Pianist, composer, arranger: John Beasley’s career brims with accomplishments that bridge musical and visual media. An uncommonly versatile pianist, he has backed such jazz icons as Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard – playing in the bands of both these trumpet greats while still in his 20s – as well as with Dianne Reeves, Steely Dan, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Christian McBride (and even, for one night, with James Brown). His extensive work as a composer-arranger extends way beyond jazz, with many credits in television and film– including a host of movies scored by multiple Oscar nominee Thomas Newman – that have earned him five GRAMMY® nominations and an Emmy nod along the way.
The son of a professional bassoonist, Beasley started writing his own arrangements while still in junior high school. These caught the attention of Jimmy Lyons, founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival, who recommended him for a scholarship at the Stan Kenton summer jazz camp. During high school, he was hired to arrange for theatre productions and recordings while playing with older jazz musicians.
At 19, he formed bands with Vinnie Colauita, John Patitucci, Rickey Minor and started touring internationally with artists in the jazz and pop-music world, including Sergio Mendes, DJ Jazzy Jeff (Will Smith), Jackson 5, until he joined Freddie Hubbard’s band.
Living in Hollywood, at age 21, Beasley started composing for award-winning television programs such as Cheers, Fame, Family Ties, and the series premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Through his three-decade association with Thomas Newman, he has contributed to such films as 1917, Spectre and Skyfall, The Shawshank Redemption, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (I & II), Finding Nemo, Finding Dory and Wall-E.
When reality singing TV competitions started, Beasley was an associate musical director in 2005, when he helped usher Carrie Underwood to victory, then stayed on as lead arranger for 10 years. He stepped up to the role of musical director for several other TV singing shows, including Duets, Sing Your Face Off, and the Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary special.
In 1992 Beasley released Cauldron, the first of eleven recordings under his name (produced by Steely Dan’s Walter Becker), and he received his first GRAMMY nomination for the 2009 album Positootly! His recent releases, MONK’estra Vol.1 and MONK’estra Vol.2, each earned four GRAMMY nominations for Best Large Jazz Ensemble and Best Arranging. His new album will be released May 2020 featuring more original songs, along with new arrangements of Thelonious Monk’s music to continue the audience-pleasing MONK’estra project.
Beasley has served as musical director for the Herbie Hancock Jazz Institute (formerly The Thelonious Monk Institute)’s annual gala concerts since 2011, guiding legends as well as the next generation of jazz greats through all-star tributes to Quincy Jones, Bill Clinton, George Duke, Terrence Blanchard, and Aretha Franklin. Since UNESCO’s inauguration of International Jazz Day in 2012, Beasley has also directed the organization’s annual concerts, which have been broadcast globally from Havana, St Petersburg, Paris, Istanbul, Osaka, Melbourne, and the notable 2016 concert at the White House, hosted by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama which earned Beasley his Emmy nomination. This next Jazz Day concert will be held in Cape Town, South Africa in 2020.
Beasley seamlessly shapes each concert starring 30+ global jazz and pop all-stars, including Sting, Aretha Franklin, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jamie Cullum, Ivan Lins, Youn Sun Nah, Dhafer Youssef, Joey Alexander, Chucho Valdez, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Chick Corea, John Schofield, Kenny Garrett, Branford Marsalis and many others.
SiriusXM handpicked Beasley to host a new, original radio series on ‘arranging’ called “Flipped” where Beasley explores what happens musically when jazz musicians rearrange or ‘flip’ songs from the Great American Songbook and make it their own. Beasley also guest DJ’s throughout the year.
Beasley wears enough hats to qualify as a haberdasher’s dream. In addition to all of the above, he has co-produced albums by legendary guitarist Lee Ritenour, oft-awarded vocalist Dianne Reeves, former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine, whose Dr.Um received a 2017 GRAMMY nomination, Japanese mega-star Chie Ayado, Portuguese singer Maria Mendes, and Cuban Yosvany Terry.
Beasley has been commissioned to compose/conduct or arrange music for various orchestras, including Sweden's Blue House Orchestra, Brussels Jazz Orchestra, projects with Jose James and Jazzmeia with Germany’s HR Big Band and an upcoming Chick Corea “Return to Forever” project.
MONK’estra is a smashing 15-piece big band that captures the spirit of Thelonious Monk’s singular music – the off-beat melodies and humor, strange beauty and unbounded swing in fresh arrangements flavored with New Orleans spirit, hip-hop, Afro-Cuban rhythms and atmospheric colors. MONK’estra Vol. 1 and MONK’estra Vol. 2 earned 4 GRAMMY nominations. The new MONK’estra album will be released in May 2020. Beasley tours MONK’estra as a big band, septet, quartet, or trio. Conservatory big bands have also played the music conducted by John Beasley, adding to the 70+ stages that MONK’estra has been presented throughout the world.
For two seasons, Beasley directed the Toyota Symphonies for Youth’s “Jazz and the Orchestra” for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
His worldwide tour with MONK’estra –whether in big band, septet, quartet, or trio or global orchestras– has been presented to major stages, festivals and clubs throughout the world, including: North Sea, Monterey, Detroit, Playboy, Java, Berlin, Wellington jazz festivals; Ronnie Scotts, Blue Note Tokyo, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dizzy’s, SFJAZZ, San Diego Symphony, Broad Stage.
Beasley also conducts workshops and master classes, along with working with school big bands, as he tours so that he can share his experience with the next generation of musicians.