|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
Recently NPR's Patrick Jarenwattananon of A Blog Supreme asks: "Hey Seattle: is this 'Basically Basie' proposal a good idea?"
Now being a former Washingtonian, I was interested to find out what Basically Basie was. From the Mission Statement on the link, I found out that the objective for Basically Basie is:
The organization and promotion of an annual contemporary “competition and festival” anchored in the swing traditions of Count Basie, and patterned after the contributions of the Essentially Ellington program created by Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
And that's the problem. The past is like an anchor; it's comfortable and safe to be moored in a little stylistic cove. However you can not move forward if you don't lift the anchor and venture away to see what else is beyond it. Many of today's composers and performers have sailed away from that cove, yet Festivals like BB and EE, that emphasize "swing traditions," seek to go back to (or to stay put in) that stylistic cove. The Basically Basie idea by Paula Nodtvedt at jazzoids.com seems noble in intent however I argue that, especially for students, we do not need Essentially Ellington let alone another similar one in Basically Basie.
While I haven't been a part of the Seattle scene for many years now, I still do have knowledge of and ties to what goes on educationally in the Seattle area because I was the former high school band director of award-winning bands at Interlake High School in Bellevue (read about bringing Maria Schneider to Interlake for her first performances in the Pacific Northwest-see three-part posts May 2010). So believe me when I say I think playing repertoire from the past along with learning the traditions and the basic lingua franca of past masters is VERY important and necessary for students. But assuming they have basic technical skills, students particularly during their novitiate, should learn about and play ALL kinds of jazz, not just swing and blues (despite Jason Marsalis' recent comments) and not just Ellington and Basie, no matter how great or important. And my problem with these festivals is that because of their high-profile, they put too much emphasis on one style of jazz over another, to the detriment of the student's overall education. In this, I am reminded of the debate in general education circles about the raising of standards through state and/or federal testing of all students.
Sure high standards should be a requirement for EVERY student and teacher (read about some of my discussion of this in the Interlake-Maria story) and testing students is an important part of this. However, testing should not be the sole qualitative nor quantitative indicator of learning. For the best teachers, their focus is on individual achievement and how best to accomplish this, with preparation for a state/federal test as only one part of a well-balanced classroom. However, the danger in some classrooms is that the test becomes the driver of what mostly goes on in the classroom, with any learning not directly related to the test, deemed irrelevant and less important. Preparing for festivals like Essentially Ellington (and in theory, Basically Basie) because of their out-sized role in some schools minds as (falsely) representing 'the best' of high school bands, can result in a "teaching to the test" mentality. Of course this is a danger with any festival or competition, but with BB and EE, this seems an especially insidious risk with those impressionable future connoisseurs, consumers, and players being brainwashed (ah, influenced) by what jazz is (and is not) by the edicts of stylistic purity coming from the potentates of jazz. AACM founding father Muhal Richard Abrams tells Francis Davis in Bebop and Nothingness (Schirmer Books, 1996: 101),
“If you're not oriented toward innovation, then by all means keep up the flame! That's important work. But the tradition also calls for change, for renewal, for innovation. In the beginning, jazz was an abstract process. It wasn’t any particular style yet. It sounded like whatever the musician wanted it to sound like. It stood for the freedom to experiment, the excitement of things never quite coming out the same.”
When the standard of excellence of a festival is not how one can make the traditions your own, but rather how closely to the original past models you can emulate, this seems to me to go against the nature of jazz's origins and its spirit, as stated above. And while I agree BB (and EE) can bring and enthuse more bodies to the cause of jazz by celebrating "the rich heritage of Jazz as a central element of contemporary American music; by showcasing local, regional and national Jazz musicians, students and teachers, with the objective of maintaining the legacy of this music for future generations while increasing local audience participation," what kind of legacy and heritage do those Festivals leave students with, when they learn that it is more valued to sound like a facsimile of a band from a half-century ago rather than speaking the music language of today? that jazz is a series of fundamental, immutable standards (pun intended) or sounds like 'X' musician or group rather than a catholic philosophical way of thinking about or hearing music?
I do understand that learning the fundamentals of any language are important: you must be able to read Lunch before Naked Lunch. But at this level we aren't talking about the basics. The students and bands at EE are fairly advanced and could (and should) be playing in a high-profile festival that celebrates ALL of jazz's legacy and heritage not just Basie, Ellington, and swing (I'm definitely not against festivals; competition, especially for high school and younger can be healthy, offering many lessons on perseverance, determination, how to win and lose gracefully, etc., and if it supplements and enhances a program, rather than dominating it, then great).
If you want to have a festival that "celebrate[s] the rich heritage of Jazz as a central element of contemporary American music" why not rotate the focus? How about Totally Thad one year, followed by a Genuinely Gil, then a Mainly Maria Festival? Sure keep Ellington one year and Basie another; add Toshiko, Mingus, Brookmeyer in subsequent years. Or focus on styles of jazz, which could give things a more contemporaneous feel: Latin, electronic, soul jazz, free, jazz rock, whatever. And while you're at it, why not go as far as commissioning some of today's composers/arrangers to write/arrange music from or inspired by jazz greats who weren't big band players/writers (Coltrane, Ornette, Brubeck, Monk, Pat Metheny, Weather Report, etc.). Certainly this is a way to honor the past while recognizing that today's students should be intimately exposed to the writing and perspectives of today's large-ensemble jazz composers such as Jim McNeely, John Hollenbeck, Darcy James Argue, Guillermo Klein, Jason Linder, etc.). Frankly, a festival like this would REALLY show how much a school's program assimilated the total language of jazz, rather than a narrow focus on one person's music or one style of music (no matter how great it is).
Pat Metheny in his keynote address to the International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) convention in 2001 challenged musicians “to recreate and reinvent the music to a new paradigm resonant to this era, a new time.”And Basically Basie or Essentially Ellington are doing this, how? To "recreate and reinvent" is difficult; it requires letting go of the past in order to find that future paradigm. Letting go doesn't mean forgetting or dishonoring the past. In fact I think by moving away from it you are honoring the past even more by recognizing that the future "stands on its shoulders." We must lift the anchor of the past in order to sail to the future.
