Music From a Passionate Time
New York , 1960... THE place to be. Manhattan Island literally exploded with artistic innovation... dance, drama, contemporary classical music, painting, sculpture, literature, multi-media performance, and perhaps most excitingly, jazz. The various disciplines influenced one another. Classical composers wrote "third stream music," utilizing authentic jazz phrasing and improvisation. Visual artists created "happenings" in which movement and abstract dramatic elements augmented visual effects. Choreographers employed radical movement and lighting design as well as a wide spectrum of new music in their dances. Edgard Varese and The Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Lab group gave birth to a new musical vocabulary. Political dissent polarized the country. Artists, the eternal second-class citizens, joined the fray, becoming increasingly involved in such social and political issues as civil rights, the empowerment of women, and the war in Vietnam . The stimulation experienced by a young classically trained musician working as a jazz player was almost overwhelming. There was so much to see...so much to hear...and it was all so accessible. Admission to these performances in all disciplines was not costly. Art galleries and many museums were free. Sunday matinees at The Village Vanguard cost three dollars to hear Miles Davis, Stan Getz, or Bill Evans. One could nurse a drink at Slugs, The Five Spot, or the Half Note, or sit in the gallery at Birdland from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. for a two-dollar ticket, to experience Bud Powell alternating with Lester Young or Art Blakey. Jazz had changed with startling rapidity. The avant garde of the '60s, led by Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, and later, John Coltrane pushed the envelope, building on the radical innovations of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, who in the preceding 15 years had incorporated the melodic intervals and harmonic language of Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and other twentieth century classicists, adding a rhythmic flexibility, which resulted in an intense, imaginative music, only vaguely resembling the sounds of the swing era.
Living was also relatively inexpensive. My four room, rent controlled apartment in midtown was $96.50 a month. Other artists lived, albeit without legal sanction, in former industrial lofts in lower Manhattan. New York artists knew each other, met at gallery openings and performances, partied together, and frequented particular bars and restaurants. We all knew KIND OF BLUE and GIANT STEPS as well as what was cutting edge in other disciplines. I was both excited and influenced by the proliferation of creativity so readily available. The dances of Merce Cunningham, the music of Elliot Carter, Stefan Wolpe, and Milton Babbitt, the new cinema of Goddard, theater at Cafe Cino and La Mamma, and most significant for me, the painters and sculptors, many of whom were personal friends, prompted me to seek a way to realize my desire to compose. I wanted to use my conservatory training in classical music in combination with my professional experience as a jazz player to achieve a personal musical expression.
Throughout this most passionate of times, I was intrigued by the ability of visual artists to work without the assistance of others. Aware that I was more adept at expressing musical ideas with an instrument than a pen, I began to compose by recording my ideas directly onto a Revox two channel tape recorder equipped with "sound on sound" capability, thus permitting three voices to be heard on one reel. After recording the initial theme, secondary and tertiary parts could be added to adjacent channels or additional tape recorders, allowing for as many voices as desired within the boundaries of reasonable audio fidelity. This technique preceded the advent of multi-channel recorders. Just as the composer who scores his work on manuscript paper erases or adds to a composition, through splicing the tape I was able to amend or alter the music. What was initially a tedious and difficult process became, with the development of my editing skills, a viable technique. By assuming the role of performer as well as composer, I was able to produce the exact phrasing, dynamics, colors and nuances desired. Originally the music was created without assistance, utilizing a variety of saxophones, flutes and clarinets. Later, recorded parts played by other musicians, most notably the cellist and vocalist Gwendolyn Watson, were added. Many of the pieces were realized from our improvisations, which were then edited and amended in various ways. The goal of these efforts was the production of compositions which combined the architectural integrity of classic music with the freedom and spirit of jazz improvisation. These works sought to combine Western elements of jazz, classical, and folk music with music of other cultures, many years before the synthesis of styles currently referred to as world music.
The resultant product surfaced in the early 70s, a period dominated by the aesthetic innovations of that most passionate of times: the 1960s. These compositions were warmly received by many of the city's more adventurous choreographers, filmmakers and theater people, many of whom commissioned collaborative pieces. The celebrated record producer John Hammond, who was responsible for introducing Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and later Bob Dylan to the general public, was intrigued by this unique combination of jazz, folk, ethnic, and classical sounds. He presented it to his colleagues at Columbia Records, but was unable to convince the heads of the various musical divisions of its sales potential, since it failed to fit into the conventional categories of jazz, pop, classical, or folk music.
After completing the score for TEMPORARY QUARTERS, commissioned through a grant from "Meet the Composer." I moved to Boston to perform with small jazz ensembles. Marc Johnson, the remarkable bassist and bandleader heard a tape of TEMPORARY QUARTERS and urged me to present this music for consideration again. With the aid of digital recordist Bob Kroeger, the music was transferred to DAT and later CD format from the original reel-to-reel tapes. It is our conviction that now, some twenty-five years later, in an age of greater musical diversity, this MUSIC FROM A PASSIONATE TIME will find its audience.