John Hollenbeck · composer, arranger, conductor

Theo Bleckmann · voice
Kate McGarry · voice
Gary Versace · piano, organ

hr Radio Bigband
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn
· alto/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute
Oliver Leicht · alto/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, piccolo
Ben Kraef · tenor/soprano saxophone, flute
Steffen Weber · tenor/soprano saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute
Rainer Heute · bari/bass saxophone, Bb/bass/contra-bass clarinet, flute

Frank Wellert · trumpet/flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel · trumpet/flugelhorn
Martin Auer · trumpet/flugelhorn
Axel Schlosser · trumpet/flugelhorn

Christian Jaksjø · trombone
Felix Fromm · trombone
Shannon Barnett · trombone
Manfred Honetschläger · bass trombone

Martin Scales · guitar
Hans Glawischnig · bass
Jean Paul Höchstädter · drums
Special guest: Claus Kiesselbach · mallet percussion, timpani

Songs You Like a Lot​, the third and final album in the Songs trilogy, differs from its predecessors in that these songs were chosen from a long slate of listener-nominated candidates. They include the traditional “Down By the River to Pray,” Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” Newley & Bricusse’s “Pure Imagination,” the sole Hollenbeck original “Kindness,” and finally a radical rhythmic deconstruction of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” (renamed “Knows Only God”).

Hollenbeck reunites with longtime collaborators ​Kate McGarry​ and ​Theo Bleckmann​, whose sonorous, expressive voices breathe life into every arrangement. Pianist and organist ​Gary Versace​, like Bleckmann a mainstay of Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble and Refuge Trio, gets deep inside the harmonic structures, contemplative asides and unexpected twists that make up the set. Frankfurt Radio Big Band personnel come through with radiant solos of their own, including tenor saxophonist Steffen Webber, clarinetist Oliver Leicht, trombonist Christian Jaksjö, bassist Hans Glawischnig, guitarist Martin Scales and more.

“This project brought up questions I asked myself numerous times,” writes Hollenbeck in the liner notes. “What is arranging? Why arrange? Why arrange popular songs? Is it still a ‘pop’ song if it was not ‘popular’?” Hollenbeck also mentions his desire to “highlight facets of these songs that were not obvious to the listener in the original, perhaps revealing hidden and exciting new layers. I sought to emphasize material that is present in the original, but not featured or in the foreground. I also tried to rewind what I perceived may have been the original compositional process to then figure out what I would do from that same point of departure.”

Hollenbeck will bring the same creativity, curiosity, methodical process and raw inspiration to his undertakings with Flexatonic Arts, Inc., the latest bold new step in an already storied musical career.

RELEASE DATE: August 14th, 2020


Songs We Like a Lot

“There are few composers, arrangers and musicians such as John Hollenbeck. He has the uncanny ability to construct stirring music which can be disconcerting and also captivating. He’s certainly found that balance on Songs We Like a Lot, where he’s conceived a place of discovery and rediscovery.” — Doug Simpson

SWLAL cover



Songs We Like a Lot

“This is the second time in a month that this particular tradition of orchestral jazz has given us a masterpiece…What you’re hearing with these truly extraordinary jazz artists is jazz giving itself permission to luxuriate in pure haunting beauty with no guilt whatsoever. And with Hollenbeck, you’re hearing such shameless and luxurious intelligence applied to melodies that are both familiar and beloved.” –Jeff Simon

SWLAL cover




Theo Bleckmann  voice
Kate McGarry  voice
Uri Caine piano, organ
John Hollenbeck  composer, arranger, conductor
Gary Versace  melodica, organ

hr Radio Bigband
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn  alto/sop sax, flute
Oliver Leicht  alto sax, clarinet, alto clar, flute
Tony Lakatos  ten/sop sax
Julian Argüelles  sop sax 
Steffan Weber  ten/sop sax, flute, bass clar
Rainer Heute  bass sax, bass/contra-bass clar, clar
Frank Wellert  trumpet, flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel  trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Auer  trumpet, flugelhorn
Axel Schlosser  trumpet, flugelhorn, flumpet
Günter Bollman  trombone
Peter Feil  trombone
Christian Jaksjø  trombone, bari horn, bass tpt
Manfred Honetschläger  bass trombone
Martin Scales  guitar
Thomas Heidepriem  bass
Jean Paul Höchstädter  drums
Claus Kiesselbach [as special guest]
mallet percussion, timpani

