Brass in Bach and Boulez

Title Image © JENS KLETT · Date 1/25/2018

I listen to a lot of music, but mostly live—either while playing myself, coaching chamber music, or in my head while composing. Putting together this playlist was a chance to remember some musical moments of my youth, the “formative years,” that left a particularly strong impression on me.

Con Conrad/Herb Madison, “The Continental” – The Jay and Kai Trombone Octet

My father wasn’t a professional musician, but did play a lot of jazz standards on the piano after work. He also had some records that I listened to often, especially this one with the trombonists JJ Johnson and Kai Winding. Their direct and clear sound influenced my own concept of how I wanted to sound on the trombone.

J.S. Bach, “Air on a G-string” – The Modern Jazz Quartet and The Swingle Singers

When I was around 14 years old, I bought my own record player and started collecting records, and I listened to this one over and over before falling asleep at night, letting myself drift off to the Swingle Singers scat-singing Bach.

Bill Conti, “Gonna fly now” – Maynard Ferguson Big Band

My absolute hero at 15 was the trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. He was known for his stratospheric high range, but also energetic rock/funk big band arrangements. I saw him live at the Chicago arena five or six times, with one event sticking out in my memory: in a solo moment with the band cut-out, Maynard wailed up to an amazingly high note, holding it for what seemed like forever, but then, unbelievably, jumped up an octave. Just before the audience flipped out, a guy right in front of me screamed at the top of his lungs, “Maynard, you’re God!“

Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5, III. Scherzo – Georg Solti (Conductor), Chicago Symphony

The suburb I grew up in had a train connection to Chicago, which enabled me to hear the afternoon concerts with the Chicago Symphony. It was the middle of the ‘70s and they played a lot of Mahler. I even heard some symphonies with both Georg Solti and Carlo Maria Guilini. Strangely, although the brass in Chicago are very prominent, even legendary, I never once thought of playing in an orchestra as a trombonist myself.

Pierre Boulez, “Le Marteau sans maître” – Jeanne Deroubaix (Contralto), Severino Gazzelloni (Flute), Georges van Gucht (Xylorimba), Claude Ricou (Vibraphone), Jean Batigne (Percussion), Anton Stingl (Guitar), Serge Collot (Viola), Pierre Boulez (Conductor)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VShcb8ogLYo

Ornette Coleman, “The shape of Jazz to come” – Ornette Coleman (Saxophone), Don Cherry (Trumpet), Charlie Haden (Bass), Billy Higgins (Drums)

I borrowed these two records from the public library, listened to a side of each, and remember being somewhat perplexed. Although I knew the Boulez was composed and the Coleman was improvised, I could hardly tell the difference between them.

Harry Partch, “The dreamer that remains”

As a fresh composition student with Ben Johnston, who was an assistant for Harry Partch, I dug into the recordings of Partch’s music and it turned my world upside down. At 18 I was starting to feel more at home with jazz and classical music—his approach and sound world opened the door to music from other cultures and music with other intonation systems. ¶