Monday, September 13, 2010


Wabi-sabi. "What's wabi-sabi" you say? I'm glad so you asked. I happen to be an expert on the subject. Well, actually, I just read about it very recently, but it is a principle to which I have subscribed without ever actually having heard the name before. So here goes.

"There's a beauty to imperfection. This is the essence of the Japanese priciple of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi values character and uniqueness over a shiny facade. It teaches that cracks and scratches in things should be embraced. It's also about simplicity. You strip things down and then use what you have. Leonard Koren, author of a book on wabi-sabi, gives this advice: "Pare down to the essence, but don't remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don't sterilize." It's a beautiful way to put it. Leave the poetry in what you make. When something becomes too polished, it loses it's soul. It seems robotic"

The above paragraph came from the book Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson, pages 182-3, published by Crown Business. I'd put a proper footnote at the bottom of the page but I don't know the correct way to do so. And wabi-sabi would dictate that rather than look it up and make it all perfect that I just leave it as is instead.

So, I think I have always followed the wabi-sabi principle. I've never been all that concerned with perfection in most of what I do. (That didn't apply to things like preparing my uniform when I was in the military!) I don't care about performances being slick, cool and polished. I want them to be heart felt. Make those attempts at new and exciting things. If you miss, I don't care. It was real. And I like music that is pared down the right way. There can be a lot of things going on in a jazz orchestra arrangement in a good way or in a bad way. So often things just sound so busy all the time. I believe Maria Schneider's music is a perfect example the right way. People come up to her and tell her how complex her music is. But she replies that actually the melodies are so simple that a child could sing them. They are just developed, ornamented and harmonized in the right way. It's really simple music. Bob Brookmeyer would be another example. Sure, there is lots going on. But Bob truly believes in only writing what is necessary. There are no improvised solos in a piece until he feels that's the only thing that can go there. Some of his works for big band have no improvised solos. No cookie cutter charts. Nothing slick for the sake of being slick. And I'm happy for it. I don't like when people tell me to listen to big band chart "X" because it's really cool. I don't want really cool. I want real.

So, I believe the principle of wabi-sabi will reflected in two ways in the Re-write Of Spring project. First, I believe that paring the work down to it's essence was exactly what I tried to do as I arranged and orchestrated this piece for jazz orchestra. Actually, it's probably more like it is what I had to do. We simply didn't have the instrumentation to start with. There was no way we could cover everything going on in the orchestral score. And why would we even try. Jazz is all about stripping things to their essence and then creating something new and unique on top of that. Jazz has often been called the sound of surprise. If we tried to deal with everything, where would the surprise be? We've taken the piece, stripped it down and re-dressed it. The work is very recognizable yet unique.

Second, we are definitely embracing cracks and scratches. There are a few places in the arrangements where I realize it could have been better with a few changes to what I wrote. But I've never been one to do lot's of re-writes. I fix the obvious mistakes, but the parts that were weaker or lacking I don't try to perfect. I leave it as a testament to what I was doing at that time and simply try to learn from it so that I don't repeat the same "error" later on. And we are also embracing cracks and scratches in the performance. The is live music performed by live musicians. And it is difficult music. (I believe I've said that at least a few time before.) 17 people performing music over the course of 75 minutes is bound to make for a few flubs. And so be it. We could take and over dub and do all kinds of pro-tools fixes. But we've chosen to do no overdubs and the number of pro-tools fixes we've done could be counted with your fingers with some left over. And that's how it should be. This is a document of what took place at a given moment in time. And everything about it makes it beautiful.

Wabi-sabi. You should try it. It is a breath of fresh air in such a plastic world of plastic entertainers and plastic products. And you should sample a good batch of it when the CD of The Re-write of Spring comes out.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go as I suddenly have a craving for some Japanese food. Some sushi with a good dose of wusabi sounds just right.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

More 2nd Clarinet, Please.