Including Songs Made Famous by Cyndi Lauper, Daft Punk, The Carpenters, The Fifth Dimension & More

How to follow-up a Grammy-nominated album disarmingly called Songs I Like a Lot? By broadening the canvas and releasing Songs We Like a Lot, of course. John Hollenbeck returns after the triumph of Songs I Like a Lot, accompanied again by vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckmann and pianist Uri Caine, with an expanded palette and even more robust sonic transformations, encompassing everything from Burt Bacharach to the poetry of Kenneth Patchen, from Cyndi Lauper to a deconstructed “Get Lucky.”

A combination of indelible pop tunes and his own compositions, Songs We Like a Lot is propelled throughout by Hollenbeck’s creative arrangements for the Frankfurt Radio Bigband. These arrangements are heard to spellbinding effect in the album’s opener, a moving reimagining of “How Can I Keep From Singing.” The song is most strongly associated with Pete Seeger, and co-written by him; this rendition is intended as a tribute to the recently departed folksinger, who passed away only last year. A slowly swelling opening fanfare gives way to a steady pulse, which in turn builds, via a lovely tenor solo by Steffen Weber, to a rich crescendo, the horns framing delicious harmonies from McGarry and Bleckmann.

Like Miles Davis before him, Hollenbeck plucks a Cyndi Lauper hit — in this case, “True Colors,” penned by Tom Kelly and Billy Steinberg — from the pop pantheon, chopping and screwing it into a reconstituted suite that retains the lilting flow of the original while using new harmonies and repetitive motifs to recontextualize the beauty inherent in the song. (And not least rescuing it from Kodak-ad purgatory.)

Among the Hollenbeck originals is “The Snow Is Deep on the Ground,” a delicate composition that originally appeared on the Claudia Quintet’s What is the Beautiful?  Bleckmann sings words by poet Kenneth Patchen in both versions; here, rather than the skeletal framework of the quintet, his voice is embraced by a full brass and woodwind blanket of sound. Pianist Uri Caine and vocalist Kate McGarry are two new additions to this lovely, enlarged version.

Another poet’s words figure in the Hollenbeck original “Constant Conversation” — those of 13th-century poet and mystic Rūmī. “Constant Conversation” uses Middle Eastern musical motifs to undergird McGarry’s spoken-word vocal. A riff and a drone and an unerring sense of melody allows Hollenbeck to create an atmosphere that feels at once deeply personal and innately global. This is sole tune on which keyboardist Gary Versace appears on this record, though his piano was heard throughout Songs I Like a Lot.



Daniel Yviniec and John Hollenbeck, “Shut Up and Dance” performed by the Orchestre National de Jazz

“Ecclesiastes was wrong. There is something new under the sun. To wit, a gorgeous new kind of orchestral jazz from Europe that takes the art of jazz orchestration and composition way beyond what is commonly heard from American jazz orchestras.”
– Jeff Simon


The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress

Composed by Jimmy Webb, arranged by John Hollenbeck; commissioned and recorded by Frankfurt Radio Bigband (hr-Bigband); arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014. Grammy nominated for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s).



Composed by Nobukazu Takemura, arranged by John Hollenbeck; commissioned and recorded by Frankfurt Radio Bigband (hr-Bigband); arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014.

I’m a Man of Constant Sorrow

Traditional, arranged by John Hollenbeck; commissioned and recorded by Frankfurt Radio Bigband (hr-Bigband); arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014.

Chapel Flies

Commissioned and recorded by Frankfurt Radio Bigband (hr-Bigband); arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014.

Bicycle Race

Composed by Freddie Mercury, arranged by John Hollenbeck; commissioned and recorded by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (hr-BigBand); arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014.


Composed by Imogen Heap, arranged by John Hollenbeck; commissioned and recorded by Frankfurt Radio Bigband (hr-Bigband);  arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014.

All My Life

Composed by Ornette Coleman, arranged by John Hollenbeck; commissioned and recorded by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (hr-BigBand); arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014


A Distinctive Voice, No Matter Who Is Performing

“Mr. Hollenbeck has grown increasingly accomplished as a composer, ever more assured in the distinctive clarity of his voice. That point was brought home, powerfully, at Le Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village on Monday night.”
– Nate Chinen



Wichita Lineman (with guitar)

Composed by Jimmy Webb, arranged by John Hollenbeck. Commissioned and recorded by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band. 


