Yo Yo Ma - ACTO

Ted Unseth and the
Americana Classic Jazz Orchestra

[ Click on the link below for: An example of transition from Jazz Orchestra to Classical Orchestra:
"Toby" Bennie Moten Orchestra, 1932; Piano Solo w/Clarinet Solo re-worked as Strings ]

Toby_P Solo as Strings_MP3

This is an Introductory Site for Great American Cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

It is an invitation to be intrigued. Or as a journalist once noted about my project (they) "Dare To Be Different".

I've spent more than 40 years on a project called

Americana Classic Jazz Orchestra

The Long/Short of it is:

Many years of struggling to keep the project alive; some very good Bright Moments along the way, but there's no commercial market for such a concept: 12-15 players performing note-for-note transcriptions of classic Americana/American Jazz Orchestra recordings performed live! and in concert.

Thus, in the past few years, I've re-worked the concept to this:

Americana Classic Transcriptions for Orchestra

I have re-worked my original hand-written scores into a Classical Orchestra format.

Some might say this is sacrilege: not true to the original instrumentation (which is what the ACJO was noted for); but transcribing can also mean assigning to different instruments; and the arrangements are still 100% faithful to the original recordings (something I'm noted for--attention to every detail, especially original solos).

I am posting Three Examples that I hope the Cello Maestro will find intriguing:


"Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere"
Paul Whiteman Orchestra 1920

[ Arranger: Ferde Grofe' ]

AAA_ACTO_Solo Cello_MP3



Electrical recordings were new upon the scene in 1920 and this selection was on the backside of the very first "million-seller" 78 RPM record ("Wang Wang Blues" being the frontside).

Some mistake early recordings as being more primitive compared to modern fare; and that may be true of much from the early years, but Whiteman hired very capable, schooled musicians and this is an excellent example.

The Solo work was originally played by a very facile Alto Sax specialist, Hale Byers. I used to play this with the ACJO for several years (until I transitioned to Conductor). I have now re-worked it for Solo Cello.

I couldn't find a great Cello soundfont for this Virtual Orchestration, so used Viola; but imagine Cello.  Yes, it's in a very high range for Cello, but I think it could be a 'gas' to rip on the Cello.


Fletcher Henderson Orchestra 1927

[ Arranger: Don Redman ]

Tozo_ACTO_Solo Cello_MP3

Tozo_ACTO_Solo Cello_PDF


I view/hear the 1920's (the Jazz Age) as 3 parts:

Early,Middle and Late. Early = more in the style of Syncopation Orchestras; but by 1927, sophistication and real Jazz improvisation was evident.

The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra was the premiere American Jazz Orchestra at this time; and Chicago was the hub, not New Orleans or NYC. The band now features Tenor Sax giant Coleman Hawkins and I transcribed his muscular solo work, which my Tenor Sax guys would try to play note-for-note. It now is assigned to Solo Cello.

I found a great soundfont for this, so it should be easy to Imagine. Cut loose on that Cello, Yo-Yo Ma and become "Yo-Yo Hawkins."


"Stevedore Stomp" 
Duke Ellington Orchestra 1928

Stevedore Stomp_Ellington_MP3

Stevedore Stomp_Ellington_PDF


There are so many outstanding recordings by the Duke Ellington Orchestra over the decades; and the 1920's era is no exception. 

I have scored the Bari Sax Solo (original by legendary Harry Carney--with Duke longer than any other player) for Solo Cello.




The Upshot:


Ted Unseth and Yo-Yo Ma start a Dialogue.

"What to do with this precious stuff?"

Make it happen in a significant way via a TV appearance on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert. He is interested in unique and different musical ideas and recently hired a complete Classical Orchestra to perform music for a new film being released. It was a large group, very unusual for a talk show. So,

Yo-Yo Ma has his cohorts contact The Late Show and convince them to book Yo-Yo Ma, Ted Unseth and a/his Classical Orchestra (I will delineate the exact instrumentation later; perhaps employing Late Show Band members). Two selections:Early '20's; late '20's; Great American Jazz Orchestra tribute.

Or, better yet:
Yo-Yo Ma contacts Osmo Vanska, Director of the Minnesota Symphony (located here in Minneapolis where I live); and says he wants to do a Special Concert appearance with Ted Unseth and his ACTO concept.

I recently saw an article about 5 new, young members of the MN Orchestra; and they looked so fresh and open to ideas. I've sent promotional materials to all 5 and think it a great idea to feature them in an above-suggested concert. 3 are First Violins; 1 is Double Bass; and one is Bass Trombone.

When I first started this project I had young players all. Lately I've been pitching my ideas to grown adults and get no response. A long time ago, a seasoned pro pianist from Minneapolis told me why the ACJO project was destined to be successful--young players who are willing to think outside of the box.

I see that potential this time around and find it exciting.

For Yo-Yo Ma, it could be a blast. For Ted Unseth it would be Exposure to a wider audience. A win-win-win:

The audience will benefit from an American Humanities 'lesson'--I'm sure most know nothing of the Jazz Orchestras of the 1920/s-1930's; and it's such a hip era that seems to have been passed by, especially by Classical Orchestras.

I turn 70 in 2016. I want this ACTO project to succeed (before I'm translated into the Great Beyond).



Chris Thile, Mandolinist Extraordinaire, is now the host of Prairie Home Companion. I am interested in this collaboration:

Chris Thile, Yo Yo Ma and Ted Unseth as Special Guests of the Minnesota Orchestra. I have some re-working to do, but here's a concept featuring Solo Violin:

Saint Louis Shuffle 1926
Fletcher Henderson Orchestra
Don Redman, Arranger

St Louis Shuffle_ACTO_Vln-Cello_MP3


I have yet to configure Solo Mandolin for the Solo Violin part, but imagine Chris doing that and Yo Yo Ma doing the Solo Cello work.  A singularly unique arrangement and approach. 



I found my Mandolin soundfont, so here's an idea of how id might sound:

St. Louis Shuffle_Mandol-Cello_MP3

St. Louis Shuffle_ACTO_Mandolin_PDF

Ted Unseth
4205 15th Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN


ACTO Main Website