The Uptown Jazz Tentet was formed in 2016. The concept of the band was developed by Willie Applewhite. "The goal was simple, to hire my friends to create the best music we can," Applewhite says. "I wanted the focus to be only on the music and the collective as a whole, eliminating the trappings of individual ambition and politics. With that in mind, I decided to ask my close friends Brandon Lee and James Burton III to join me in co-leadership of the band." Although several members are contributing writers, the three leaders provide the compositional backbone of the UJT. "Between us, there is a commonality of shared influences and experiences." What's interesting is that this commonality is filtered through three unique lenses of interpretation. "We all have a personalized compositional sound, but it all complements each other."
With all it's benefits, a co-led structure can have it's challenges. James Burton likes to joke, "The triumvirate really worked out well for the Romans." Sometimes there can be dissonance between us, but we always make it through with respect and love. Thankfully we play jazz, where some dissonance is always good!
The decision of the 10 piece configuration was unanimous and important because it provides a sweet spot for large ensemble orchestration and small group flexibility. Composing for this instrumentation provides the wonderful challenge of writing for each member's individual voice, because with 10 pieces, everyone's part is extremely important.
Speaking of those individual voices, every great band is comprised of great sidemen. We are fortunate that our closest friends in the industry happen to be the most sought after musicians on the jazz scene. In the words of Brandon Lee, "We all have bonded playing in the bands of Christian McBride, Ron Carter, The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, etc... and we love our gigs! This is our opportunity to do our own thing."
We try not to overly define our music. The UJT's style is grounded in the traditions of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Gil Evans, Thad Jones, and many others. With that being said, we are inclusive of all of the other flavors of the jazz idiom. Our goal is to create music that is stimulating, inspiring, exciting, and fulfilling.
We are the Uptown Jazz Tentet, and we are happy that you are here! We invite you to join us as our story continues to evolve during this never ending journey of artistic creation.