Now even though I no longer live in Seattle, I still love the city and still have ties to it (I'll be performing there with Numinous in the fall of 2011) so I'll answer Patrick Jarenwattananon's question at the top: Is this Basically Basie a good idea? I'd have to answer, no.
(photo credits, from top to bottom: me conducting the Interlake High School Jazz Ensemble at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1998; Roosevelt High School Jazz Band of Seattle, perennial winners of Essentially Ellington, with Wynton Marsalis in 2009 (from J@LC website); Garfield High School Jazz Band of Seattle, perennial winners of Essentially Ellington, with Wynton Marsalis in 2009 (from J@LC website))
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 5:57 PM
update comment on BB blog:
Well, I think that from a marketing standpoint it might be an easier 'in' for people because the name Basie is a known commodity. However, I think the point of a festival would be to establish your own identity. If you have a great festival, the festival itself will be the draw, will be the 'in'. In the classical world here in NYC I can think of the Lincoln Center Festival as an example. Despite not being tied to a composer or performer (or really even any of the official Lincoln Center performing groups) the Festival has its own identity and has established itself as a place to hear all different kinds of interesting (generally contemporary) music, theater, etc. in the summer. Why not make this Seattle Jazz Festival it's own thing, rather than a facsimile of EE? Something that can be like the Lincoln Center Festival in its wide-ranging focus, yet featuring high school and local musicians. Sure you guys have Earshot and they do feature a wide range, but they are strictly professional players. To have a high school festival/competition that the ensembles would have to perform quality music that is not swing-based, would really set the Festival as something uniquely Seattle. Why be an ersatz EE, when you can be a primo Seattle Festival?
Imagine high schools playing Ornette Coleman or Dave Douglas or some jazz/classical hybrids (like Gil Evans or myself or some of Hollenbeck's work; a festival that did that could bring in kids from the classical groups from the schools, perhaps doing a Metropole like focus one year. Talk about exciting! This would get not just the jazzers from schools involved but other kids who would not normally get to play 'jazz', but who might have an interest (and frankly, for many of those string and wind players, learning to play non-classical music will get them much farther in today's music world, than hoping for some orchestra gig to open up)). Now of course the problem might be finding directors or programs that think beyond the swing/straight-ahead paradigm but I'm sure they are there (sadly there weren't many others like me when I was teaching at Interlake, but perhaps things have changed since then). As I mentioned before, a festival like I proposed would be unique and would really set Seattle apart from anywhere else and also would point the students to what's happening today. As someone else mentioned, sure those groups that love swing and straight-ahead will find an outlet with EE or many other things, but for the truly adventurous directors and programs, I would implore you to make something different.
P.S. Yes the Basie and Beyond title is better, and might be much closer in spirit to something like the Mostly Mozart Festival (which while you'll hear some Mozart, you'll also hear new works as well-last year I heard John Adam's A Flowering Tree, an opera 'inspired' (but not mimicking) Mozart's Die Zauberflöte). A format like that seems to acknowledge that while the past is important, new and just as exciting things are happening NOW. Although frankly, something closer to a Lincoln Center Festival format, with its more wide-ranging focus, would be more interesting and would not be tied down with expectations (my guess is that the 'beyond' part would be less focused on by directors; that's why I think a rotating focus with different composers or styles would be more interesting pedagogically as well as musically-the Bard Festival also here in NY state, with its annual rotation of classical composers as the focus, could also be another model).
Below check out the crowd dancing behind Honey Blo, which reminded me of a white version of the classic 70s Parliment/Funkadelic 'stage of thousands'! Be sure to check out the little intro with Ratso, which actually comes near the end of the video (thanks to O Hell Nawl for the lead). After seeing that, here's some more fun: 'jazz' bagpipes ("Amazing Grace" starts about a minute in). Is it me or does the bagpipes sound like an soprano saxophone with an especially bad tone?
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:37 PM
WEDNESDAY, JULY 7, 2010
"But I have written to you that I am engaged on a great work. Don't you see how that claims one completely, and how one is often so engrossed in it that one is virtually dead to anything else? Now think of a very great work in which the whole world is reflected--oneself is, so to speak, merely an instrument on which the universe plays...At such moments I do not belong to myself...There are terrible birth pangs the creator of such a work has to suffer, before it all arranges itself and constructs itself and flares up in his head, there has to be a good deal of absent-mindedness and self-absorption and deadness to the outside world...My symphony will be something such as the world has never heard! The whole of Nature finds a voice in it, and tells of such secret things as one may perhaps divine in a dream. I tell you, I myself get an uncanny sensation at certain points, I feel as though I hadn't written this myself."
-Gustav Mahler discussing his Third Symphony to Anna von Mildenburg (from "Mahler" by Kurt Blaukopf translated by Inge Goodwin, Praeger Books, 1973)
"And so we come to the final incredible page [of the Ninth Symphony]. And this page, I think, is the closest we have ever come, in any work of art, to experiencing the very act of dying, of giving it all up. The slowness of this page is terrifying...It is terrifying, and paralyzing, as the strands of sound disintegrate. We hold on to them, hovering between hope and submission.And one by one, these spidery strands connecting us to life melt away, vanish from our fingers even as we hold them. We cling to them as they dematerialize; we are holding two--then one. One, and suddenly none. For a petrifying moment there is only silence. Then again, a strand, a broken strand, two strands, one...none. We are half in love with easeful death...now more than ever seems it rich to die, to cease upon the midnight with no pain...And in ceasing, we lose it all. But in letting go, we have gained everything."