So, three months and 21 days later, I have finally returned to the keyboard, computer keyboard that is, to update my two or three followers about what has been happening since May 12. I suppose I should actually start with what did happen on May 12. As you know that was the big day of the premiere of my version of Rite Of Spring and in a nutshell I would have to say it was fantastic. We managed to get the whole band there on time and get a sound check and clear stage in time to open the doors 30 minutes out. That in itself is no small miracle. Getting 17 musicians to one place in the city on time is a major feat. And when the doors opened there was a good line going down the block waiting to get in for the first show. This on a night when there were some major rainstorms. It seems to be common for me. My big CD release concert many years ago at Blues Alley in DC was hampered by snow. Only about two inches. But if you know anything about the DC area, two inches of snow means go to the store for bread and milk, get some movies and wait for spring. (The season, not the Stravinsky work) But I digress.
So, we get a good intro from Brian Sacawa, the concert series curator, and kick it off. The audience is on the edge of their seats but probably not as much as the band. This is very tricky material and we have had very little rehearsal. We made it through without any major wrecks. I think I conducted everything right. There were a few bleeps and blops in wrong places. A few hairy moments. Oh yeah, I goofed the end of the last piece. Supposed to be "off on three". I gave a hold. Some went with it, others didn't. And I forgot to turn on my mic for my solo on the last number. Oops. Even so, the place went bonkers after that show. Tim Smith from the Baltimore Sun was there and wrote a glowing review. The show was also attended by a gentleman that writes for DMV classical and he wrote an amazing review. They are posted on my Facebook page. (Again, you may friend me if you want, just mention something about Stravinsky in the request)
The band was very relieved to get through the show and was wondering how they would endure a second one. A beer did the trick for many of them. And the second show was definitely more relaxed. A mixture or relief and alcohol is a good thing. And, both shows were recorded to 24 tracks so.......
.....we have finally begun to mix the performance. And a difficult task it is. This is really, really hard music to engineer and recording live in very close quarters makes it even harder. For instance, mixing a Basie recording would be quite simple. Once you have a good mix/balance/EQ for the sax section you would barely have to touch it the entire time. You can leave it there for the length of the album. The instruments don't change and individuals very, very rarely end up in a combination of horns from other sections. My arrangement is totally the opposite. The sax players change from saxes to flutes, to clarinets, to bass clarinets. Brass change to various mutes and the tumpets play flugels as well. All in many different intrument combinations. A tutti figure might get played by a combination of one sax, one clarinet, two flugel horns and a trombone in a bucket mute. So you mix those eights bars but have to change everything after that because now the bone takes the mute out and plays with his section, the sax switches to a line w/ trumpets and the clarinet plays a different line, joined by a second clarinet. And we need more of the second clarinet. But we can't boost him too much because he sat right next to the bari player and he is bleeding heavily into the 2nd clarinet's microphone. Me:"More second clarinet, please." Mack McLaughlin: "Can't, that boosts the bari too much." And so it goes. Thank God for automated boards, too. Otherwise we would need four guys on the board with their fingers on all the faders pulling things up and down over the course of a tune. Engineers and their staffs used to actually "rehearse" doing that to mix a tune down to two track.
Anyway, the recording is not without it's faults. In this day of pro-tools one can make all kinds of amazing edits and fixes, provided you have good seperation with your tracks. That's one thing we don't have. So we will have a very honest recording. A rarity these days as everything is so "fixed" in the mix that it isn't really at all reflective of what was actually played by the musicians in real time. We'll have some warts. But it is a recording of the world premiere. How often does that happen?
Anyway, word has slowly spread about the project. I was contacted by some people from The San Francisco Conservatory about the project. I sold a copy of the arrangement to a guy in Australia. By the way, anyone else interested in purchasing the chart? I am selling it for those that would like to perform it with their own band. However, not everyone is so enthused about the work. I applied to do a presentation/clinic about my project at next year's JEN (Jazz Education Network) conference but they didn't want it. Tried for a performance too and they didn't want that either. (This is the organization that has risen out of the ashes of IAJE) They'll probably have yet another Yamaha artist presenting something he prepared just two days before the conference. Ah,...the benefits of corporate sponsorship.
So, I'll try to post again soon and give any estimates I may have about time lines for mastering, producing and releasing the recording. Until then, keep swingin'.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

T Minus 6 Hours And Counting

OK, so Diana Krall has nothing to do with my Stravinsky project, but isn't it a whole lot better than another picture of old Igor? I mean, c'mon. Beautiful face, sultry voice, swingin' piano player. What more could you ask for? And if I tag her I'm sure to get a lot more hits on the blog.

But, let's get to The Rite of Spring, shall we? Today is the day. Countless hours of listening. Many more hours of writing. Printing, photocopying, blogging, facebook updates, reading sessions, master classes, rehearsals, interviews, mailings, flyers, etc. What a production. And that's only my part of it. The people at Mobtown Modern have been hard at work as well. And it all boils down to two shows tonight. 7:30 and 9:30. About two and a half hours total time performing. I have this awful feeling that it will be like Christmas when we were young, greedy kids. All this hype and anticipation. Then when the day comes we tear open all the packages like a bunch of sharks in a feeding frenzy and in ten minutes we are saying, "Is that it?". After all, the performance time is just a little blip on the screen compared to all the prep time.

But hopefully this will live on. With a little luck there will be other performances by this band and hopefully by others as well. I have some inquiry about the availability of charts and I do plan to sell copies. And hopefully a CD will come out as well. And then there is the potential to market this to dance companies or choreographers to see if someone might want to produce a modern version of the ballet. Perhaps I can get some guest conducting gigs with some college bands. Anyone out there want to make an offer?

But let's talk a little more about tonight. The venue is as much a night club as it is a concert hall. So the audience will be more laid back than if they were all sitting in theater seats. And the set up of the band will be cramped. Generally this makes for some physical discomfort, but I think big bands play together better when they are squeezed like that. The space holds about 225 people. I hope it gets filled for both shows. I've also heard that a critic from The Baltimore Sun will be there. I really wish that I did not know that. I don't need those things in the back of my mind. I don't plan on telling the band about that. I want them to be loose and just play.

It is my plan to have a few more entries in this blog after the performance. Certainly I want to write on how the night went. I also want to follow up on anything else happening about this project that I feel is relevant. I hope those of you who have been following this blog have enjoyed it. If you would like to keep up with my activities please feel free to "friend" my on Facebook. I'm probably the only Darryl Brenzel on there. If not, then I'm the one with the sax. Just simply send the word "Stravinsky" with the request so I know you aren't some weirdo or salesperson or whatever.