John Hollenbeck & Jazz Bigband Graz: Joys & Desires

“Only days into the new year, and there’s already a strong contender for 2006 “best of lists. That it comes from John Hollenbeck—a drummer who, in recent years, has emerged as one of the most distinctive composers in and out of jazz—is no surprise.” – John Kelman 

**other Large Ensemble3_JBBG_joys & desires.cover



Written for Jazz Big Band Graz; arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2014.

Just Like Him

Arranged for Jazz Big Band Graz 2004; this version arranged for John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble 2013.



Theo Bleckmann  vocals, electronic effects
Christian Bachner  tenor/sop sax, flute
Robert Friedl  alto/sop sax, clarinet
Klaus Gesing  tenor/sop sax, bass clarinet
Martin Harns  bari sax, bass clarinet
Heinrich Von Kalnein  alto/sop sax, flute
Jorg Engels, Axel Mayer, Karl Rossman,
Horst-Michael Schaffer
 trumpets, flugelhorns
Robert Bachner, Wolfgang Messner, Hans Radinger, Reinhard Summerer  trombones
Oliver Kent  piano
Uli Rennert  keyboards
Henning Sieverts  bass, cello
John Hollenbeck  drums, composition

One of my DESIRES is to compose music that is naturally accessible to all, ideally shedding any labels that tend to categorize contemporary big band music as intellectual, inaccessible or just plain “out.” I strive to create moments of aural bliss, or wonder, and to illustrate a grateful openness to the mysteries and joys of life. While recording this CD, I was lucky enough to experience some of the JOY – there were moments when it was challenging to continue to play, because I was awestruck that this was actually happening: 18 people were making music from some dots I had written down. During rare moments like these, I feel very free – playing becomes easy and most importantly I feel like ME – sure that this is what I was meant to do, and these are the people I was meant to do it with.

Creating this album with jazz bigband graz has enabled me to delve more deeply into the concept of a new “big band sound”, starting with the traditional instrumentation [augmented with cello, synth and Theo Bleckmann/voice] and completely leaving behind the traditional forms of big band composition, I have never been moved to incorporate shout choruses, sax solis, or other traditional big band arranging techniques – my inclination has always been toward using the energy and power that are inherent in a band of 18 musicians – appreciating the force of 18 musicians playing in unison or the subtle impact of having the entire band whistling like a bird.

The opening trace, “The Bird With The Coppery Keen Claws”, is a way to welcome the listener to a journey mapped out through sound…a way to say right away that this is not your parents’ big band cd. I arranged “The Joys and Desires Suite” [tracks 4-6] specifically for jazz bigband graz, knowing that these musicians would re-create the music as I had imagined it. The title comes from the last line of William Blake’s poem “The Garden of Love”: “and binding with briars, my joys and desires” [track 6]. I remember searching for a text that moved me – I was immediately inspired by Blake’s poem and knew I had the perfect outlet in Theo Bleckmann to recreate the poem with music.

This suite represents a musical exploration of the experience of joy and desire: #1 “Jazz Envy” focuses musically more so on desire and the conflict and struggle that results from desiring to be a part of the “jazz community”, whereas #2 “After A Dance Or Two, We Sit Down For A Pint With Gil And Tim” is about dancing, drinking, talking, Tim Berne, drinking, Gil Evans, joy, drinking [not that I honestly know very much about drinking]… #3 “Garden of Love” presents both ideas most directly through verse.

Maxfield is inspired by the American painter, Maxfield Parrish, who made his way into my life and eventually my music. When I was about 18 and studying at the Eastman School of Music, I discovered a Parrish original in Eastman Theater – I told my dad about it and he produced a book about Parrish which I come back to again and again. While art is even harder to write about than music, in simplistic terms, Parrish has a beautiful talent for painting trees, skies, clouds, the color blue, which is why I included a little mantra at the the end of this piece with some of those words.