-Leonard Bernstein, from his The Twentieth Century Crisis, the 5th part of "The Unanswered Question", the Harvard University Norton Lecture Series (1973)
"I have been going through so many experiences (for the past year and a half) that I can hardly discuss them. How should I attempt to describe such colossal crisis? I see everything in such a new light and I am in such continuous fluctuation...I am thirster than ever for life, and I find the 'habit of living' sweeter than ever..."
-Gustav Mahler in a letter to Bruno Walter, 1909 (from"Mahler-The Man and his Music" by Egon Gartenberg, Schirmer Books, 1978)
Happy 150th Birthday, Herr Mahler!
(Text in the below video is from the last part of the 5th lecture, The Twentieth Century Crisis, of the riveting 6-part The Unanswered Question, Leonard Bernstein's Harvard Norton Lectures talks from the 1970s; )
(photo credit: Mahler on his way to conduct the Court Opera in 1904 from Kurt Blaukopf's Mahler)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:55 PM
On Sunday I went to the Bang on a Can Marathon at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden atrium. It was a great time and I met many old friends and made some new ones. I was not a Marathon 'warrior' as I was only at the Winter Garden for the first 7 of the 13 hours, but you can read reviews from some of those that were "in it to win": Steve Smith's piece at the New York Times, Seth Colter Walls for Capital NY, George Grella at The Big City, and the New Jersey Star-Ledger. This being the 21st century and all, an unofficial Twitterati (including me!) could be seen typing away on laptops, Blackberries, and iPhones giving witty and sometimes insightful real-time commentary on the music and the happenings.
As Greg Sandow pointed out, the idea of the Marathon and why you hear the wide variety of music you hear at a typical Marathon, can be answered by this question in the BOAC program, a mission statement of sorts, from the founders Michael Gordon, David Lang, and Julia Wolfe:
"So where can you go to find music from across the many many adventurous, sub-mainstream, less commercial genres? Innovative musics that could easily be filtered and heard only separate from each other but actually have more in common than you could ever imagine once the categories are removed?"
Of course this is the 'thing' now, this crossing of genres; the blurring of lines of demarcation between one style or another. Some are now declaring, "Hey don't call me classical (or jazz or whatever), I listen to Prince and Dirty Projectors and Jay-Z and Bill Monroe and John Coltrane and sure John Adams too and it's all in my music, ain't I cool!" This self-consciousness about 'crossing genres' is actually not how I defined our age of mixed music. As I defined it, mixed music is a true integration of all of those influences from pop, rock, jazz, classical, etc. into something that is all of those influences yet completely different. Like in cooking, it's not always what ingredients you use for a recipe (although the quality of those ingredients is another story), but how you use them that is the difference between a surfeiting meal or a sublime one. Mixed music is not a style per se but rather a mode of expression that organically reflects a true philosophy or world view about music.
Now I say all of this because the Bang on a Can Marathon featured many works that I found satiating and certainly fitting my mixed music definition. And even those that didn't, I found engaging and enjoyable. The highlights for me of my 7 hour musical sitz were: Quartet New Generation, a recorder collective from Germany who brought virtuosic intensity to some rather large recorders; composer Moritz Eggert, who looks a bit like Peter Lorre but whose great piano playing was like someone at a Metallica concert (especially loved the Hämmerklavier III: One Man Band, with its (literal) grooving piano banging); Face the Music's spirited performance of Graham Fitkin's Mesh; Steve Coleman's piece Formation-Lunar Eclipse, which I'm still trying to figure out what it was (it was that good and that unclassifiable); Evan Ziporyn's Tire Fire performed by his Gamelan Galak Tika, featured some grooving and clanging rhythms by the gamelan with beautiful soundscapes from the added electric guitar, electric bass, and keyboard; and the last piece I heard, Fausto Romitelli's Professor Bad Trip performed by the Talea Ensemble, with its wonderfully wild and evocative dissonances and frenetic counterpoint, lived up to its title.
So to sum up the evening: Bang on a Can Marathon and mixed music, WIN!
(photo credit (from top to bottom): JACK Quartet performing Tetras by Iannis Xenakis; Gamelan Galak Tika; Moritz Eggert; Kambar Kalendarov and Kutman Sultanbekov from Kyrgyzstan; John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble; Quartet New Generation with Mortiz Eggert; Steve Coleman and Jonathan Finlayson (trpt), David Millares (piano);
all photos taken June 27, 2010 by Joseph C. Phillips Jr.)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 9:47 AM
This video came to my notice from Shadow and Act, a site that has become my recent source of what's happening from neglected and ah, darker hued participants in today's cinema and media (and one site that should be in your feed and you should be following). The Boondocks Dedicates an Episode Dissing Tyler Perry post featured a link to an episode of the eponymously titled TV show based on Aaron McGruder's groundbreaking comic strip. For years now, the strip and show has couched aspects of African-American life and culture in satirical humor and with a most observant eye. It is must viewing and reading for some insight into what's going on. If you've never checked out Boondocks, you can read some recent comics here or about learn about the show here or here. Tyler Perry, whose rags-to-billion-dollar-media-empire story is inspiring, is often criticized as trolling in and pandering to the most base stereotypes of African-Americans. The Boondocks episode is quite biting commentary on a thinly veiled Perry avatar and has sparked a reaction from Perry himself. I found the episode quite funny, go see for yourself...
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 5:11 PM
I don't remember this kind of dancing the last time I was at the New York City Ballet! Twirl was created for the NYCB's Dance with Dancers 2010 event and is a good and interesting way to promote the ballet for potential younger consumers. Of course you wouldn't want to always have something like this techno-rap, but if they could more often make the actual ballet experience as fun as this video, maybe it would really attract a...ah, more diverse, younger audience (Nutcracker excepted...).
