Solve for “X”

So here we are: 2016 almost gone, but it feels a little like spring….

First off, I haven’t written a serious blog post in quite some time. Because, you know, I’m “busy” – doing “things“. Like writing and performing music. Or programming synthesizers. Or driving. (I do a lot of driving, for those who are wondering.) Pretty much constantly. Write? Words???

But in actuality I’ve got quite a lot I’ve been wanting to write about. In fact, my wordpress dashboard is littered with drafts – those “wait, I’ve got an idea…!” , fits and starts that don’t get finished but sit on a digital shelf somewhere….and then I’m off. But the ideas are waiting. In fact I’ve got actual notebooks full of ideas. Too many for one lifetime, it seems… but I digress. I’m here, and I’m writing this now. 

When my pops told me at age 7 that Mozart wrote his first symphony at age 7, I thought “I can do that!”. And of course at age 7 I fully believed it, putting pen to manuscript paper and writing…something. I remember that at least. I tried my hand at writing a few things here and there. Piano solos mostly, some guitar, and not on paper. Just things I’d make up & remember.

The first big thing I remember trying to write was when I was 14. Inspired by a paperback copy of Clifford D. Simak’s Sci-Fi collection “City”, and thoroughly influenced by prog rock concept albums (this was 1974, after all) I began work – once again, in memory only – on a 20 minute epic entitled – you guessed it – “City”, about a band of intergalactic travelers who on some world or other come upon an enormous abandoned city, many thousands of years old, and their adventures exploring it. Needles to say it was never finished, and I can remember not one note of it.

It’s also important to note at this time that in addition to “Prog” and it’s rich fantasy life I also grew up with classical music and listened to the radio. One of the things that influenced me from the radio around 1972 was Deodato’s jazzy funky arrangement of “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (more commonly known as the music to Kubrick’s 2001: a space odyssey). I was stricken by the desire to write horn parts, and indeed I did – writing and arranging material for my high school jazz big band in 9th grade, at age 13. Special thanks most be given of course to my incredible HS Music Teacher Burt Hughes, a Nyack NY fixture for many years. When people say the fondly remember or loved a teacher who profoundly influenced their lives, this is what they’re talking about.

So against this backdrop, with many other musical things going on – too many to mention, and way more than I can remember – when I turned 18 I figured it was time to start my own band. And we were gonna need some music. This time I did use manuscript paper, and wrote a whole slew of tunes, some of which are still performed today. At the time I was fascinated by the Mahavishnu Orchestra and free Jazz as played by Ornette and others, and still very much in the grip of Prog rock and classical. The band became known as “A. Animal” in the coming years. The challenge was finding cats who could shift between all the different styles. FYI: That’s STILL the challenge.

The thing is although I never formally studied composition I listened to compositions – a sort of informal study – and tried to understand things from my skewed and fiercely independent perspective. And I kept writing. And writing. All manner of things. Music for Dance (since 1982); Avant Garde Theater (since 1983); and ensembles of various sizes. And in many different styles: Trying to reconcile my diverse influences was sometimes as confusing to me as it undoubtedly appears to those who don’t know me that well. It’s difficult to see the whole picture at once.

Influenced almost in equal parts by Classical, Minimalism, Post-Bop Jazz, Punk Rock, Prog rock, Jazz Fusion, Pop (I credit my lovely wife Nita with hipping me to the art of the Popular song, and because of her have developed a sincere appreciation for “certain things”), Ambient and Electronica as well as the avant grade (Stockhausen? Subotnick? Autechre?), I have chosen to try and squeeze all these things together into something new, something which is my own. And while all these things don’t fit into everything I write, if you scratch below the surface you might hear something unexpected…

What’s the point of all this? October 15th I have a unique opportunity. I’ll be presenting some work in a show at the Ritz Theater in Newburgh NY (where my family & I have been residing for the last 17+ years). Some of these compositions have never made it to the stage. Things that I wrote for projects, or choreographers, or friends, or because I damn well felt like it. It feels sometimes like not too many people know the full breadth of what I actually do. I flip back and forth between original groups (like NAIL), or traditional jazz quartets, or funk outfits or music for dance, and those audiences generally do not overlap. So I’m truly excited and thrilled to have a place to put this diverse concert up. With me will be some amazing players, some old friends, some new – but all open minded, ready to embrace the diversity of music as a whole. They are:

  • Peter Furlan (sax)
  • Peter Brendler (bass)
  • Nadav Snir-Zelniker (drums)
  • Mark Frankel (percussion, marimba)
  • Daniel Frankhuizen (cello)
  • Rachel Evans (viola)
  • Cynthia Ligenza (violin)
  • Fung Chern Hwei (violin)

With special guests Tom Reese (flute & pennywhistle) and Mona Toscano (spoken word).

