“For a wholly original take on big band’s past, present and future, look to Darcy James Argue” — so says Newsweek’s Seth Colter Walls. The Vancouver-born, Brooklyn-based composer and bandleader has toured nationally and internationally with his 18-piece ensemble, Secret Society, garnering countless awards and nominations and reimagining what a 21st-century big band can sound like. “It’s maximalist music of impressive complexity and immense entertainment value, in your face and then in your head” writes Richard Gehr in the Village Voice.
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Argue made his mark with his critically acclaimed 2009 debut Infernal Machines. 2013 saw the release of Brooklyn Babylon, which, like Infernal Machines before it, earned the group nominations for both GRAMMY and JUNO Awards. His most recent recording, Real Enemies, released in the fall of 2016, earned a third consecutive GRAMMY nomination and has been praised as “wildly discursive, twitchily allusive, a work of furious ambition… deeply in tune with our present moment” by The New York Times’ Nate Chinen.
Proclaimed “a mind-blowing example of truly great, era-defining jazz composition, and a contender for album of the year” by London Jazz News’ John L. Walters, Real Enemies is a 13-chapter exploration of America’s fascination with conspiracy theories and the politics of paranoia. The album grew out of a multimedia work Argue co-created with writer-director Isaac Butler and filmmaker Peter Nigrini for the 2015 BAM Next Wave Festival, in a uniquely immersive experience that Stereophile’s Fred Kaplan called “a remarkable work, maybe an oddball masterpiece: riveting, head-spinning, at once spooky and witty, abstrusely complex and foot-tappingly propulsive.” The multimedia performance was next staged at the 2016 Holland Festival, a production JazzNu’s Rinus van der Heijden praised as “a visual and auditive spectacle without precedent, which overwhelms, dwarfs, and makes you aware that innovation in music theatre is still possible.”
Argue recently collaborated with GRAMMY-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, arranging, orchestrating, and conducting her “macabre, majestically relevant” (New York Music Daily) original song cycle Ogresse, which premiered in September 2018 to a standing-room only crowd at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. JazzTimes’ Matthew Kassel calls Ogresse “a daring, and genre-defying, departure… a grand synthesis of jazz, musical theater, mythology, visual art, cooking, fashion, acting, race, sexuality.”
Secret Society maintains a busy touring schedule, with European, Canadian, and South American tours, global festival performances, and four appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival. Secret Society’s performances have been celebrated for their “slashing fury and awesome full-ensemble precision” (The New York City Jazz Record), “brilliant soundscapes” (Globe and Mail) and “gorgeous musical details, maneuvers and transformations” (Ottawa Citizen). Their London Jazz Festival debut was declared “a contender for gig of the year” by The Guardian.
In addition to his work with Secret Society, Argue has toured Australia and New Zealand leading the Jazzgroove Mothership Orchestra and was featured in the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos’ inaugural international Jazz Composers Forum. He has led performances of his music by the WDR Big Band, the Danish Radio Big Band, the Frankfurt Radio Bigband, the Cologne Contemporary Jazz Orchestra, the Big Band Palácio das Artes, and the West Point Jazz Knights. Argue has composed works for chamber duo and string quartet, art songs for Newspeak, and created arrangements for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He has conducted residencies and workshops at the University of North Texas, McGill University, the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, Cornish College, Western Connecticut State University, and with the Western Australian Jazz Youth Orchestra, among others. In 2012, he was composer-in-residence for Missouri State University’s annual Composition Festival.
In 2015, Argue was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Music Composition and a Doris Duke Artist Award. He has received commissions from the Fromm Music Foundation, the Jazz Gallery, the Manhattan New Music Project, the Jerome Foundation, and BAM, as well as ensembles including the Danish Radio Big Band, the Hard Rubber Orchestra, the West Point Jazz Knights, and the Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos. He is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, New Music USA, the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, Composers Now, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the MacDowell Colony.