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:54 AM
Well, not really but I did play around with one at the Upper West Side Apple Store just before Face the Music performed my piece "Liquid Timepieces". And yes, I want one. Anyway, above are some shots from this evening's performance:
(photo credit: Joseph C. Phillips Jr.)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:56 PM
Play Me I'm Yours is the latest public art project to hit NYC streets next week. On the heels of the CowParade and The Gates, both a number of years ago, Play Me I'm Yours features 60 pianos that will be placed around NYC and allow anyone with skills (or I guess, even if you have none) to share their inner Chopin, Alicia Keys, LaMonte Young, Herbie Hancock, Lady Gaga, Ligeti, or Cecil Taylor with anyone walking by.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:59 AM
Here are the latest photos from the Numinous show on May 24, 2010 at the Tea Lounge in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We had a great time and a good audience (actually made some of the laptop hipster mafia t ake out their earbuds to listen to us!) which was all part of the Size Matters Large Ensemble series curated by fellow Pulse-er JC Sanford. The photos were taken by Donald Martinez, who previously has taken some wonderful shots of various Numinous performances, turning himself into our group photographer in the process! Some of Donald's other lovely photo work from his travels can be seen on his Flickr stream, where you can view some of the other photos from previous Numinous shows as well.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:00 AM
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 16, 2010
Next Monday, June 21st at 5:30pm at the Apple Store on the upper West Side of Manhattan (1981 Broadway New York City, NY 10023) is the last chance this school year to hear Face the Music perform "Liquid Timepieces", the piece they commissioned from me (the piece will make its appearance in a Numinous version on a performance this fall).
Seeing as how I (along with seemly all the Apple fan boys and girls in the Western world) spent much of my time Tuesday, on-and-off throughout the day, trying to break through AT&T's server issues to pre-order the iPhone4 (the battery on my old geezer original iPhone 1.0 has reached the end of its life, so I'm actually someone that actually really needs the new iPhone...really....Really!). It would have been great if the concert and the pick-up date were the same but alas, Steve Jobs couldn't work his magic that way so I'll have to go back to pick up my new phone (if they haven't run out; despite my reservation I'm a bit skeptical after the events of the iPhoneapocalypse). Anyway, you can still come out to the Apple Store and hear Face the Music and maybe get a whiff of the new iPhone or at least the iPad while listening to the new music stars of the future.
At the Apple Store performance you can also hear Face the Music perform Graham Fitkin's "Mesh", which they will also be playing at this year's Bang on a Can Marathon on June 27th at 2pm.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 6:51 PM
That's right, the title says it all. For last night's crowd at the Apollo Theater Amateur Night, our 321 Band was the nameless red shirted Enterprise landing-party crew members beamed down to the planet's surface...never to return. WPIX Channel 11 had a nice interview (you can see me in the background during the 321 Band interview). Even the old Grey Lady, the New York Times, covered the debacle that was Teacher's Amateur Night. I actually was tweeting from the Apollo last night (#NYCTeachersatApollo) and you can get a sense of what was happening from them, but here's a sampling:
-people already lined up on 125th St. for sold out Amateur Night show at the Apollo, the tension & excitement mounts#NYCTeachersatApollo 3:34 PM Jun 2nd
-Apollo Green room, with everyone getting ready like Queen Latifah's Beauty Shop, only w/o hot combs (curlers only here) #NYCTeachersatApollo 3:39 PM Jun 2nd
-Apollo Ex. Dir telling stories of Ella, James Brown, etc. booed off stage, ok so that's going to make us feel better #NYCTeachersatApollo 3:48 PM Jun 2nd
-spontaneous break out of teachers playing Jobim and the Circle is Unbroken, good way to break the ice in Green Room #NYCTeachersatApollo 4:04 PM Jun 2nd
-being 1st, we were the sacrificial lambs of the Night booed off but almost made it to the end, oops there's another out #NYCTeachersatApollo 8:12 PM Jun 2nd
-it's student payback time, another bites the dust, but there is love and support in the GreenRoom #NYCTeachersatApollo 8:14 PM Jun 2nd
-in the balcony now having a beer watching the other acts, crowd is tired of booing, last 3 made it #NYCTeachersatApollo 8:43 PM Jun 2nd
Really it was good fun and we actually did play great (what playing we did!) but I must say the obvious: Harlem ain't ready for bluegrass...
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 11:45 PM
Here's the latest from our bird friends: after the three babies hatched, they were starting to grow nicely during the middle of last week, before we noticed a few days afterward that suddenly, there was only one left. We saw a stray cat prowling days before, so sadly perhaps some evening it made a meal from two of our friends. However, the lone survivor whom we call 'Jack Nicholson' (as I think you can see why) has made it out of the nest and is running around the yard, maybe not to be seen again...
(Photo credit: all photos taken by the Phillips household)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 2:55 PM
THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2010
Enjoyable story today by NPR's Jeff Lunden on Face the Music, the student group that my "Liquid Timepieces" was commissioned for. The story focus is on the performance of two of Nico Muhly's compositions by Face the Music.
Tonight's Face the Music show at Merkin Concert Hall was wonderful and afterward Nico Muhly and I talked a bit about how great it is to have younger kids play our music so well. For me it has been quite meaningful to see the development of my piece and how each subsequent performance brings out more and more, and how the students are finding their way toward making the piece theirs.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:55 PM
THURSDAY, MAY 27, 2010
Next Thursday and Friday Numinous will be participating in a works-in-progress performance of To Begin the World Over Again, my collaboration with choreographer Edisa Weeks and her Delirious Dances Company.
Although I've only been publicly talking about the project beginning last summer, Edisa and I have been in the planning stages of the project for about three years. So for us it is wonderful to be moving forward to the DEFCON 2 writing music-choreographing stage. Here's the official short blurb about the project:
To Begin The World Over Again is inspired by the writings of Thomas Paine who was influential in the forming of the Declaration of Independence and who through his spirited advocacy for freedom and democracy inspired people to fight for independence. To Begin The World Over Again (whose title comes from a quote from Paine's Common Sense) fuses the vision of composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. and his ensemble Numinous, and choreographer Edisa Weeks and her company Delirious Dances, to explore: what is the relevance of Paine’s words to America today? How are freedom and democracy packaged and promoted? What is the “Promise Of America” that Paine so fervently believed in and wrote about? Is America living up to that promise?