As the music varies in style and texture, so does the orchestration. Some pieces will be performed by a traditional Jazz quartet; others, by strings and percussion; others still with electronic instruments. The ensemble is variable – and thus represented as “X”.  It  seemed only fitting to christen this new collection of musicians & music the “X Ensemble”. (also the name jumped out at me because I keep the scores in a folder called “extended ensemble”).

I must say I’m completely thrilled to premiere these works and this new group. It’s been a long road the “here” – to unity & integration. I suspect there’s a ways to go yet, but this certainly feels like a milestone. I hope you can join us.

 

P.S. Here’s a great preview of the show written by our good friend and incredible songwriter John Burdick. John leads the New Paltz based “Sweet Clementines“, who I consider to be one of the best local bands out there. See them when you can.

 

Deke – Part 1

Jim Decrescenzo, "Deke" - 1958- 2014

Jim Decrescenzo, “Deke” – 1958- 2014

A Long Overdue Concert for an Old Friend Gone Too Soon 

Hi folks –

I’m starting a series of posts here chronicling the preparation for and performance of a memorial concert for my friend Jim Decrescenzo, who passed away Sept 5th of this year at the age of 56.

I’ve known Jim since I was 19 or so (actually, it’s a bit hazy), and he, Lou Magliente & I formed the basis of what was to become my first and longest running band, “A. Animal“.

Deke was a brilliant cat, and a real down to earth guy. The kind of guy who’d give you the shirt off his back if he thought you needed it. For the last 18 years or so he’s been living in Woodstock NY, making a name for himself as an expert woodworker and craftsman. But what most of hinds friends don’t know (or at least I don’t think they know – I can’t actually say because I haven’t met most his current friends) was that Jim was an AMAZING composer & musician. In or around 1981, Jim chose to give up music. His wonderful compositions were never performed. Now with his his passing and the blessing of his family, I have undertaken the task of performing Jim’s music in concert. This concert is happening in Woodstock NY on Wednesday November 19th – a memorial concert, if you will. The stellar band (handpicked by me – yes, I’m blowing my own horn here) includes musicians I know Jim would have appreciated – Brian Mooney (bass); Jason Furman (drums), Chad McLoughlin (guitar). Some of Jim’s tunes require more than 4 musicians, and for those pieces we’ll be joined by Ted Orr (guitar) and longtime friend Steve Rust (bass). Plus there’s 2 vocal tunes which I will be singing. All together there are 7 tunes – 5 instrumental and 2 vocal – and including such old favs as “The Sorcerer’s Ranch”, “Box 555”, “Trainride” and “Pines”. (If you low these tunes, believe me – you’ll want to hear them live.)

First rehearsal of Jimmy Deke's music, with Jason Furman, Brian Mooney, Chad McLoughlin and Neil Alexander

First rehearsal of Jimmy Deke’s music, with Jason Furman, Brian Mooney, Chad McLoughlin and Neil Alexander

When Jim gave up music he handed me a folder of his handwritten scores – they were exact & beautiful, s Jim was also learning music copying.  I kept these scores safe until I saw Jim again in 2005, almost 25 years later. I did see Jim once in the 1990’s – before our daughter was born – and knew then he had become a woodworker and had a child of his own. But it was very brief, and we lost touch again. In the interim, around 2001, I decided to produce one of Jim’s tunes, because 1) I loved his music and 2) it’s a great tune. Here’s a rough mix on Soundcloud:

When I finally did reconnect with Jim, we rekindled our friendship and although I tried to help him get back into music, he wasn’t able to find his way back…

In addition to his scores, there were the tapes: All of his tunes he had recorded and a Tascam 3440 4 track reel to reel. I had mix downs of his tracks on cassette tapes, which I’ve been holding on to for decades.  When I got in touch with Jim’s family, they expressed to me that they wanted to be able to distribute CD’s of Jim’s music to give out at the memorial concert. I agreed to take the tapes, have them transferred to digital, mix master & produce the, That’s still in progress as I write this.

In part 2 I will talk about the completion of the process. When the CD’s are done I will make them available for download via Bandcamp. Stay tuned for that.

Part 2 coming soon. As Always, thanks for reading. 🙂

– NAIL