My Tunes: Invisible Hand, New York 1992

Invisible Hand:  Back in around 1992, I was enrolled as a doctoral student at Columbia.  A charmed life, in retrospect.  A supportive and inspiring teacher (Fred Lerdahl), hugely interesting fellow students, a “job” working under the wonderful Brad Garton in the Columbia/Princeton electronic music center, a great apartment cheap in uptown New York City in the waning days of the downtown scene and what now appear, in retrospect, to be the waning days of traditional concert music life before the internet and the “post canonic” aesthetic began to erode its foundations-what more could I ask for.

That said, I never felt fully at home there-or anywhere else in the “classical music” world.  My having spent a more than a decade playing jazz gigs  and having had most of my musical identity defined by evenings in clubs like Boston’s Jazz Workshop, San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, New York’s Bradley’s and Studio Rivbea left a permanent mark.  Invisible Hand  was the first of many attempts at reconciliation though the most direct since it involved getting a band together of the sort which I used to play in then just a few years before.

In fact, two of the players were from those days: Bruce Williamson, a friend now for almost 40 years (is it possible?),  I met when I first got to Berkeley as a freshman in 1979, though maybe slightly after that.  He has since become one of the great spirits of the New York freelance scene-always finding ways to make any musical situation he finds himself in (and there have been probably thousands of these) more interesting, more special and more joyous.  A few years later, I was privileged to have performed on several occasions in the first stages of Larry Grenadier’s when he was still in high school.  He has since become one of the foremost jazz bassists of his generation.  Alas, I’ve lost touch with Larry, though I do occasionally see his older brother, the wonderful trumpeter Phil, when I visit Boston.

Bruce Williamson

Larry Grenadier

The other two quintet members were newer friends: Jon Nelson had at the time recently formed the Meridian Arts Ensemble brass quintet and would, in this capacity, produce numerous recordings and distinguished commissions. Now a much admired professor of Trumpet at SUNY Buffalo for two decades a gig Jon arranged for David Sanford’s Pittsburgh Collective brought us together last year.  I don’t quite recall where I met John Hollenbeck though as do most new music fans, I do know that he has gone on to do remarkable things both through leading his Claudia Quintet and his large ensembles in the years since.  I should mention that I did try to compensate the players of the band for their services-but I had run out of cash when I needed to pay John. So I gave him a beautiful rosewood xylophone I had picked up at a pawn shop the summer before.   I wonder whether he still has it-or gets any use out of it.

Jon Nelson

John Hollenbeck

On the piece itself, as will be noticed from scrolling through the score below, it’s a fully notated work-no improvised solos,  a fully composed drum part (I actually thought John was embellishing it, but when I asked, he told me he was just “reading the paint”), no C-7 or Abmaj7#5 for the pianist etc.  But it emulates the feel and the sensibility (I hope) of the mid sixties Bluenote sound which was the touchstone for what I was trying (unsuccessfully) to run away from when I turned to “classical” composition and which I have finally, I think, reached some accommodation with after years of usually joyful, though sometimes agonizing, struggle.

Anyway, I like this piece a lot.  Hope you do too.  If you want to play it, let me know, and I’ll send you the parts.  And, if you need a pianist, I’m available!

P.S. I should mention that the page turner for this session was my dear friend, the brilliant, inimitable and uncategorizable violinist Todd Reynolds.  I don’t know exactly how I talked him into serving in this capacity, but this may have been the most dramatic instance of a skills/demand mismatch in the history of employment.



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