June 3 & 4, 2010
Tribeca Performing Arts Center – Theater 2
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC)
199 Chambers St. NYC 10007
by the West Side Highway; walk up the ramp and enter through the glass doors. Theater 2 is on the right.
For the June 2010 performances we will be showing two short sections: "These are the Times that Try Men’s Souls" and a shorter interlude entitled "Reel Liberty", followed by a Q & A. I will be conducting Numinous featuring: Ben Kono, Dan Willis (woodwinds); Stephanie Richards (trumpet); Amanda Monaco (guitar); Mike Baggetta (guitar); Megan Levin (harp); Deanna Witkowski (keyboard); Aaron Kotler (keyboard); Charenee Wade, Sara Serpa, Melissa Stylianou (voices); Jared Soldiviero (percussion); Ana Milosavljevic (violin); Will Martina (cello); Shawn Conley (bass).
"These are the times that try men's souls" is the oft quoted (and more oft misappropriated) stirring opening to Paine's The American Crisis. These words were written by Paine in 1776 as he was traveling with George Washington's troops on their long retreat from the Battle of New York, just steps ahead of enemy soldiers; and just before their famous Christmas night crossing over a frozen Delaware River in order to surprise the British and Hessian soldiers. The story is that Paine wrote these following words by campfire on the head of a drum:
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and women. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly--'tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to set a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.
The project received a grant from the American Music CenterLive Music for Dance Program in order to commission me to write the music and to help pay for the costs of the live Numinous musicians to perform it. The full evening performance of To Begin The World Over Again will premiere in June of 2011, which will include a symposium with leading historians, scholars and thinkers on democracy, social justice, and where America stands now in relation to its promise. But for now, we would love to see you on June 3rd or 4th, as your input would be invaluable in helping shape the evolution of the work.
(Photo credit: Thomas Paine from http://www.thomaspainefriends.org/paine-portraits-and-images.htm)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:00 AM
A week from today on June 2nd I'll be participating in the New York City Department of Education Teacher's Night at the famous Apollo Theater's Amateur Talent Show Night with some of my colleagues from P.S. 321: Frank McGarry, guitar & vocals (1st & 2nd grade music teacher); Adam Lane, bass (3rd, 4th, 5th grade music teacher); Elizabeth Heisner, violin (2nd grade teacher); John Allgood, mandolin and vocals (kindergarten teacher); Bill Fulbrecht, banjo and vocals (kindergarten teacher); me, bodhran and various percussion (kindergarten music and math teacher). Back in January 2010 I chronicled the 321 Band's audition and I can't believe that next week I'll be on the old grand dame stage of Harlem. Come and cheer for us as we go old timey on the Apollo crowd with our rendition of John Dawson'sGlendale Train. Tickets can be purchased at the Apollo Theater box office. Should be lots of fun!!!
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 10:00 AM
Face the Music will again be performing my "Liquid Timepieces" this Thursday May 27, 2010 6:30 pm at Merkin Concert Hall (129 West 67th Street, NY, NY). The concert takes place just before the new music ensemble Signal's concert featuring music from two of contemporary classical music's prominent voices: the world premiere of Stabat Mater by Nico Muhly (he of the recent and past controversy) and the American premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's The Corridor.
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 8:00 AM
(continued from yesterday's Part 2)
The Interlake Jazz Ensemble concert with Maria Schneider was Thursday May 22, 1997 at the Nippon Kan Theatre in Seattle. Here's what we played that night:
See the World by Pat Metheny (arranged by Bob Curnow)
Beija-Flor by Nelson Cavagvinho, Noel Silva, and Augusto Tomaz Jr. (arranged by Gil Cray)
Bird Count by Maria Schneider
Last Season by Maria Schneider
Miles Ahead by Miles Davis and Gil Evans (arranged by Gil Evans)
Interlude by Toshiko Akiyoshi
Dance You Monster to My Soft Song by Maria Schneider
Conspiracy Theory by Mike Tomaro
Groove Merchant by Jerome Richardson (arranged by Thad Jones)
Love Theme from "Spartacus" by Alex North (arranged by Maria Schneider)
Amad from The Far East Suite by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
Mount Harissa from The Far East Suite by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn
Jubliee Stomp by Duke Ellington
The Peacocks by Jimmy Rowles (arranged by Bill Holman)
Moanin' by Charles Mingus (arranged by Sy Johnson)
Except for conducting See the World and Conspiracy Theory at the beginning of each set as well as playing the tenor sax solo for Love Theme from "Spartacus" and some scat singing during Moanin', I was able to have the rare opportunity to just sit back and listen backstage. And what a concert! To say that the concert and residency was a success was an understatement. Here is what Maria said about the entire experience during her 1999 Commencement Address at her alma mater, the Eastman School of Music (recalled in the September 1999 (now defunct) Jazz Educators Journal):
I was invited to be a clinician at a school in [Seattle]. They requested specific pieces of mine that they wished to perform--some of my more difficult music, but I sent it.
The day before leaving for Seattle, I became aware that I was going to a high school--not even an arts high school, just a regular high school--playing some of my hardest music. I was trying to finish a commission for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra and was preparing a new CD. This was "crunch time," and I couldn't believe I was putting all my high priorities on the back burner in exchange for several days of probable torture.
Then at the airport, I became aware that a parent had donated [their] frequent-flyer miles to fly me first class. At the hotel, another parent had prepared an elaborate basket of items for my stay. At the school, the students had made a huge banner welcoming me. And at the first rehearsal, those students were so serious, so excited to work with the composer of their music, that they completely swept me up. I decided I would get that music happening if it killed me. I was on a mission and made those kids work as hard as professionals--probably harder.
When we went on stage, it was with such an elevated energy: the audience was filled with parents and friends with so much pride. And the performance! It was so relaxed--so pure--so musical--so divine. Everything truly essential to my music was there. I had waves of chills. I couldn't believe it, but those kids made me cry.
