Sunday, December 13, 2009

Who gets the bassoon solo?

As you might expect, I know quite a few musicians in both the jazz and classical worlds. Some pretty famous, others are doing well though not among the "elite" and others more your "day laborer" type like myself. I have had the opportunity to talk about this project with many of them. I've had nearly as many reactions to the news as peole I've shared it with. Some are amazed. Others amused. Some curious. Others just can't believe it. "You're doing what?" Most say they want to hear it and want to know when the performance is. Others are curoius as to whether it will be recorded. But there has been one question that has come up more than any other during my interactions with musicians. And that is "who gets the basson solo"?

This of course leads to the whole problem of choosing lines to be played. How will they be played, as written or altered to fit a "jazz style"? Will the key stay the same? What about form. How do I get inprovised solos in there? What parts get omitted. After all, there are forty some parts in the original score and I'm dealing with 17 players. Obviously the bassoon part up front needs to be played and at least introduced in it's original form. But by bar two of my score (middle of bar one of Stravinsky's score) I've already slightly altered the line and introduced jazz inflections. Bucket muted bones cover the french horn line which also has a slight rhythmic change. I use tenor and bari to play the clarinet parts, again with alteration. I also begin to introduce the sound of a rhythm section, adding drums with brushes creating a "wash"on the snare. The whole bassoon intro is cut a bit short and a true tempo starts after the first fermatta.

Now the altos play a flute melody line with a sixteenth note feel and the drums play time with the bass, piano and two bones playing a more "groove-like" version of bassoon parts as a bass line. Harmon muted trumpets play a stacatto oboe line and the tenor sax picks up a D clarinet melody. After a few bars chords are established for the first time using an implied harmony from the french horns. (I write an E major 7 #11) Here lies an ongoing problem. There is often an indication of one harmony or tonality from one section or group of instruments while another is implying something else. Sometimes a slight variation. Other times something vastly different. There are numerous times when the bass repetitively plays two notes a tritone apart. Which note is the "root"?

I decide here to also introduce the first improvisations by allowing the tenor to fill in some space with some ad libs. The tenor then plays a short melody leading in to an actual solo space. There is a crazy 32nd note line here in the bass clarinets that I change a little and give to the 2nd tenor and bari. With my tempo and feel it is a 16th note line and turns into something slightly funky. We are now in an E minor tonality. Minor is definitely in keeping with this piece.

The introduction of a solo brings about another question that has to be answered throughout the entire work. What about backgrounds. Do I introduce my own ideas and material? Do I use variations on Stravinsky's part? Do I mix and match. My first background is use of material already in the score. There is an interesting triplet line in the flutes and english horn that I again change to sixteenth note feel. I slightly alter the harmony and score it with muted trumpets, flugelhorns and alto saxes. That is answered by my own part for the trombones.

As the tenor solo ends the score leads me to do something I wouldn't normaly do in a big band chart. The rhythm section comes in and out for a few one and two bar segments. The thin-ness of Stravinsky's score in those spots inspired this. Right after this the altos change to flute to cover a "unique" flute part from the score that leaps though octaves and slides in and out of the key. Again this line is altered. The rhythm section now is at it's most driving with a solid four to the bar. The flugels join the flutes with a line that continues to leap through the octaves. And now comes this obnoxious D clarinet part. High, dissonant notes popping out with a lot of force. I give this to the trumpets. After a few repititions the lead takes it up an octave and I alter it's ending into a blues based lick. Here the piece climaxes as the bassoon solo that returns is given to the entire ensemble with lots of paralellism in the horns and two seperate ascending bass lines.

Up to this point I have avoided all the string parts with the exception of looking to the basses for harmonic cues. Now the violins have a sixteenth note line of D flat, B flat, E flat, B flat. After the climax I use this over a mellow E flat minor groove. The tenor blows a little more here and the string line gets various permutations in the bones and then saxes leading up to a fermatta at the end.

The ending brings about yet another interesting dilema. Rite of Spring is a ballet and is played as a continous piece without breaks. The endings of most parts are less of an ending then they are a transition to the next part. What do I do about that? The answer varies from piece to piece but here that violin line gets slower and more drawn out with my variations and creates it's own natural ritard leading to the final chord. It ends up being a good mood setter for the larger work.

So, that's some of the nuts and bolts of how I got through the first part. Each piece presents it's own obstacles but getting through the first part helped me to set a "system" for dealing with the others. That system includes A LOT of deleting of parts and great liberty in how the lines are presented. And solos can be whatever I want, just like a jazz arranger does with "regular" jazz arranging. It was a great feeling to get the first piece done and an even better feeling to hear it played the first time and have my instincts be supported by the end product. And those instincts included giving that famous bassoon solo to the tenor sax.

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