A Peek into the Making Of “A 400 Year Musical Journey”

Everyone loves a good story, right?

This all started back in the summer of 2008. That was when I began to hear about the “Hudson Champlain Quadracentennial Celebration” (from now on called the “Quad”) – the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s historic voyage up the river that bears his name.

It was around this time that Betsy McKean, a very charming and wonderful person who works in the City of Newburgh records office contacted me about how NY State was promoting this event. There were going to be available several “Mini-Grants” for folks wanting to do an event connected with the Quad. Whether it’s a historical event, or an art show or almost anything – money was going to be available.

She gently (and quite correctly, as we shall see) insisted that I apply. I then had to come up with an “event” related to the Quad, and one that could be funded. (A concert! Of course!) It was then I got the idea for a sort of “400 Year Musical Journey” (although it wasn’t called yet). But Betsy and I discussed the possibilities, and she even helped me research a few things on the net. It was conceived as a way to treat NAIL as a a semi-classical ensemble, which has been one of my intentions from the start. (NAIL is registered as an Ensemble with Chamber Music America.): NAIL as a true 21st century group, doing festivals, clubs and concert halls.

As someone who grew up around the Hudson River, it was always a presence in my life. I live within site of it now; all I have to do is walk 20 feet to the corner and look down the hill. I had even already written a tune, called “(At The) Water’s Edge”, which is the feeling of joy I get from doing outdoor concerts near the river. Yay.

So the paperwork was submitted, the idea finalized and filed away, nearly forgotten. And then, the little miracle: Application Accepted! I guess this means I had work to do.

More thinking & researching… I wanted to do an outdoor concert at one of the oldest intersections in Newburgh, where the two first main streets crossed – Liberty & Broadway.

View Map

There are 2 empty lots on 2 of the 4 corners. But the ownership of these lots was in question, so I turned my attention elsewhere.

Meanwhile, I got an email from one of our many Art “organizers”. There are a lot of artist trying to make a dent in the apathy of this town, and one of those methods is “4 Citys/4 Saturdays”. The 4 citys are Poughkeepsie, Beacon, Kingston & Newburgh. In Newburgh it’s known as the “River Artwalk” (Newburgh has no discernable center of town – it was bulldozed in the 70’s.). Artist/Photographer Tom Knieser is one, and it was from him that I first heard of “River Day” (June 6th 09) and and open call to artists to come down and set up by the river. I contacted him, and he put in touch with – that’s right – Betsy McKean. A price was agreed upon, and NAIL would perform for around 2 hours that day. It was a great show!

Then as you well know, Life happens. Next thing I knew I was knee deep in “Vishnufest” with the Mahavishnu Project. So it wasn’t until the end of July that I began to work in earnest on the “400 Year Journey”. But all things are interconnected…

Having known violin luminary Zach Brock for about a year, through the MahaVishnu Project, I had been trying to figure out a way to get him onto a NAIL gig. Well, here I had the perfect situation. Violin would add tremendous sonic character and authenticity to what I was trying to accomplish. (Besides, we’re funded.) So Zach was hired. I next turned to my old friend Erik Lawrence, but scheduling conflicts made that impossible. So I contacted another member of the MP, someone who among his many, many credits had actually toured with McLaughlin- reed and woodwind master Premik Russel Tubbs.

With these two cats in addition to Nadav Zelniker and new bassist Dan Asher, I now had a stellar band. I then made final music choices, starting with music of Thomas Ravenscroft, a British composer from 1609. I worked the format out – it was to be 2 sets; the 1st set would go in 100 year intervals: 1609, 1709, 1809, 1909. After intermission, we would pick up the pace, as music evolved faster, and jump to 20 year intervals: 1929, 1949, 1969, 1989. We would end with 2 of my original pieces, representing 2009.

Now I had the group, and the program concept. I needed a location. And one of my favorite spots in Newburgh is the Newburgh Free Library. It’s a massively wonderful place, and I’m very good friends with a lot of the librarians, especially the wonderful Chuck Thomas (on twitter as @infocowboy – stop by and say hello.) I keep trying to get them to put a cot in the basement for me, so I can live there. BUT ANYWAY…

Because we are funded, the kind folks at the NFL were all too happy to allow us to perform at their location. The outside spot – in front of the Library – forms a natural Amphitheater and is a great place to play. And – if it rains, we’ll use their indoor presentation room. All bases covered.

Then the music began to really fall into place: Bach in 1709, Duke Ellington for 1929, The Beatles for 1969. 1809 was the year Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto was completed and premiered; this was one of the 1st pieces I fell in love with and learned at the piano so it was a shoe in. 1909 was chosen as “The Birth of the Blues”; 1949 finds us in Bebop territory, with a glance at early country music a la Hank Williams. I spent 2 weeks arranging the material and writing scores and parts, which I haven’t even quite finished as of this writing. I wanted to represent 1989 with Hip Hop, and one of my former students is a rapper and stepped up to the challenge.

But wait – here’ where it gets really interesting….

I got an email about 2 1/2 weeks ago (more? Less? Hazy) from Clayton Buchanan, one of the Newburgh Artists mentioned earlier. Apparently a certain painting of his won an award at a Kent, CT. art show. The reason I got the email was because the painting was of….me. ME? How could this happen? Well, remember “River Day”? Clayton was there, taking photos. He was moved enough to create this painting, of yours truly:

Clayton Buchanan's Painting "Street Noise"
Clayton Buchanan’s Painting “Street Noise”

Then another extraordinary thing happened (that’s 2, if you’re keeping score at home): A friend, fan and supporter named Mark Delano (@mark_delano on twitter) bought the painting with the intention of semi-permanently lending it to the Newburgh Library. Naturally it was decided that the painting would be “unveiled” and presented to the Library during our show’s intermission. Mark’s also been a tremendous help with the press, writing press releases and contacting local print and news media. I can’t thank him enough.

So now we’re a little more than a week away from the show. The last piece fell into place with a Hip Hop piece about the history of Hip Hop written with rapper Tell-a-Vizion. I still have a few charts to finish and my own press to do (i.e. this post). I’m still working on bits of the sound system (we need monitor wedges, for example), but it’s just about all come together. All that remains is the show itself! And yes – we’re working on streaming it on the web at our NAIL ustream page. I just have to get my hands on a camera…!

To learn more about this event, check out our news page at All About Jazz, or read one of Mark Delano’s Press Releases.

So – that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it. I’m enjoying the ride. It’s even possible that there will be money left over for me. I think that was part of the idea…

Love ya’s – take care of yourselves. Perhaps we’ll see you at the show. It’s not one to be missed IMHO.

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