“Just Like Him” uses the pitch material from a song an old girlfriend wrote entitled “Just Like Her” – the 4 bar vamp that is the foundation of “Just Like Him” is borrowed from the intro of her tune. This girlfriend was jealous and at times, paranoid: which is the state I think she was in when writing “Just Like Her”, a tune apparently about one of my previous girlfriends and my supposed continued affection for her. I really liked the intro to her song, although the rest of the song was a big disappointment. So after she dumped me, I didn’t feel bad about rearranging her intro material until I was able to create the opening section of “Just Like Him”, which is in my opinion, bigger, badder, faster, and longer than my old girlfriend’s tune.

During my first years in NYC, I was thinking about abstinence [as sensitive men do], sometimes practicing it willingly and other times quite unwillingly. I liked the structure of the word abstinence and though I could come up with a melody that was related to its letters. The letter-melody I eventually came up with is the recurring statement that the bass opens the piece with. From there, I created the counter-melody and then decided it would be nice to take a break from abstinence and have a song-like refrain integrated into the tune as well. The entire composition reflects both those periods of willful and imposed abstinence, as well as those periods after abstinence [AKA: the party!] through the varied use of these three basic themes.

With music that is so intentionally ensemble-based, I am reluctant to even single anyone out, but I must mention Henning Sievert’s remarkable cello playing which creates an intimate chamber dimension to the music throughout this recording. Also Klaus Gesing’s beautiful soaring saxophone on “Garden of Love” and “Maxfield”, two arrangements that I wrote with him specifically in mind, knowing he would create the atmosphere I was aiming for…[I think we were both Capuchin monks in a previous life]. Listening to this CD for the fiftieth time, I am still amazed at the structure, flow and texture of Uli Rennert’s synth solo in “Jazz Envy”. I would not want to play this music without my best friend, Theo Bleckmann: his versatility, unabashed musicality, and exceptional ability to express the vulnerability of being human are vital elements in this music.

I would like to thank all of the amazing musicians that made this album a joyful reality. May you all revel in your JOYS and DESIRES…

John Hollenbeck, New York City, May 2005




Theo Bleckmann  voice
Kate McGarry  voice
Gary Versace  piano, organ
John Hollenbeck  arranger, conductor,
mallet percussion, bicycle

hr Radio Bigband
Heinz-Dieter Sauerborn  alto/sop sax, flute
Oliver Leicht  alto sax, clarinet, alto clar., flute
Steffan Weber  ten/sop sax, flute, flute
Julian Argüelles  ten/sop sax, flute
Rainer Heute  bass sax, bass clar.
Frank Wellert  trumpet, flugelhorn
Thomas Vogel  trumpet, flugelhorn
Martin Auer  trumpet, flugelhorn
Axel Schlosser  trumpet, flugelhorn
Günter Bollman  trombone
Peter Feil  trombone
Christian Jaksjø  trombone, tenor horn
Manfred Honetschläger  bass trombone
Martin Scales  guitar
Thomas Heidepriem  bass
Jean Paul Höchstädter  drums

Devoted to Songs by Artists Ranging From Imogen Heap to Jimmy Webb To Queen, Hollenbeck’s Arrangements Offer New Perspective on an Array of Familiar Songs.

John Hollenbeck didn’t seek out popular music when he was kid, but it was always there, and it became an undeniable part of him. Songs I Like A Lot is an album on which the adventurous and internationally renowned composer, esteemed for his ability to strike upon new sounds, turns instead toward familiar forms, and weaves other peoples’ songs into his own unique tapestry.

Growing up in Binghamton, New York, Hollenbeck frequently heard “Wichita Lineman,” a song originally by pop writer Jimmy Webb, as sung by one of his father’s favorite pop balladeers Glen Campbell. Although he was more interested in music that sounded new to him, Webb’s songwriting left an indelible impression. For Songs I Like A Lot, Hollenbeck scoured his memory in search of songs that had similarly become inextricable from his musical outlook. He compiled a big list, and whittled it down with help from vocalists Theo Bleckmann and Kate McGarry, who are featured on the album, along with pianist Gary Versace.

Commissioned by the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, who also recorded the album, Songs I Like A Lot became an exhibition of imaginatively remolded songs from a diverse array of musical worlds. The album contains covers of songs by Jimmy Webb, avant-garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman, the power pop band Queen, sound artists Nobukazu Takemura and Imogen Heap, and the traditional Appalachian ballad “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Broad in their stylistic range, the songs have each carved out a distinct path, and are now connected by having been cast anew with Hollenbeck’s dexterous hand.

