Richard Nelson

Richard Nelson

Adjunct Music Faculty

Telephone (207) 621-3214

Fine Arts 102
UMA Augusta campus


Composition, Theory, Music History, Guitar


Described as “an ambitious and daring composer” who has “come up with a distinctive synthesis of modern jazz, and contemporary orchestral music” (Dave Wayne, All About Jazz), composer/guitarist Richard Nelson, DMA, fosters a healthy creative interplay between the in-the-moment spontaneity of improvisational explorations and the more deliberately organized realms of composition. He is co-leader, guitarist, and a principal composer for the Makrokosmos Orchestra, a 15-player, New York-based hybrid jazz/new-music ensemble, with multiple appearances at ShapeShifter Lab in Brooklyn.  His works additionally have been performed by ensembles such as ALEA III, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and the Portland Piano Trio at venues including the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Miller Theater, the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and numerous other U.S. festivals and universities.  He has written commissioned works for a number of notable performing ensembles including Aardvark, the flute and harp Duo 2, and the Resinosa Ensemble, and he has received fellowships and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Charles Ives Center, among others.

As a jazz performer and composer/bandleader, Nelson has performed widely at festivals, clubs, colleges and other venues in the U.S. and abroad, including the Boston and Concord Jazz Festivals; St. Peter’s Church, ShapeShifter Lab, and Symphony Space in New York; and Scullers Jazz Club and The Regattabar in Boston. Musicians he has had the privilege of performing with include, in his student years, guest artists including Slide Hampton, Joe Henderson, John Handy, George Duke, and Joe Pass, and, more recently, Sheila Jordan, Geri Allen, Ricky Ford, Adam Kolker, Taylor Ho-Bynum, Walter Thompson, Steve Grover, and Don Stratton.  Many of these appearances have been with the internationally recognized Boston-based Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, of which he has been a core member for many years.  Nelson also performs regularly in Maine and northern New England with his own eclectic Imaginary Ensemble.

Nelson has released four albums of his original compositions and arrangements as leader, exploring both large- and small-ensemble configurations.  These include Pursuit (Richard Nelson Large Ensemble), Origin Story (Richard Nelson Quintet), Figurations (Richard Nelson Trio), and most recently Deep River (featuring the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra), which Cadence called “… an atmospheric large group setting worthy of Gil Evans” and the Boston Globe called “… a masterful suite…that merges jazz and American folk music.”  A fifth album, featuring his recent works for the Makrokosmos Orchestra, is currently in the works.  Nelson also appears as a sideman on many other recordings, including over ten with Aardvark.

Professor Nelson’s undergraduate education was at the University of California (Berkeley). His graduate studies in composition were at Indiana University and Columbia; his principal teachers were Don Erb and Mario Davidovsky.  He additionally studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Manny Albam at the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop.  A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Nelson resides in Maine, where he is a Professor of Music and co-director of Sonic Arts and Composition studies at the University of Maine at Augusta.

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