And now, on with the show!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

It Is Finished

It is finished. I feel perhaps a bit blasphemous stating those words. After all, they are so closely associated with Christianity and the bible as the last words spoken by the Christ on the cross right before he gave up His spirit and breathed His last. Even those who hold other religous beliefs, or even no religous beliefs at all know those words and their connotation. But they are in another sense just words. Words that get used all the time in the English language and could be used to describe anything. It is finished. The TV show is through. The semester is done. The meal is completed. (Either by the cook or the eater!) The presentation is over. Rite of Spring for jazz ensemble is finished.

What's that you say?? You're finished? Why, indeed I am. And just in the nick of time. I ended up far from my goal of finishing by the end of January. But it is done in time for a few rehearsals and then the performance. I was so close to my goal. Thirteen of fourteen charts done by around January 20. Then came snow. Then came other projects. Then came inertia. Remember that from a previous posts? A body at rest wants to stay at rest. And stay at rest I did for too long. And then when I came back to it, it felt a bit foreign. And to top it off, part fourteen was without a doubt the most complex and difficult section for me to do. But on April 18, 2010 the world's first adaptation of Rite of Spring for big band was completed.

I'd be quite curious to know how much time I spent on this project. And how would I count the hours? Just the time with my keyboard and computer and score? Or do I add all the many times I spent listening to a recording of the original work. And to that do I add the many hours I was mulling ideas over in my mind as I was walking, or driving, or cutting the grass, or shovelling snow, or lying in bed or whatever. (If I was a lawyer I would certainly bill for all those hours) And there is all the time after a chart is "completed" where I'm proofing it for consistency with dynamics, articulations and other such things a well as the best rendering of accidentals. If I figured 20 hours per chart times 14 charts, that's 280 hours. Seven solid work weeks. But there is no way to do this in seven straight weeks. At least I don't think that's how the best work gets done. All these things need to simmer. I feel any arranger does his or her best work when they take some time and don't crank everything out in one burst of impatience. Sure, some arrangers still do great work this way, but I don't feel it is their best. Of course, sometimes an assignment or deadline may dictate doing this. Then you do what you have to do. Anyway, the hours were countless. I bought the score in December of 2008. Perhaps that's my starting point. You do the math.

And what is a good pay rate for arranging. I think in the vicinity of $50 an hour is a real bargain for such a unique talent and skill set. Now let's round up my hours from 280 to 300. I mean, that's still a low estimate. Now, we'll multiply 300 by 50. Hmmm....let's see....carry the one..... OK, $15,000. That's not counting all the extra curriculars surrounding this project. And you want to know what I'm getting for this? Well, I don't know if I can exactly tell you. Mobtown Modern has no money to spend on such a project. We did however get a little from Meet The Composer. And that is for all those extra-curriculars actually. If you multiply what they are giving me by 20 we are getting close to that 15,000. (In case you haven't figured it out, arranging is really a labor of love.)

There is one thing I can quantify. And this might upset the tree huggers. I can tell you how many pages of music I generated between the scores and parts. 951. That's a pretty hefty stack. And since I made copies of everything you can pretty much double that. And then there are the misprints, re-prints, jammed paper, whatever. I guess I'll need to go plant a tree in honor of my mass consumption.

And I've certainly used up one score. It is thoroughly marked and highlighted. Notes to myself all over it. Useless no to anyone for anything other than an artifact for this acheivement. Maybe the Smithsonian will take it.

You would think I would be more excited about the finishing of the project. But there are details to be taken care of still. I have yet to hear parts 11-14. That happens soon. Monday, May 3 to be exact. Then two rehearsals. May 8 & 10. I'm yet to procure a location for the May 8 rehearsal. Then on to the big show. There is also two more masterclasses to give. One at Towson University and the other at Peabody Conservatory. And a pre-concert talk that I need to be prepared for. And a podcast for the Mobtown Modern website. This list goes on.....

.......perhaps it isn't finished.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Next question, please.

Ever wonder what it's like to be the guy on the hot seat at a press conference? Or perhaps what it is like to sit down with Mike Wallace for a 60 Minutes interview. Maybe you've wondered what it would be like to take a seat in the easy chair next to David Letterman and have a friendly little chat. I had an experience this past week that was probably a cross between all three. And it turned out to be pretty fun.

First of all, I like questions. In general they tend to lead to the next thing, which then leads to more questions, which then lead to,.... well,.... you get it. Now, some questions simply look for a quantitative answer. "What's 2 + 2?". Some ask for information. "What happened at work today?". Some are rhetorical. "Do ya think?". (Said with sarcasm.) Some deal with trivial things. "Is there any of that pie left?". Others deal with deep issues. How about these three here? (That's not the deep question!) Where did we come from? What went wrong? How can it be fixed? Now, there's some questions deserving a whole other blog. I would love to write about that, but that's an issue for another time and place, don't you think?

Speaking of thinking, that's what I really liked about my experience this past week. I gave my first master class on my project of arranging Rite Of Spring for a jazz ensemble. The good people at The University of Maryland were kind enough to give me an evening to talk about it and play some musical examples for them. I talked about the usual issues of melody, harmony, rhythm, groove, etc. How to create solo space. I walked them through the Stravinsky score to part three and my score for the same part at the same time. That was a bit tedious as I wasn't as prepared as I could have been for that. None the less, I think it was beneficial once we listened to them both. But after that came the good part. The questions. All good. Some looking for straight forward information. Some about my own thoughts or feelings. And the really good ones that make me stop and think.

