After a decade in New York City, the San Antonio native and current resident of Brooklyn,
New York has amassed an impressive body of original work as a saxophonist and bandleader.
With the recent release of 2016’s "While We're Still Young", his most accomplished work to date, Cornelius shows growth and maturity as both player and composer. “I guess I’m considering myself more and more a composer. I was never interested in the label until now," he says. “My mindset had always been that of a saxophone player who wrote tunes as vehicles. But now I've become interested in writing for more voices than just my own, and studying the art of writing in a more serious manner." And yet, others have been acknowledging Cornelius’s considerable skills as a composer for some time, beginning in 2005, the year he won his first of three consecutive ASCAP Young Composer Awards (Now the Herb Alpert award). In 2011, he was identified in the Players section of Down Beat as a rising young talent on the scene and the following year he was awarded a New Jazz Works Commission by Chamber Music America and the Doris Duke Foundation. Since then, He's appeared as a "Rising Star" on the Downbeat Critics Poll every year.
Born into an often-traveling military family, Patrick was raised in such diverse locales as Germany, Georgia, Texas, and Great Britain. His parents nurtured his love of the fine arts from an early age, exposing him and his brothers to the theater, concerts, museums, poetry readings and classic literature. Patrick began studying the piano at the age of 5, and gravitated towards the alto saxophone as a teenager, shifting his musical focus from the works of Debussy, Grieg, and Bartok, to the sounds of Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane. He cut his teeth playing local gigs around his native San Antonio while still in high school, before going on to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston and The Manhattan School of Music, both on scholarships for undergraduate and graduate studies respectively. He subsequently completed an Artist Diploma from the world famous Juilliard School.
Cornelius’ six recordings as a leader (including "Traveling Song" from the international band The TransAtlantic Collective) have showcased his accomplished writing and potent alto sax playing in the company of an inner circle of talented colleagues on the scene. His 2006 debut, Lucid Dream, featured pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Sean Conly, drummer Kendrick Scott and vocalist Gretchen Parlato. In 2008, he recorded Traveling Song with The TransAtlantic Collective, which featured the U.K.-based American bassist Michael Janisch, British trumpeter Quentin Collins, Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu and drummer Paul Wiltgen from Luxembourg. Cornelius’ 2010 followup as a leader, Fierce, was primarily a trio outing with himself joined by bassist Janisch and drummer Johnathan Blake while 2011’s Maybe Steps had the saxophonist-bandleader playing alongside pianist Gerald Clayton, guitarist Miles Okazaki, bassist and former Berklee classmate Peter Slavov and drummer Scott. Infinite Blue in 2013 teamed up seasoned veterans Jeff Ballard and Frank Kimbrough with Cornelius contemporaries Michael Rodriguez and Michael Janisch.
Patrick's latest Whirlwind Recordings release, "While We're Still Young," unites him with seven of the most accomplished young artists in contemporary jazz in order to breathe life into a suite of new original music inspired by the universally-treasured poetry of English literary icon A. A. Milne.
Cornelius’ personal connection to the sweet, whimsical verses in the timeless collection When We Were Very Young spans several generations. Milne’s classic trove documenting the childhood exploits of his son Christopher Robin were read first by his grandmother to his mother as a baby, and then by his mother to him and his brothers in turn. At the birth of Patrick’s own first child, Isabella, the family’s copy of When We Were Very Young was passed down to him, so that he could continue the tradition. “From the very first time I started reading these poems to Isabella, I remember an instant desire to write music inspired by each individual vignette," the composer recalls.
Several years later, a commission from Chamber Music America’s New Jazz Works program, and a grant from The Doris Duke Foundation helped make that ambition a reality. “My goal for this project was to select a handful of individual poems from When We Were Very Young and write programmatic movements inspired by the imagery that each one evokes using the breadth of my experiences as a musician," explains Cornelius. “I thought that if I could write music that depicts the essence and mood of Milne’s literary gems, filtered through my own voice as an emergent composer, then the project would be successful. The concept of lineage and emotional inheritance is important to this project, and when I was composing, it was important that listeners hear my musical lineage; my compositional influences." These influences include historical giants such as Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, JS Bach, Claude Debussy, Wayne Shorter, and Charlie Parker, as well as many of Patrick’s peers, including members of his own octet.
“From the moment I conceived the project, it was obvious whose musical voices I was hearing in my mind’s ear," Cornelius explains, regarding the easy choice for the musicians who make up the octet featured on this album. “The gentlemen performing this music are musicians I’ve come up with both in college and in New York. They’re also each highly skilled composers; artists whom I could trust to give me good artistic feedback and provide inspiration while I was working through the music."
Patrick met drummer Kendrick Scott, bassist Peter Slavov, and trombonist Nick Vayenas while attending the Berklee School of Music in Boston and has recorded many albums with the three of them (including several of his previous solo releases) over the past 15 years. Trumpeter Jason Palmer is also an old friend and musical collaborator from Cornelius’ days in Boston. Pianist Gerald Clayton and guitarist Miles Okazaki were classmates of Patrick’s in graduate school, and tenor saxophonist John Ellis was an early inspiration from his first days in New York City. “For a project this personal I needed to surround myself with musicians I could trust as artists, and as people. We are all in this project together, and I think you can hear the camaraderie in the music."
Cornelius names his suite, and this album, While We’re Still Young, both as obvious tribute to Milne’s treasury, and as an appeal to the listener to remember the joy and wonder of our own youth.
Also an active pedagogue, Patrick is currently on faculty at Hunter College (CUNY) in New York City, Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, and the United Nations International School, where he teaches saxophone, woodwinds, and band.