Of the many concerts I've done, the only poster that hangs in my home is the one from Interlake High School--not Carnegie. It's signed by all those wonderful musicians who taught me lessons about music--about the magic we can create with openness, optimism, desire, enthusiasm, and love.
Now of course we worked VERY hard before Maria's visit as I mentioned in Part 2. But when she was there, it was another level; for the students to have the person that wrote the incredible sounds we had been playing for months, standing in front of them, truly brought things into focus. I remember specifically rehearsing Dance You Monster to My Soft Song and while I had the kids humming along in 5th gear, when Maria came, with her experience and insider knowledge, they were kicked into that 6th gear I didn't know they had! She worked with musicians guiding them toward an understanding of her music that was wonderful to hear and see. Certainly from a purely technical standpoint the performance that night was not technically perfect. Don't get me wrong, the students played great that night, incredible in fact, but to say every single 'i' was dotted and every 't' crossed would be false. However from a MUSICAL vantage, there was in abundance, an aliveness and a magical, honest musicality which is the hallmark of any great performance and this Maria put well in her Eastman address about what made the concert so wonderful and special.
After the concert two professional Seattle musicians, who I didn't know at the time, came up to me and congratulated me on the wonderful performance and for pulling off such a great event. One, Geoff Ogle (a wonderful composer, arranger, and educator who became a good friend), asked me, "This [concert] is something that the University of Washington Jazz Ensemble should be doing, how did you get Maria to come out?" I had a little chuckle and looked him in the eye and stated simply, "I asked."
The residency had a great effect on the students that spilled over into the next award-winning school year where in the jazz ensemble we played Maria's Wyrgly and Coming About, in addition to my first-ever arrangements for jazz. However, Maria's visit really had a profound effect on me. Before the visit I wasn't clear what direction I wanted to take musically or professionally. At the time, I had no plans to leave Interlake. However, the inklings of my departure were certainly already foreshadowed: I had joined the Seattle Young Composers Collective (now the Degenerate Art Ensemble) under the direction of composer/conductor Joshua Kohl only 6 months before Maria's visit and this avant-garde group lead to my meeting and playing along with some great Seattle players (Craig Flory, Amy Denio, Jessica Lurie) and also renewed my interest in composing. But it really was through learning Maria's music from the inside, from watching her work with the students and the incredible passion she brought to working on her music, and just talking with her in those quiet moments we weren't rehearsing, where I said to myself, 'that's what I'd like to do.' And I vowed after her visit to work with more dedication and alacrity on my own music and to find my own sound and voice. Now I never considered (or consider) myself a jazz composer nor did I ever want my music to sound like Maria's nor did I ever see my musical path mirroring her's (while she is generally embraced in the jazz world, I knew even then (in my acute metacognition) that my broad interests and nascent mixed music inclinations, would happily never lead me to be a card-carrying member of the jazz world or the standard classical one as well; this stylistic homelessness and cosmopolitanism, so to speak, has been subsequently borne out over the years here in NYC). But here's what I said about Maria's influence on me in an interview last year,
"...what Maria's music did for me was the same as what John Cage's philosophical musical thought did to many other composers: give me a sense of the possible and a confidence to follow my own musical direction. "
And I can honestly say I probably wouldn't be in New York composing, if it wasn't for Maria. And if I wasn't in New York I wouldn't have met my wife, I probably wouldn't have met all of the wonderful musicians that make my music sound fantastic with my group Numinous, and I wouldn't have found my voice without all of those experiences my NYC years have afforded me. Frankly, I don't know what my life would have been like if she didn't say 'yes' to coming out to Interlake those long years ago. I sometimes wonder if I would have been a Mr. Holland-type lifer at Interlake or would I have found another outlet for my composing and still left teaching anyway? I know for certain that all of the babies I have had since moving to New York would never have been born (now, we are talking musical pieces here, I don't have any baby-mama drama in my life!).
Maria and I have been friends ever since that time and we've talked on a number of occasions about that night and that residency and how special it was for the students, for her, and for me. On this anniversary of that concert, I wanted to share how one seemly small serendipitous experience can have a marked effect on the rest of one's life; how some lessons learned from that wonderful moment (perseverance, the courage to just ask, the true beauty of openness and honesty in the moment) can be monumental. One thing that being a teacher has taught me is that you can never really know how something that you do or say will affect a student years later. I'm sure Maria didn't know that visiting Interlake High School in May of 1997, would influence and touch so many lives and that 13 years later one of those lives would be still be thanking her.
(photo credits from top to bottom: poster from Interlake High School concert with Maria Schneider-this is the one I have hanging in my studio, but Maria has one just like this in her home; Seattle Times May 12, 1998; Interlake High School Jazz Ensemble 1996-1997; Joe and Maria at IHS concert May 22, 1997, Nippon Kan Theatre, Seattle)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:15 AM
(continued from yesterday's Part 1)
After the difficulties of the previous year, things were looking up for the Interlake High School band as the 1996-1997 school year began. As band director and music department chair (and newly starting that year for the school, International Baccalaureate Music teacher) I was organizing and spearheading the plans to take the entire music department to Los Angeles that spring break and unlike the failure of a planned East Coast tour the previous school year, this trip had wide support and was something almost everyone was looking forward to. With the jazz ensemble, we were planning to record our third CD that spring and of course, knowing that Maria Schneider was coming that May for a three-day residency and concert, everyone seemed to have renewed drive and effort. Even the monumental details associated with Maria's visit, which were looking bleak at the end of the 1995-1996 school year, were starting to coalesce into something that seemed possible.