I wish I could remember more of them, but I'll address at least two of them here. One person asked how my own view of music has changed or how the music has changed me as a result of this experience. Wow. Hadn't really thought about that. And what is the answer? So, I started thinking out loud. Well, for one thing, I've changed my view on what I think about Rite of Spring. I used to think that it was a very dissonant, rhythmically abstract piece of music. I still think that, but I see that it is so much more. I remember listening to it and thinking, "My God, there is so much stuff in there". That was said as a reaction to being aurally overloaded. Now I listen and say, "Wow, there is so much stuff". Only now I say it with awe and appreciation. Sure, there aren't long melodies that flow through a piece, but there are melodies. Sometime very small ideas, but the piece is practically littered with them. But it takes repeated listening to find them or hear them. Yes there is dissonance, but the harmony is highly organized. The subtle variations in notes or harmonies as a fragment gets repeated is obviously well thought out. This is a piece which bears repeated listening and rewards the person that does so with new revelations each time. And what can I learn from that? How does that change my view of music? One thing becomes quite clear. There has got to be a lot of music out there that can't possibly be judged from just one listening. And I know we've all been guilty of that. Also, I think that perhaps I see new possibilities for what I can do with a piece of music. Specifically, what possibilities I have as a composer. Even as a composer of jazz music.

The second question was from someone who had been reading my blog. He even had stuff printed out and quoted from "Repent, The End Is Near". The question dealt with what I hope to accomplish with this piece in it's performance and presentation. He quoted the fact that I said I wanted to create an emotional impact from the music. And I'll add that what I wrote there goes not only for Rite Of Spring but anything I compose or arrange for big band. And that is that I want people to have an emotional experience from hearing the music. Not just a cheap thrill from high, fast and loud, but a deep and lasting experience. And the question was, "How do you know that you've accomplished this?". Another truly great question. How can I really know? I can know how hard I worked. I can know how hard I tried. I can know how I feel about my own work. But how do I know if I've succeeded in providing a deeply emotional experience for the listener, unless of course they actually come up to me and say so. Or, heaven forbid, they tell me they weren't moved by it. I think time will be at least part of the answer. Good music lasts. Cheap thrills don't. Sure, there is still a lot of mediocre to absolutely awful music that is still being played either live or over the airways 20, 30 40 or more years after it's release. But I have to believe that the vast majority of that is due to it's nostalgic appeal. We all like the music we grew up with. And we all think "it's better than the music these young people listen to nowadays". We associate it with good times in high school or college or other "coming of age" type events in our life. And the real meaning isn't in the music itself so much as the thoughts, emotions and memories it's connected to. My arrangement will never be on hit radio. It will never be the soundtrack of a person's life. If people continue to want to listen to this it will be because the music itself has some meaning. It will be because it touches something inside them. It somehow relates to the human condition. I feel this is one way to know if I have succeeded. And the sad part about that is, I'll probably never know how many people are still listening to this 10, 20 or 30 years down the road. (By the way, there is a plan to get this recorded so that people actually have the option to do this, should they so desire.) I do know this, if you aim for nothing, you are guaranteed to hit it. I'm aiming for emotional impact. Hopefully I'll not only hit it, but know that I did so.

So, one master class is completed. I'll have another at Towson University as well as at Peabody Conservatory. It will be interesting to see what the people at these classes ask and what I'll have to think about regarding my own thoughts, feelings and assumptions. It should be interesting.

Well, that about takes care of today's blog. Next question, please.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Number 5 Is Alive!

