member Matthew Knight’s debut album this year. I plan to do a master’s in music in Europe in the next five years, where I hope to refine my instrumental expression and expand my compositional palette. Other than this, I plan to keep making music in the broad and unique music scene that Perth has to offer.