As I mentioned in Part 1, I wrote MANY letters to local businesses looking for sponsorship for Maria's visit and the initial response was underwhelming to say the least. Well now that the residency and concert were mere months away, things were starting to look up. While still not getting many positive responses to my requests, I was starting to get some help: the Bellevue Sheraton donated a room for Maria's stay; the local media were slowly opening up (I was able to go on KOMO TV Channel 4's Northwest Afternoon to record a spot promoting the concert and the Seattle Times was planning to send out a reporter and photographer for a story discussing the residency); the music parents were doing a good job of getting volunteers to work during and after the concert. Luckily the lobbying I did the previous school year helped to strengthen our band budget so that I was able to use some of it to pay for the design and production of the posters, for the parts and scores for the concert, as well as Maria's appearance fee and plane ticket (because I wanted Maria to fly first-class, since I thought that would be something she would enjoy (and something in my naiveté I thought she'd expect-we had a good laugh later about that one) one band parent donated airline miles so that I could upgrade her ticket so she could).
So as the year progressed, things were shaping up nicely for the residency. I had chosen an ambitious, difficult but achievable program for the concert: a number of Maria's pieces from her two albums at the time, Evanescence and Coming About, along with works by Duke Ellington, Thad Jones, Miles and Gil, among others. And the band was working extra hard to make the music sound fantastic. Unlike the previous year, the jazz ensemble (as was every ensemble that year, as a matter of fact) was extremely focused and dedicated. A number of years before, I had set-up a sectional system by which every section leader in every ensemble (jazz, wind ensemble, concert band) was required to hold a certain amount of sectionals per quarter. Almost all of them were held during the student's lunch time (by choice) and while I was always available to help (I didn't really eat during my lunch time as students were all over my office and practice rooms sectionalizing and I was all over the place helping), this was strictly lead and run by the students. They decided what needed work, they decided how much time to give to what, they decided how much to hold accountable their section mates. And for the jazz ensemble leading up to the residency, people were doing extra sectionals on their own. Now I was never a Vince Lombardi-type, yelling and instilling fear in the students in order to get them to perform (although I did have my moments, as any of them could tell you), but rather a John Wooden-type motivator: encouraging the students but also not afraid to say when they were honestly disappointing me (and themselves) by not working as hard as they could. I cajoled and impressed upon them that they needed a certain amount of pride within themselves to give their best in order to achieve their best. I was working hard and I expected them too as well. And for this concert, I stressed that there would be no excuses come May 20th when Maria came through those band room doors for the first rehearsal. And you know what? Because I expected high standards, they expected high standards for themselves and rose to the challenge! Here's a story to show you how hard those students worked: when in those final few weeks before the residency I wanted to schedule an extra rehearsal beyond our usual 6:30 a.m. class and no time seemed to work because the students were so busy after school with sports or studying or work, we all settled on an extra rehearsal from 5:00 a.m. (!) to 7:30 a.m. one morning! Yes, 5:00 a.m.!!! And EVERYONE was there...on time! All of this hard work was ultimately rewarded, as throughout the year the jazz ensemble won, or were finalists in, every festival we entered. Although winning festivals was always secondary in my mind to how the students performed relative to their potential and effort, having concrete results certainly helped validate for themselves that their sacrifices and hard work were leading them on the right path for success.
So that spring after we went into the studio to record the third Interlake Jazz CD during my tenure as well as a fun successful music department trip to Los Angeles, we were just weeks before Maria's visit and all of the last minute details were set: Maria and I were faxing and/or calling back and forth, making sure of her schedule while she was in Seattle; the students were sounding great and were excited and anxious about Maria's visit (as was I); the music parents, as was the school, were all mobilized; the posters and advertising were all done; all of the financial aspects were taken care of; I had delivered to Maria's hotel room, the gift basket filled with typically Pacific Northwest-ness from the music parents; the gift we were going to give her at the concert was ordered and ready; my car was washed and cleaned for my "Driving Miss Schneider" chauffeur's role of shuttling her to and from her hotel to the rehearsals at the school and the concert in Seattle. So we were ready! The afternoon of May 20th, 1997 I went to Sea-Tac Airport to pick Maria up from her flight. Since you could go to the gate to wait for someone back then, I was there as she came off the plane and at that moment the theoreticalness of her visit, of that seemly long-ago letter I wrote to her and our conversation about coming to Seattle, was brought to life.
When she arrived at Interlake that evening for the first rehearsal, the students were so thrilled. They had welcomed her with a giant banner across the front of the band room. I could also tell they were nervous about what Maria would be like, but from the moment she stepped in front of the band, from the first sounds they made in front of her, from the great smile of approval she gave them, they were at ease. Of course it helped that Maria was so welcoming and easy going, yet firm and confident in what she wanted from them. They were prepared at a high level before Maria came, but having her there, she was able to offer them a level of guidance, insight, and experience into her music that I did not possess. This led the students to go beyond what they had already achieved with the music before she came. Often the difference was subtle, but the result was not. Even small suggestions about how to play a certain phrase or what the feeling of a particular section should convey, would led to a real understanding of the music. It was a masterclass (and a pleasure) for me to watch her work up so close with the students and to see what they gained by having her in front of them. And she wasn't just a passive participant; during the breaks, she was in the trenches helping to make the students successful: she would talk with a student about how to make something they were doing a bit better; she would demonstrate a particular voicing on the piano; she would offer advice on a way to approach a technical issue. At the end of the evening everyone was exhausted but also exhilarated about the rehearsal. Not wanting to subject Maria to our usual 6:30 a.m. class time, the next day's rehearsal was scheduled for the afternoon, starting during the time I usually had Wind Ensemble and extending almost until the end of school. By doing this, it was effectively an open rehearsal since all of the Wind Ensemble students and anyone else that wanted to attend was there. Again, Maria and students were working at such a high level, and while it wasn't all serious (some of my more gregarious boys were obviously flirting with her during some of the downtime), by the end of the rehearsal, I could see that it was shaping up to be an influential experience-of-a-lifetime for the students of Interlake and that the concert the next evening might be something incredible.
Tomorrow's post: The concert and its legacy...