OK, it's a pretty lame movie quote from a very mediocre movie, I admit. But what's not to like about Ally Sheedy. If I could just figure out how to use the line "nice software!". Gotta be just a little jealous of a robot who gets to watch Ally take a bath. But now I'm really going down a rabbit trail. Or perhaps the gutter. Anyway, on to part five, "Ritual Of The Rival Tribes".
I don't know what this ritual is, but it sure starts out with a bang. Tympani. Big loud tympani. Four different pitches spanning an octave and a fourth played on four different tympani. Interlocking eighth notes that pretty much drown out the other low voices. Well, I don't have tympani to work with, but I like the idea of those particular pitches. So I start out with those pitches in some low voices. Bari sax, bass drum, guitar, piano and bass. I elected to spread out the pitches even more. As the line returns to one of the middle pitches I drop it an octave. Now that original lick has a range just a whole step short of two octaves, all played as one descending line.
Now we are all the way to bar three. Here the bassoons and horns have a tutti figure that has some interesting harmony but is a bit hampered melodically and rhythmically. At least from a jazz perspective. A bar of 4/4 and a bar of 3/4 that starts out with a quarter note and all the rest is eighth notes. And the top part has a string of repeated pitches in the middle that just doesn't work as a jazz line. So I stole some notes from the inner lines and created a slightly altered melody. I wrote the quarter note on "one" with an eighth note anticipation. Then with the bar of 3/4 I place an eighth rest before the last two notes and change the last eighth to a quarter and presto change-o, now we have a jazz line. This line is scored in four part harmony for saxes 1-4. The same idea is repeated by the trumpets with a slight rhythmic variation in the rhythm of the first three notes. This is supported with some trombone punches underneath. All the while the rhythm section is playing stop time on a low pedal using a note found in the cellos and basses. Oh, by the way, I should note that for some strange reason I decided to take this piece up a fourth. As if it wasn't hard enough for me already dealing with alto and tenor cleffs and transposition for G flutes and D trumpets. Now I have an extra transposition to make on everything.
This line in the score that I have now "transmogrified" (Calvin & Hobbes is a much better source to quote) is thrown around several times by Stravinsky and I do the same and finish it off the last time by tagging some of the last notes twice, bringing all the horn sections together. Here Stravinsky kind of settles into a minor chord and I do the same and stretch it out for an eight bar section of swinging modal type walking and comping on an F min7 chord.
The opening horn line returns with a little variation. Now this line has a sequence of perfect fourth intervals. It is eighth notes and the different fourths appear consecutively, three in a row. The last fourth is followed by one more note, an eighth note on the beat. I move that last note by one eighth note to create syncopation. The way Stravinsky harmonized this couldn't necessarily be reduced to chord changes, but there were some implications that I ran with. This two bar lick has four chords moving under it that bring us from F minor to a G maj7 #11 chord. Here the high woodwinds have an answering line that I gave to the saxes, putting it over the G chord. Then we are right back to F minor for four bars. Here the tympani play a variation of their opening figure so I follow suit and give the pitches to the bones, again with the descending patter I used in bars one an two. The saxes pepeat their line here with a slight variation over the F minor. This is very dissonant.
Here Stravinsky introduces his one real fragment of melody in this piece. This is given to the trumpets in two part harmony, as per Igor. This is played over eight different chords in a three bar stretch, some chords getting one beat and others two. Stravinsky scores a shorter version of the fragment now down a third. I give this to the saxes and use the use three chords in a simlar harmonic pattern. All these changes are chords I have created using two or three notes from the original harmony. This lands on D minor. Now the eighth note idea from bar three reappears. I write it in a shortened version for trumpets, compressing it to one measure. I repeat it adding saxes and once more adding bones and completing the lick. All this is over a dominant chord that again brings us to D minor. Now we are again vamping in a cool style only now in D minor, not F minor.
At this point Stravinsky develops his melodic fragment and lets it flow some. I use the idea and play it over the D minor "cool" swing, interspersing it with the bones playing a variation of the tympani idea that ends in four part harmony. This section lasts eight bars. Here I continue in D minor and just take the first three notes of the fragemnt and toss them back and forth between the saxes and trumpets. Both sections play in harmony. Five part in saxes, four in trumpets. The bones start to play their idea again, this time as a three over four type figure. This climaxes with some tutti punches on a C7 alt chrod taking us back to our F minor cool.
After eight bars the bari sax takes off on a solo. All the chords used up to this point get used. The minor sections remain at eight bars for a modal feel. The places where harmony was moving fast gets slowed down a bit. The section with eight chords in three bars gets elongated with every chord getting twice what it had before. This adds up to a 34 bar solo section. The bari gets to blow throught this twice. The first time with just the rhythm section. The second chorus begins with backgrounds being added immediately. The initial figures are syncopated but legatto and scored lightly with bone, flugel and two saxes. The lines is handed off through the horns and builds quickly to a clustered voicing and fall before eight bars have passed. The backgrounds in the first half of the chorus are completely composed and not taken from the score. The second half backgrounds make use of the tympani figure, played more sparsely and the "melodic fragment", also abbreviated. Just before the end of the solo the saxes sneak in a line that appears in the bones in the original. This line comes in toward the end of the piece and actually carries over to part six. This introduction is a bit "early" in relation to the original.
As I come out of the bari solo I basically do a "cut and paste" of some of the material from before the solo. Perhaps this is a bit lazy, perhaps not. This material doesn't really get repeated in the original but I thought it was worth stating again after the solo. As I get to the end of the cut and paste I continue with the melodic fragment just a bit longer.
At this point I sort of pick up again with Stravinsky's score where I had left off before the bari solo. There is a figure here in cellos and basses that I latch on to. It is repeated over and over. A sixteenth triplet and eighth note together. I turn the triplet into a turn and make the figure four eighths and a quarter. This three beat pattern is now played back and forth between two different groupings of alto and tenor. Here Stravinsky also inroduces a few new ideas that are very terse and have a lot of rhythmic punch. I use the bones to cover the more linear ideas and the trumpets voiced fairly high for the punchier parts. The sax figure underneath provides a real driving swing as the bass pedals on quarter notes. At the end of this section high woodwinds and strings have a glissando type run. I use the trumpets to ascend to a big chord.
Now there is a release and the bass pedals a new note. The saxes play an even more deconstructed version of the "fragment", just used the first descending part of the line, only four notes. The brass then begin to support with some harmony as the saxes switch to pick up on the part they introduced at the very end of the bari sax solo. The harmony in the brass stretches a bit but it is all over a D pedal. It has implications of minor but does other things. This section releases into a swinging section of D min7 to G7, one bar each. The saxes lay out for two measures and then start their line again over what has become a very bluesy, swingy groove. After two more bars the bari begins improvising again, playing in a "Mulligan-esque" style. The saxes then step out of the way and let the bari and rhythm section go. The ending simply descends chromatically from the G to and F maj7 #11 chord amd the saxes play their little line one more time over the frematta.
So, number five is done. It has dissonance, strong rhythms, dense harmony, modal sections and bluesy sections and a bari solo. And the final sax melody will bring us into part six. But before we get to that I think I'll go watch an Ally Sheedy movie. Number 5 is alive!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow, Snow, Snow!!!!

