Blue Shades, while not a literal Blues piece, bears strong influences of the New Orleans blues and jazz sounds I heard live as while growing up near New Orleans. Blues harmonies, rhythms, and melodic idioms pervade the work, and many “shades of blue” are depicted, from bright blue, to dark, to dirty, to hot blue. At times, the work parodies some of the idioms from the Big Band era, not as a mockery of those conventions, but as a playful tribute to them. A quiet, slow middle section paints the atmosphere of a dark, smoky blues haunt. An extended clarinet solo, played near the end, recalls Benny Goodman’s hot playing style, and ushers in a series of “wailing” brass chords reflecting the train whistle effects commonly used during that era.
Blue Shades, originally composed for wind band in 1996, was arranged for orchestra in 1999 at the request of Pacific Symphony Orchestra conductor, Carl St. Clair. Its premiere performance was given by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra in December of 1999 at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.