John Hollenbeck, the drummer and composer who, according to the New York Times, “inhabits a world of gleaming modernity,” has developed a career based on fusing jazz, classical minimalism, rock, and avant-garde music. He has stunned jazz audiences with his work in Claudia Quintet, and is a rising star in new music circles thanks to his collaborations with vocalist Meredith Monk, and for pieces commissioned by Bang on a Can and the People’s commissioning fund, Ethos Percussion Group funded by the Jerome Foundation, Youngstown State University, Gotham Wind Symphony, Melbourne Jazz Festival, Edinburgh Jazz Festival, and the University of Rochester.

Since he began unleashing his unique and all-embracing compositional style with his first recordings in 2001, Hollenbeck has demonstrated a knack for creating original music that defies category. No matter the ensemble or the context, his music is irrepressible, bursting with infectious grooves, brilliant colors, and skewed rhythmic juxtapositions. His original compositions have put music to poetry, as in the Claudia Quintet’s What is the Beautiful?, where works by poet Kenneth Patchen are brought to life through voice and instrumentation. On Shut Up and Dance, he wrote an intricately textured and groove-driven piece for each member of France’s Orchestre National de Jazz.

Past projects for the Grammy-nominated John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble have featured renderings of other composers’ works, such as “Foreign One,” a track from the album External Interlude that flips and gnarls the themes from pianist Thelonious Monk’s “Four in One.” On Songs I Like A Lot, the approach is different:

“Usually when I arrange, I totally dissect and put the piece back together in my own way. But this time, I knew the song must be intact and recognizable, so that was the challenge. Some pieces are close to the originals, and I concentrated on orchestration, and giving them a different twist. Others are far away, but still maintain the essence of the original.”

Despite the challenge of having to maintain the structure of the songs he arranges, Hollenbeck manages to treat each piece with his inimitable style, replete with lush and tightly dissonant chords, glimmering as a result of using woodwinds such as flutes and clarinets intermingled with brass instruments. The machine-like repetitive rhythms, inspired by the motoric pulses of minimalism, give the music a sense of unfaltering motion and direction.

The results are songs that are no less familiar, moving, or catchy than they were in their original states. Instead, they unfold dramatically and unexpectedly, and are permeated with grand gestures and subtle overlapping textures that draw out and increase the overall intensity without tampering with the songs’ driving cores. As Hollenbeck says of Songs I Like a Lot, “all I can say is that this music is still pop to me… and I’m not trying to unpop it.”

Shut Up and Dance

Shut Up and Dance

Pierre Perchaud  a-guitar/e-guitar, banjo
Joce Mienniel  flute, bass flute, piccolo
Eve Risser  flute, piano, prepared piano
Antonin Tri-Hoang  clar/ bass cl, alto sax, piano
Rémi Dumoulin  clar/bass cl, tenor sax
Matthieu Metzger  alto/sop/midi sax
Guillaume Poncelet  tpt, flugelhorn, keyboards
Vincent Lafont  piano, keyboards, electronics
Sylvain Daniel  electric bass
Yoann Serra  drums
John Hollenbeck  composition
Daniel Yvinec  artistic director

Produced in a creative sphere covering New York, Paris, Berlin and Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Shut Up And Dance emphasizes the relation between music and movement.

The spotlight turns to rhythm in all aspects of expression, at times even where least expected: a ping pong ball bouncing across piano wire, miscellaneous objects mistreated by computer software, instrument keys, hands rubbing, PVC tubes morphing into melodies… Percussion is everywhere, a bona fide sequence of powerful melodic passages that blend the shades of a repeating musical sound, pygmy music, art music, electronic music, not to overlook a Gnawas’ trance or a Duke Ellington swing.

John Hollenbeck‘s compositions, inspired specially for this program, stem from an extensive collaboration with Daniel Yvinec and reveal the excitement and body of classical works, in a series of ten mini-concertos, each one dedicated to a different orchestra musician tailored to their unique personality and language.

Turning the notion of instrumental function on its head without a moment’s hesitation, the wind instruments drive the beat, while the prepared piano moves onto the percussion side of the orchestra… It’s all about the idea of movement, conveyed in these mesmerizing rhythms, always and forever crisscrossing so as to ease our separation from self.


Songs I Like a Lot
Editor’s Pick

“John Hollenbeck has created an absolute masterpiece of arranging.” — Frank Alkyer

**Songs I Like a Lot_CD Cover