Last Night at the Blue Note, for chamber ensemble

“Last Night at the Blue Note” is a series of three vignettes that each pay tribute to a favorite jazz pianist. My idea was to take a small yet defining element of each pianist’s style and “misremember” it as a theme for a piece of chamber music.

In “Chick Calls,” pianist Chick Corea’s endless and knotty lines are fragmented into bird calls before gradually being pasted back together in a somewhat fugal manner. In “One Small Step (for Ran),” pianist Ran Blake’s icy harmonies freeze-dry the melody of John Coltrane’s famously frenetic tune “Giant Steps,” giving us a peak at its underlying crystalline structure. And in “Monkstrosity,” pianist Thelonius Monk’s quirky approach to stride and boogie woogie is brought back to life as a Frankenstein-ian hybrid of human and machine.

Many would categorize a piece like this, which attempts to fuse elements of jazz and concert music, as Third Stream, a term coined by composer Gunther Schuller in the 1950s. However, I see it more as a straight piece of concert music that draws on elements of jazz, much like how Bartok’s string quartets draw on Hungarian folk music or Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians draws on various West African drumming traditions. My hope is that the piece sublimates the jazz elements into its own personal musical vocabulary. Instead of hollowly imitating these great jazz pianists, I’m hoping to grow a new musical plant from the seeds they have left behind.

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