So, here in Maryland we usually get a little snow a few times each winter. Every other year or so we might get a snowfall that's at least a bit significant, say, 7-12 inches. About every 5-7 years we get a good one. Maybe 20-30 inches. Well, this winter we have received the mother load. There have been several snowfalls in the 4-6 inch range. In addition we had 20 inches in December, 30 inches just this past weekend and today, only the following Tuesday, we have snow coming down with potential accumulation of another 20+ inches!! Aaaaggghhh!!!! Will spring ever get here?
Well, spring is on the calender and will arrive whether it seems like spring or not. And perhaps this snow will all be gone by then. But perhaps not. But I have arrived at "Spring Rounds", the fouth part of the first half of Rite of Spring, Adoration of the Earth. And it will warm you right up.
I think perhaps this is my favorite section of Stravinsky's work. It is possibly the only section where one might say it is beautiful in the traditional sense of that word as it applies to music. It reminds me a lot of tango music. Not the old stuff from the 30's or 40's that you might hear played at a ballroom dance, but more like the tango nuevo style along the lines of Astor Piazzolla. It has a very haunting, mysterioso feel to it and is probably the part that most easily lends itself to a modern jazz treatment. There was a lot of figures that sounded totally "correct" exactly as they were when a rhythm section groove was put under it. As a matter of fact, I would say this piece has the best natural groove of all the parts of Rite of Spring.
For the intro I gave the trill from the flutes to two clarinets. The Eb and Bb clarinet line, which is the melody here in the intro, is covered by a flute, two flugels and guitar. The original line is nearly all quarter notes with a few half notes. I keep the sequence of pitches intact but change rhythms to add some syncopation. I also wrote it in 4/4 instead of all the 5/4, 7/4, 6/4, 5/4, etc. that Stravinsky used for who knows what reason. The melody doesn't necessarily imply those subdivisions. When the groove starts I have the drums establishing the time and feel by using mallets on the toms. This creates a very seductive, tango-ish atmosphere. The two part, off-beat figure in the bass clarinets and low strings is perfect "as is" for this vibe and I give it to the bones, who are in bucket mutes, and the guitar. The on-beat, two note part in violin II is covered by two clarinets and two flugel horns. There is is a little "break" figure that appears twice. This is covered by flute and soprano sax. The note sequence is again intact with a slight rhythm change. Two of the descending eighth notes become grace notes and more of an effect within the melody than an actual part of it. A scoop is added to the top note as well giving it a more mournful feel and is in keeping with the jazz style.
The on-beat and off-beat figures continue as the "theme" is introduced. It is played verbatim by flugels and clarinets. The bones eventually relinquish their off beat part to the piano and guitar. The bones now fatten the melody being played by flugels and clarinets. A piccolo part is also played in it's exact form by flute and soprano. This combination is high in pitch but has more warmth than is usually found in that register in a jazz band. At what would be bar 25 in the orchestra score I break from the form a bit. Here I give the piano chord changes to comp and give the bones some chordal/rhythmic figures not found in the score, but ones that would be common to big band writing. The "break" figure appears two more times. This time I re-inforced it with a bass clarinet. The last time leads into a full band chord held out for two measures followed by two measures of the rhythm section vamping on Eb min11 as a release.
At this point the soprano sax begins an improvised solo. As it progresses I introduce background figures of my own creation. A lot of them are "warm" clusters mixing brass and reeds. There are also falls and rips into notes for greater emotion. These are countered by some low, two part lines played by tenor sax, bari sax and trombones 3 & 4. I have to admit that a lot of what I was trying to do here was to capture the type of sonic ambience that Maria Schneider so readily creates in her music. Eight bars before the end of the solo is the biggest figure where all the horns come together for some hard, stacatto hits ending with a big fall. There is just abit of a release here and the different horn sections then trade around a quarter note triplet idea while the soprano wraps up it's solo.
At this point I'm back to covering the basic idea of what happens with the orchestra. The theme returns but is developed a bit by Stravinsky with added beats. I again keep things in 4/4 and keep the groove going. I cover the same ideas. This time I make the theme ever so slightly syncopated in places instead of playing it exact. This helps to create a bit more tension and excitement. The orchestra arrangement gets quite loud here and I follow those dynamics. At this point the piccolo trumpet, C trumpets, french horns and trombones come in with parallel #9 chords that are nearly deafening. I don't have the manpower to cover so many things so I give this to the trombones and ask them to do their best. I never thought I would write something where I'm asking players to blast, but here it is.
All this leads up to a big fermatta. Following this is a faster section with embellishment type flourishes in the high woodwinds as well as a figure in the strings using an effect that I'm sure has some high-brow name that I'm unaware of. They would be sawing back and forth hard as the line goes up and down with two 16th notes on each pitch. There are also some punches here as well. I cover the basic idea of the flourishes but play them at half the speed make them a "melody" that can be more easily followed by the ear. This is played by alto sax, two tenors and bari as well as guitar and the piano, which plays it in two octaves. This is much stronger than the flutes and clarinets from the orchestra version. All the hits are done by the brass. The drums are given a snare part that is sort of like a telegraph/evening news figure and provides a lot of tension and forward motion. The bass drum accents all the hits. The soprano rejoins the band eventually as well. It is covering piccolo trills.
After the last hit in the orchestra part a trill holds through and the intro figure is played again. Here I have the soprano play an improvised cadenza instead of the trill. This buys times for some trumpets to go to flugels as well as the other trumpets and all the bones to put in mutes. Now I score the intro figure with a different twist. The first is actually the result of a mistake. I thought I was looking at the flute part but was actually looking at the alto flute part so I ended up writing this whole ending section in the wrong key. Second, I harmonized it with tight voicings and a lot of parallel motion. I also come to fermattas in three places in the line and give the soprano a short, improvised fill at each. The key may be wrong, but it worked out well to get me back to an Eb min11 chord on the last note. This is again a fermatta with the bass playing arco and the piano doing a tremolo on two low Eb's in octaves. Now the soprano freely play a written fill based on the main theme and bring the tune to a close.
So, it may be Feb 9th, but I've just made my "Spring Rounds". It was warm and sensuous and at times a bit heated. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go shovel snow.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Juego del Rapto

