Peg Delaney Big Band will wrap up A Place for Jazz series at SUNY Schenectady

Peg Delaney will lead an 18-piece big band Friday night at SUNY Schenectady County Communty College.

Peg Delaney will lead an 18-piece big band Friday night at SUNY Schenectady County Communty College.

SCHENECTADY – At last, the Peg Delaney 18-piece Big Band will get to perform Friday in the A Place for Jazz series at the SUNY Schenectady County Community College.

Booked twice before — once as a fundraiser for the series in 2020 and again in 2021 — the gigs were canceled because of the pandemic. But this third time is a go. Delaney can’t wait.

“I’d never had time to write for big band but with the pandemic I’ve had time to work on scores,” she said. “It’s been the best gift in my whole life and I’ve been the happiest. I write melodies that just come out of my head. It’s been wonderful.”

For jazz fans, Delaney has been a fixture in the Capital Region always at the piano working with singers, as a soloist, or in a trio with her husband/bassist Bill Delaney, and drummer Earl Davis. They’ve produced two albums (“If I Had You,” and “Hotline”) and she’s gathered awards including from the state’s Council for the Arts, Musician Magazine and Swingtime Jazz Society. But writing for big band was never on the horizon when she started her jazz career.

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Delaney graduated from Schenectady’s Notre Dame High School and had been playing piano.

“But I was a starter and stopper,” she said laughing. “I wanted to go out and have fun with my friends.”

Someone, however, heard her play and suggested that since the state at the time was allowing SUNY Plattsburgh to grant music degrees, she should apply. Delaney did and majored in music theory and composition. While she enjoyed playing Chopin, Bach and Debussy, Delaney said she was not a great fan of classical music. That changed when she met Bill – whom she later married – who introduced her to jazz.

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“I was wondering how to play jazz improvisations, so I picked up flute,” Delaney said.

She studied jazz saxophonist’s Nick Brignola’s solos and eventually was able to play the lines she heard in her head and went to town electrifing her flute and getting gigs. In 1971, she and Bill graduated and moved back to the area. In 1973, Bill bought her a Fender Rhodes piano.

“That’s when I learned how to play piano, learn chords, how to read from a fake book,” Delaney said. “I had to jump in with both feet on the piano. I took lessons from Lee Shaw, Bill and I built a house, and I did some classical piano lessons. But my heart was listening to jazz, to learn more songs and to play them with piano. I like hearing harmony and chords and I found out my ear was good. I also transcribed Nick’s solos.”

That transcription book is now sold internationally and is on the state’s Music Teachers Association adjudication list.

Delaney began working with different singers and learned how to back them up; she also began transcribing solos from recordings and in the 1990s began writing on the computer and discovered the program Sibelius which she now uses for all her work. Colleagues encouraged her to expand her range telling her that her melodies would work for a big band.

“But I had to learn how to harmonize, when to use unison and when to focus on the melody; how to shape the song,” she said. “A 32-bar melody for big band is developed into thirty pages of notes: when to use rhythmic hits or give a family of trombones new material. And it must seem to be flowing. I’m still learning. Each song is a project.”

For this concert, 15 of the tunes are hers and two are Bill’s.

“I write long melodies and I love Latin. There are also hip hop, funk and blues. There is a good variety of tempos and styles.”

The band members are mostly all local. Many are or were music teachers, many have children who went on to join national jazz bands.

All are wonderful players and many played with other local big bands, she said. What is especially new for her is that she has to act as conductor and take bows for this gig.

“It’s not me,” Delaney said with a small moan. “But this has all been a whole gift. I love creating.”

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Delaney was also instrumental is founding the Lee Shaw Scholarship Fund through the Swingtime Jazz Society in 2015 as an honor to Shaw who had died October 25, 2015. It provides $1,000 to a high school senior who intends to pursue a college music degree with a concentration on jazz studies. Fifteen students have received the scholarship to date.

Peg Delaney Big Band/A Place for Jazz series

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4
WHERE: SUNY Schenectady County Community College’s Taylor Auditorium

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Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Schenectady

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