(photo credits, top to bottom: Interlake High School 1996-97 CD "'aight" cover; SOME notes and letters in preparation of Maria Schneider residency; first-class plane ticket receipt for Maria's flight; Seattle Times-Eastside edition May 22, 1997, photo by Ron Wurzer of the Seattle Times)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:00 AM
13 years ago this week, a special event in my life and the lives of the many students I used to teach at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Washington occurred. So over the next three days I'll share a bit of that experience with you.
Let's set the scene: I began the 1995-96 school at Interlake with high hopes, coming off one of the most successful years in the program since I began teaching. That summer of 1995, during my drive to and from Montezuma, New Mexico for International Baccalaureate training, I began thinking about what interesting music to program for the students that upcoming year. For all of my ensembles, I was always interested in performing non-standard repertoire. Sure, at times we played Holst and Grainger in the wind ensemble or Ellington, Basie, Thad in the jazz ensemble, but the preponderance of great high school bands doing the standard literature (groups such as the Garfield and Roosevelt High Schools of Seattle, which are perennial winners at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Essential Ellington contest--the contest didn't include West Coast schools until 1999, after I had left Interlake for NYC) made my contrarian heart bristle to find something else. The more years I taught, the more this feeling became prominent and the repertoire we performed reflected the move away from the typical standards. And the students were totally into it and that non-conformist attitude helped to establish our own identity. So I was looking for something out of the ordinary, something 'different' to perform. For the jazz ensemble, that feeling lead me to remember that wonderful music I heard the University of Oregon Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Steve Owen perform a few years before at the 1992 All-Northwest Music educators convention in Portland, Oregon. This is how I came to know the name Maria Schneider for the first time and come in contact with her music. The UO Jazz Ensemble, along with the many pieces they performed that afternoon by other composers (which I don't remember), performed Maria's "Dance You Monster to My Soft Song" and "Last Season" (which I remember quite well). I had never heard anything quite like it before. While clearly coming from the jazz tradition, it was somehow speaking another dialect; already my proto-mixed music heart could 'feel' the connection to other genres in those two pieces and I filed Maria's name away as 'music-I'd-like-to-play someday.'
So after my IB training session, it came time for my annual summer repertoire hunt for the upcoming year and I remembered Maria's name and went a-looking for the sheet music for "Dance You Monster..." and "Last Season". Once I found out her publisher was Kendor, I called (email was a distant horizon then) and found out that those pieces were not published. The person I spoke with suggested I write a letter to Maria, which they would forward, asking if it was possible to purchase those pieces. I wrote the letter, sent it off, and waited. I don't remember how long of a wait I had (maybe a month or two) when one, nondescript morning the phone rang in my music office. And little did I know when I picked up that phone, that the person on the other side of the line, was about to change the trajectory of my life.
Maria herself called me to say that yes, she had gotten the letter and the request and that, yes, those pieces were available for purchase. She told me how much and I said we'd like to buy them. Then, while we were still talking, basically on a whim, I asked her if she does clinics/workshops for high school bands. She said she did and we discussed what that would entail, including how much it would cost. Even though I had little idea how I was going to get the money, I said let's do it. Over the next few weeks we discussed logistics and throughout that 1995-1996 school year, I began work toward Maria's residency and concert set for May 20-22, 1997: got the students and band parents excited about Maria coming and involved in trying to raise money; found a cool, classic venue in downtown Seattle; planned and worked on an advertising campaign including a poster design; decided on repertoire for concert and ordered the scores and parts; and so many other details, both small and large. I personally called or visited MANY local businesses about sponsorships to help us bring Maria out. And you know the response I received? From almost every single place I contacted, a resounding NO, not interested! Don't they know this is a GREAT opportunity! It's MARIA SCHNEIDER! Although this was years away from her Grammy wins and generally universal acclaim in the jazz world, she was not unknown. From her first two albums (to that date) to her work with Gil Evans, she was beginning to make a name for herself. So certainly Bill Gates and the Microsoft Empire, who were just about two miles from our campus, could drop a little pocket change our way to help out! Starbucks? Hello, I know you were just starting your national dominion back then, but could you spare a dime...or 100,000 dimes? Even Earshot Jazz, Seattle's premier jazz organization, which one would think would want to be involved in bringing Maria Schneider out to the Pacific Northwest for her very FIRST performance in Seattle, had no interest.
How was this residency going to be pulled off if we couldn't pay for it and no one wanted to help us? That would be highly embarrassing and unprofessional to call Maria and say we can't do the residency after all. It was starting to look more and more discouraging. I guess all of the rejections were just foreshadowing for my future life in New York City, where resiliency, determination, and hope is often necessary in the face of 'no, not interested' or the more annoying, ignore-and-hope-they-go-away-if-there-is-no-response-at-all. C'mon, is it really that hard to answer back? Back then is where I learned about turning rejection into a DIY ethos and spirit that says 'you aren't going to stop me from achieving what I want to achieve!' But I'm digressing. So anyway, things were not looking good by the end of that 1995-1996 school year. In addition to all of the disappointment putting together the residency and concert, I had one of the most stressful and least productive teaching years since I started: our jazz band, which had previously won numerous awards from various festivals, struggled mightily amidst internal strife and the loss of senior leadership; the Wind Ensemble and Concert bands were unfocused and inconsistent when a planned East Coast trip was canceled because of parental divisions and concerns. Despite my winning Educator of Year award from the city in the spring of 1996, I felt the program was at one of the lowest ebbs since I got there. Like many teachers, the opportunity to start a new year fresh, to learn from previous difficulties and hardships and improve one's self as well as one's students, is one of the most appealing aspects to teaching. So when the 1996-1997 school year began, I was ready to dig in and work hard to achieve my goals that year; and one of the most pressing, were the plans to bring Maria Schneider to Bellevue that upcoming spring.
Tomorrow's post: Things are starting to look up...
(photo credits: Seattle Times May 12, 1997; old marquee announces Maria Schneider concert at Interlake High School, 1997)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:30 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.