Part three. Boy, I'm moving right along with this blog. Seems like it was only last year that I was writing about part one. (Preceding sentence should be read with sarcastic tone in voice.) And now here I am all the way to part three, Ritual of Abduction. I might have said this already in an earlier blog, but these titles sound like they could be a jazz tune. Perhaps I should use some pagan setting for a work of my own, just for the cool titles.

So, this is another tune where I knew pretty quickly how I wanted to treat it. Actually, two, three and four were all easy in that respect. Anyway, one listen along with the score and I was certain nearly instantly. Afro-cuban! The 9/8 time signature was just begging for it. And it works quite well.

I start out with pretty much a straight up re-orchestration of the orchestral score. The chords being held by the horns are given to the alto II and the tenors. The chord in the C trumpets is played by the bones. The string parts are edited here. Violins one and two are played in four parts but I took only the top part of violin I and gave that to two flugels and guitar. It makes for a great solo line over the chords without being encumbered by the harmony of the string parts. That line is joined by a unison line played by flute, piccolo, oboe, D clarinet and D trumpet. This line is given to piano playing in octaves, two trumpets playing with straight mutes and soprano sax.

At bar six of the orchestra score there are tremolos played by three flutes and three clarinets. I have taken these notes and given them to two saxes, two flugels and two bones. But I don't have them play a tremolo. Instead they play an eighth note line back and forth between the two notes. Eighth rest, four notes, two eighth rests and then five notes. If you are counting, that's a total of twelve eighth notes or four beats. Now remember, we are in 9/8 which has three beats per measure. So this tremolo has become a strong source of rhythm that happens to be a four beat pattern in a three beat time signature. Meanwhile the two straight mute trumpets and the soprano trade back and forth with a tenor sax and trombone with a three eighth note (triplet-like) figure. Under this is a very disjointed figure that came from the contra bass and tympani parts. This is played by the bass, bari sax and bass bone. It looks so simple but is very hard to get in the right place. With the hemiola figure going on and other liberties already taken I just keep this phrase going a little longer to make everything line up at the end of a measure/phrase. Here the drums make their entrance with a written fill that sets-up the actual afro-cuban groove . This figure appears several times in the piece as a bit of recurring material.

I chose to write a bass and guitar figure for the groove and to give the piano an actual chord change to comp on. A nine over five (9:5) descending figure in the high voices is tampered with to fit more into a groove and is handed off between groups of saxes and trumpets. The trombones then play some chord figures that are additions to the piece. The bones will do this often in this arrangement. The saxes now cover a horn part that sounds like a hunting call. Here there are lots of C trumpet and string parts that get ignored. One string part is used however. Stravinsky now uses a four note repeating pattern in violin I for a great hemiola of his own. I have taken it and used the first group of four notes and the first note only of the next grouping and follow that with three eighth rests. The four notes are descending so the top note always gets played but the other three get played just every other time. This makes for a really interesting hemiola. Saxes 2-5 cover a flute and piccolo part nearly verbatim with the exception of the end of the line. Here I change the rhythm to be more "stylistically correct" and harmonize those notes. The space before this line is played again is enlarged to allow the groove to simmer a bit. The bones continue to play chord figures in jazz band fashion. After that the tricky mishmash of stuff from earlier in the piece returns. No drum groove is happening here. After four bars the drums return and we groove for four measures on B7sus.

