Improvising a life in music aimed at growing the art, the artists, and the audiences
NJ-based Phil Orr performs, composes, arranges, teaches, and conducts in a variety of settings with an array of artists. As a piano soloist he often performs for private events with occasional forays onto the concert stage (Phil Orr Plays a Mean Jazz Piano; The First 100 Years of Jazz; The Song is You). As a keyboard collaborator in the Philadelphia-NYC corridor, he pairs with singers in both classical and popular genres, and most frequently with saxophonist Steve Hiltner, vocalist Trineice Robinson, actor Jason Kravits in “Off the Top!,” and the Phil Orr & More trio. Pre-pandemic, Orr hosted the weekly Jazz On Broad, ‘Music Making Community,’ series at the Hopewell Valley Bistro, performing with jazz greats Houston Person, Warren Vaché, Larry McKenna, and many others. For several years he featured in Seward Johnson’s “Sing Along with Sculpture” at Grounds For Sculpture, and with Jerry Rife in both traditional jazz and special Christmas jazz settings. Orr’s compositions and arrangements number 75 editions of choral, vocal, piano, instrumental chamber, and concert band works, and have received several ASCAPlus awards and a NJ State Council on the Arts fellowship. A former faculty member of The Lawrenceville School (2002-2012) and Rider University (1998-2022), conducting and teaching broadly across practical and historical subjects, Orr now maintains an active private studio of piano and composition students.
Orr is a keyboardist (primarily piano) within a spectrum of idioms—multi-era jazz, pop (Anglo- and Afro-rooted), musical theater, and Euro-American classical. He has extensive live performance and recording experience as both soloist and collaborator / accompanist. He has recorded on piano, synthesizer, mellophone, flugelhorn, recorders, and ‘puccolo’ (mouth whistling), and incidentally as a baritone chorister, featuring on more than a dozen album-length releases (jazz, pop, soundtrack; 1980-present), with original compositions and arrangements represented on another three.
Orr is a composer of neo-tonal classical, jazz (contemporary and historic), and pop (Anglo- and Afro-rooted) music: concert works, liturgical works, dramatic underscoring, incidental music, hymn tunes, and jazz heads; 2- to 20-minute works for choir(s), solo voice, wind ensemble, concert band, chamber groups, solo keyboard. He is the recipient of several ASCAPlus awards and a NJ State Council on the Arts fellowship.
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© Philip Orr
Pianist/composer/arranger/educator/conductor Philip Orr is all about music. Guided by a precocious ear through the broad musical tastes in his household during the 1950s–60s, Orr was already an adept whistler and boy soprano at 7 when he began studies in piano, oboe, and theory at the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven. From junior high through high school he sequentially taught himself bassoon, recorders, saxophones, and double bass. In this same period, he studied formally with Dick Fortino (cornet & trumpet) and John Mehegan (jazz piano & theory); led his own rehearsal big-band; performed in college and community theater pits; and contributed charts, piano, and brass work to the University of Bridgeport Jazz Ensemble under Neil Slater.
Orr then toured as keyboardist and occasional arranger with Gene Hull, Vic Damone, Diane Scanlon, Billy Fellows, and Sandler & Young. A year of composition study at Manhattan School of Music (Giampaolo Bracali) and jazz gigs with John Stowell, Bill Bickford, Adam Nussbaum, Linc Chamberland, Art Davis, and other NYC-area players filled in around tours.
In 1978 Orr began turning his attention to music in churches, serving as music director and resident composer for churches in Connecticut and New York, while maintaining a freelance career as keyboardist, brass player, and arranger/copyist.
In 1993 he matriculated at Westminster Choir College of Rider University, graduating with degrees in Sacred Music and Composition. At Westminster, Orr sang with Westminster Jubilee Singers and Westminster Symphonic Choir, and accompanied Westminster Singers, performing a rich mixture of culturally diverse musical forms.
Since 1998, Orr has navigated a variety of musical paths simultaneously: faculty member at Rider University/Westminster Choir College; publisher of original works and arrangements via Orrganized Sound; Director of Music at Calvary Baptist Church in Hopewell, NJ; and freelance keyboardist in jazz, pop, musical theater, and cabaret settings, with occasional forays into classical recital repertoire with colleagues.
Phil has enjoyed lengthy collaborations with clarinetist/conductor Jerry Rife (Jazz Hymns & Spirituals; Cool Yule Jazz), composer/reedman Steve Hiltner (Sustainable Jazz Ensemble), and iconic sculptor, the late J. Seward Johnson (Sing Along With Sculpture at Grounds For Sculpture). He performs with his trio, Phil Orr & More, featuring Michael O’Brien and Sean Dixon, and frequently plugs-in with them behind actor Jason Kravits in his one-man comedy improv cabaret, “Off the Top!” From 2018-2020, Orr was curator, host, and occasional performer in the weekly Jazz On Broad, ‘Music Making Community,’ series at the Hopewell Valley Bistro, introducing well-known and worth-knowing performers to the central NJ area and each other.
Orr has featured as performer, composer, and/or arranger on more than a dozen full-length albums. His choral works have received particular attention through performances by more than 150 church, academic and community choirs in the US, France and the Caribbean, earning him several ASCAPlus Awards and a NJ State Council on the Arts fellowship.
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© Philip Orr