Aftermath: Interfacing With Formal Composition

The background (original post) follows. But at this point, the day after the 2nd concert, I want to publicly state my gratitude to each and every musician in the group. While I obviously don’t really know how each person really felt about the interface, it was obvious they were making a genuinely concerted effort. The spirit of the playing was palpable, and, in tandem with the constructs provided by Stefan and Scott Newell, along with the former’s direction, provided me with a vital canvas/catalyst for improvising. So, thank you Geoff, Chris, Scott N., Elaine, Lauren, Scott F., Derek, Evan, Brent, Nick, Brad, Sean, and Brian; as well as Peter and Jamie for allowing us to present the work in their home, and me the opportunity to have at their gorgeous antique Steinway. And, of course, my deep thanks to Stefan for making it all happen.

I have, for decades, been interested in the idea of improvising within some sort of formally composed structure. But, given my tendency towards reclusiveness fueled by a distaste for political maneuvering, any tangible opportunity has been elusive. On the other hand, conducting oneself in a manner wherein the work rather than careerism is the focus would seem to provide opportunities at the most unexpected times. Granted, during at least one of our listening/discussion sessions, and knowing full well that he was a composer as well as a jazz musician and free improvisor, I none-too-subtley broached the subject with Stefan Kac, a valued colleague and friend. Still, I had no idea that he would actually devise such a framework and invite me to be the soloist (on a restored, antique 85-key [!] Steinway grand piano, no less). (The very fact that he has managed to assemble the 14 piece Symphonic Transients Orchestra, which, at this point exists — including rehearsals! — without funding is a testament to his drive, if not some form of  madness. Now, granted, for any number of reasons, many music ensembles exist simply because people want to get together to play music. But a chamber group founded outside of the academy specializing in original, contemporary formally composed music is a rare beast indeed.) Thus, I am greatly anticipatingthe concerts on May 20 and 22 at the Northern Warehouse in St. Paul. As conceived by Stefan, the framework for my improvising will consist of a suite-like structure of several compositions by Stefan along with a piece by Scott Newell, marking the the first time that Scott’s unique notational system will be extrapolated to an ensemble.

Post script: As a precedent of sorts to the above, Blue Freedom’s New Art Transformation (at that point a trio consisting of me, Joe Smith and Rick Barbeau) improvised with the Minnesota Orchestra (!) in 1973, as they played Karel Husa’s “Music For Prague”. The relatively short piece was part of an afternoon event; one concert in an ongoing series at Coffman Memorial Union (University of Minnesota) spotlighting contemporary music; replete with Q & A sessions with the composers, and, in our case, me, as an improvisor. (And while some might accuse me of nepotism, as my father was a member of the Orchestra, the collaboration was actually the result of a comment I made to associate conductor George Trautwein during an interview I did with him for a local publication. And while I was surprised at his interest in improvisation, and the resulting interface — which ended up happening under the baton of  Trautwein’s successor, Henry Charles Smith — one must keep in mind the time frame in question. At that point, major labels were signing avant garde jazz musicians, contemporary classical music was presented in psychedelic rock venues, etc. For a short time, and for a number of reasons [not all good ones] certain doors were slightly ajar. That, for some time, they have been closed goes without saying. To wit, can one imagine a major orchestra being interested in an interface with free improvisation at this point in time?) Naturally, this was a markedly different beast than Stefan’s construction, as the piece in question was not created to be a foundation for improvisation; an issue which one questioner addressed. (My clever answer had to do with the reality that there are always sounds surrounding any composition; in this case, our sounds were intended.) So, while I’m sure the composer received his royalties, I’m equally sure he wasn’t aware that we were utilizing his music in this manner. Perhaps he would have appreciated it, as, after all, the impetus for the composition had to do with a very real, pragmatic desire for freedom. Perhaps not. In any case, it was a wonderful experience for me; underscored by the irony that, overall, it was the older cats in the Orchestra who dug it.

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