Now the soprano gets a tricky version of an Eb clarinet line while the other saxes cover double reed parts while the groove continues. The string parts imply some new harmony here. I don't use there parts but I use their notes as the bones continue to play rhythmic chordal figures. This leads up to a very exciting and dense part . There is a lot of meter change which I smoothed out a bit. I have 12/8, 7/8, 12/8, 2/4, 12/8 and finally back to 9/8. Igor had two measures of 6/8, then 7/8, 3/4, 6/8 (in this circumstance those are both the same thing. The change is confusing), 2/4, 6/8, 3/4 (here we go again) and back to 9/8. I basically took the 3/4 and 6/8 measures and combined them to make 12/8. His harmony was fairly thick and interesting. But I went one better. I made it even thicker and voiced it all parallel. I also added some hits in bones and the rhythm section in some key places and now this section is killing. It's like Don Ellis with 20th century atonal harmony. The groove returns along with the "huntng call". A descending line in high woodwinds and C trumpets is covered by saxes and trumpets and is ended by a return of the written drum fill. This is answered by a rhythmic tutti figure by the whole band and the groove returns and settles down to introduce an improvised solo by the trumpet.

The solo is in typical big band fashion. As the solo progresses more backgrounds are introduced. Harmony comes from the chords already used and implied by earlier parts of the tune. I chose to come out of the solo with a restatement of the parallel harmony part mentioned in the above paragraph. It doesn't get repeated in the orchestra version but I thought it worked well to use it a second time in this arrangement. I follow it exactly with "hunting call" and the same descending line that led to the solo send-off. Here there is an eighth note part in flutes, clarinets and C trumpets in the orchestra score. There is a lot of varying time signatures as well. I keep this line completely intact giving it to saxes 1-4, guitar and piano but keep the time in 9/8 along with the hits that are in the orchestra score. It comes out perfect. Now I grab a violin II part that is in 6/8 and change the first three quarters to eighths that enables me to keep a 9/8 time signature and score it for saxes 2-5 as well as trading it between trumpets I and III. There are some hits on measures of 2/8 that occur at the neds of these lines. I chose to change that just a little. I added an extra beat to some measures and play the hit on beat four of the 12/8 measures that have now been created. It makes for just a hair more space between the hits and the resumption of the lines. Here Stravinsky had the same one measure line going over 6/8 then 3/4 then 6/8 again. Why? They end up identical. Anyway, this leads up to four big hits in 4/4 in the orchestra. I voice this for the entire band but keep it in 9/8 and play it as a syncopated figure. Here the drums play the written fill one last time at fortississimo to end the piece.

And so, that is how I totally screwed up part three. The Afro-cuban beat is a great rhythm. Very exciting and very danceable. That's good for a ballet, which this happens to be. But also good for the listeners as well. Perhaps they'll dance in the aisles when this premieres. Or perhaps not. But here's a little something you can do. The next time you are in a latin night club with a live band, go up to the band leader and see if they can play "Juego del Rapto".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Repent, the end is near.

I'm getting close. Oh, so close. I can see it. I can smell it. I can almost taste it. It's really a good feeling. A week ago I finished part 12. That's 12 out of 14. Only two to go.

So why am I not just a little bit more excited? Perhaps it's because there is still so much more work after the music is written. There are 17 musicians that have to be assembled. Rehearsals have to be scheduled around all their schedules. Music has to be worked out. There are master classes I'll be preparing for at some local universities. Publicity to be done. A podcast to do. All kinds of things to take care of. Plus there is just quite a bit of time still until the actual performance.

But I think the real reason why I'm not quite so excited is that there is a bit of anxiety as to how this whole thing will come off. I've spent a lot of hours working on this. A lot. Will it really be any good? We all know that Stravinsky's work is considered a masterpiece. Am I doing this work justice? Stravinsky wrote something new and different. Will my arrangement sound like anything new? Or will it just sound like a bunch of big band charts? By the way, I'm so trying to avoid writing "charts". Not only on this project but in general with my writing for jazz orchestra. Charts are what writers have done for most of the history of big bands. They take a tune, someone else's or one of there own. Then they write an arrangement. They assign melodies and create counter lines. Perhaps introduce new harmony. Compress or elongate phrases. Insert solo sections. Write backgrounds, interludes, intros and endings. And after all is said and done the guys in the band will say "nice chart". But it is still an arrangement, not a composition for jazz orchestra. A tune that is arranged for big band almost always sounds like a tune that's arranged for big band. They virtually never have the feeling or the sense of a journey that can be created by putting paper to pen for the whole band before writing a "tune".

It is this desire or goal in my "original" writing that makes me anxious about this whole project. I would hate for it to sound like charts. No charts! If people hear this and it reminds them of Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, or, God forbid, Bob Mintzer, I will have failed immensely. So much of what those bands did though the second half of the twentieth century was to emphasize the showy part of big bands. High, fast, loud, slick. In general I hate that part of big band music. Sure there is physical excitement. And there is certainly a place for that. But I'm far more concerned about the subtleties. The musicality. And most importantly, the emotional content. Deep emotional content. Beauty, grace, joy, anger, wonder. The things of life. Physical excitement generates a more immediate and vocal response from the audience. They will appear to have enjoyed it more than a crowd hearing a more challenging and emotional program. But when the crowd has had a deeper emotional experience it will be a more lasting experience. Emotional content will have them listening intently over and over again, finding new things in the music. Physical excitement brings them back when they are looking for a cheap thrill but rarely rewards this listener with anything more.

So, I'm closing in on finishing the actual writing. After that it's out there for the world to judge. Will I have written music or will it be just a bunch of charts. The end is near. My time to repent is running out. But I think I will follow this road to it's final destination. We shall see if leads me to glory or perdition.

Post Script: Some rehearsal recordings have been posted at Go have a listen and tell me what you think.