Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Extravagance – Art, Clothing, Music?

I wasn’t expecting to be moved by a hat made in Africa topped with a 4-ft long crocodile carved entirely out of wood, I was just trying to extend our stay at the IMA since it was frigidly cold and Delaney needed more exercise…

At first, I was thinking, how could anyone wear something so cumbersome? Why would they spend so much time shaping and carving, making the crocodile look so true to life? I moved on to the ornate bowls made of brass and wood, and rings with 2-inch-long pointy stones that you wouldn’t want to see on the finger of someone’s hand you were about to shake. And then I came upon the pièce de résistance – a mask/headpiece/hat with probably a dozen hand-carved figures atop, each being around 8 inches long and highly detailed. I was astounded and confused…why would anyone make this or wear it?

Our next stop was Contemporary Design, featuring sleek chairs and couches, sleeker bowls and vases. After a few steps in this space, I had a greater appreciation for the exhibit we had just left. The glare from the shiny, sparse objects was hurting my eyes and even making me angry. We got outta there quickly, found a bench in the sun and sat for a while to process what had just happened. There was something about the extravagance of the African art that affected me in a surprising way. A bowl, a ring, a spoon, a comb – not just functional but things someone spent time with, worked over, infused with spirit and life.

When I was in my 40’s, my go to outfit was a simple black t-shirt and khakis, and if I needed to dress up, I wore a black dress. But my friends in their 50’s were wearing colorful, flowery clothes and carrying ornate purses. They made me smile, I thought it worked for them, it just wasn’t for me. I do see a transition, though, now that I’m…catching up a little...

On Facebook, the thing to do lately is to post an old photo on Thursdays. As I was rummaging through pictures, I noticed a pattern in my CD covers over the years. They have gone from black to color, from shy to bolder. My 1st cover was in b & w, wearing a black dress, my arm artfully covering my body, with one bare foot exposed. The next was a step up, sepia-toned (but wearing black and covering myself, my hands clasped together.) The 3rd shows half of my face, the rest of me hiding in a closet, and in the 4th I’m halfway hidden in a fireplace. CD #5 you can see all of me, but it’s a caricature. My newest one, released last year, is the boldest ever – my arms are free, I’m fully extended like a dancer, I’m jumping in the air, I’m smiling, there are flowers and color everywhere (and I’m in France!) (Interesting, I had just turned 50 when we did the shoot.)

I’m wondering how these realizations about extravagance can play into my music. How can I enhance this? What bold steps do I need to take? What are some ridiculously extravagant musical projects I could undertake?

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Notes on “Dos Para Dos,” suite for Violin and Piano, by Becky Archibald

I. Melaza en Enero (Molasses in January)
Melaza en Enero is, well, slow, sultry, sweet and syrupy (but in a good way.) Looking back through the piece, I am surprised at the complexity on paper of something that (to me) goes down so smooth. The opening 32 bars (constructed from four 8-bar phrases of varying chord progressions in various keys) have more of a melodic plan while the next section (starting with solo piano and utilizing the same chord progressions) is based on improvisation. This piece is another stop along the way of my search for freedom through jazz.

II. con jamón (with ham)
It started with a memory of something embarrassing that happened to me during a jam session in an 800-year-old castle in France…
It was 3 a.m., the usual time the group of international jazz students came together to jam, and my first time to participate. I didn’t know the protocol – it seemed like everyone was just playing randomly. When there was a pause, someone said to me, “Start me a groove.” New to jazz, I didn’t know what he meant, so I started improvising, looking for something cool and groovy. He gave me a disappointed, almost angry look and said, “No, start me a groove!” This was not the kind of environment for a “lesson,” there was not a place to step aside and have him teach me. I just kept trying and failing. Finally, I was saved by a guitarist who “started the groove” properly.

There is much more to tell but it needs to be kept a surprise!

Ascending, the violin/piano duo who commissioned these pieces, asked for something funny, so first I worked on funny, then racked my brain for a title. Towards the end, as I was writing a suggestion to “Ham it up!” in the score, I thought, hmmmm, this just might work…)

Watch for a youtube video soon of their January 9 premiere in NY!