Finale User Spotlight: Jonathan Kelly

Jonathan Kelly at an August 2009 recording session (in Vitoria, Spain) for The Vitoria Suite, an
upcoming CD by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. Photo by Frank Stewart

Jonathan Kelly is a bassist/composer with an enviable day job: He’s Wynton Marsalis’ music supervisor. In this role he transforms Wynton’s handwritten sketches into beautifully rendered scores and parts. Wynton is delightfully open and active on Facebook, where he’s posted a before-and-after video of this process as well as a written description of his work with Jonathan, including marathon scoring sessions and chess breaks.

Ever wonder what the application and interview process is for this kind of dream employment? I imagine carrying a portfolio of carefully selected work samples into a fancy office in Lincoln Center and meeting with a bunch of suits who work for Mr. Marsalis. That’s not quite how it went. Jonathan explains:

“I started working with Wynton Marsalis in the winter of 1999. At the time, he was working on a project called “All Rise,” a full-length concert piece written for symphony orchestra, choir, and jazz big band. I was an observer at a rehearsal when Wynton motioned for me to come over to him. ‘You know how to read and write music, right? Go over to my apartment. There’s a guy working around the clock. Do whatever he tells you to do and I’ll pay you.’

As a not-starving, but definitely hungry artist, I went to his place where I printed parts, bound scores, proofread the music, and generally did whatever was asked of me. This is where I first encountered Finale. I realized that I could really help supplement my income doing jobs copying, orchestrating, and arranging.

The first thing I did, and this is something I recommend to anyone looking to learn the program, was to try to re-create a great handwritten score, in my case a work by Duke Ellington. I just stayed up day and night entering all the notes into Finale. By the time I had finished that piece, I had worn out the User Manual and I had taught myself the basics of Finale. Duke’s music is so rich with subtleties; I had to conquer hundreds of problems to accurately represent the handwritten material in Finale. The key advice here is: Learn Finale. No one is going to pay you to learn it. I run into a lot of young copyists who have the music skills to be successful, but lack experience with the program. 

From that point forward, Wynton used me as his primary copyist. We’ve worked on hundreds of pieces. Tons of big band scores, orchestral projects, music for film and dance: You name it, and Wynton has probably done it. This makes my job exciting — I’m constantly being pushed outside my comfort zone. We’re currently finishing Wynton’s second symphony entitled Blues Symphony. When we are not busy with commissioned works, I oversee making his sheet music available for sale at

I use Finale every day and on a lot of those days it’s ALL day. I had no idea back in 1999 when I first discovered Finale that this program — that I could use to “supplement” my income — would later become my career. There’s honestly no way that Wynton and I could complete the amount of projects that we do without Finale.”

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