Thursday, May 01, 2008

My Milonga -- the scoop

I'm so proud of this piece... and this day.

So much drama around the darn thing! I started it in 2003 when my composition professor, Bruno Louchouarn assigned it to the Comp I classes instead of the standard "invention."

"You have to write for different voices in a tango as well... why not write something you can use?"

He's not only a genius, but a practical sort as well!

Flash forward five years: Thursday night before the recital, and this thing is hot off the press as I head off to Oxy for my one and only rehearsal. It just doesn't want to get done! I can listen to all the Astor frickin' Piazzolla in the world and cry dramatic, heartfelt, longing tears -- I CAN'T FINISH IT! So I show up with 90% of it done, and a B-section that is a SHELL of what it should be.

BTW, did I mention I spent the whole day trying to track down a violin player? Thought I had one... then I didn't! (Who the hell scheduled these recitals on Passover weekend anyway?!) On the horn all day while trying to write, attend a rehearsal, pay for rehearsal space at ANMT... fortunately I ran into Elise Dewsberry's husband there, Stephen Green, a professional cellist, who took out his blackberry or some such device and gave me Jean Sudbury's number. By 3:00 pm, I had a violinist!

But Jean couldn't come to rehearsal that night. Fortunately, she's such a pro and does lots of tangos in her playing life, so she said she'd meet us at 12:30 the day of the recital to run through it a couple of times with the rest of the group. "It'll be fine!" she assured me... whew, what a relief! Okay, a little nervewracking, but I had some other fellas to meet.

Simeon Pillich, who's played with such greats as Al Jarreau, Burt Bacharach, The Stylistics, Melissa Etheridge and Alice Cooper, recorded numerous international film soundtracks and is now a professor at Oxy, had always been a buddy since my trying to finish in 2003. When I got out of my jury on March 18, my panel was worried about my getting personnel for this piece. Get them quickly, they said! I walked out of the room and there was Simeon. "Wanna play a tango for my recital?" "Sure!" he says... then proceeds to get me the wonderful UCLA senior and jazzman extraordinaire, Max Kaplan, on clarinet too!

Max and I talk a lot on the phone and tells me he and his violinist friend love to improv. I tell him the piece is simple... and I'll have music for him when we meet. So grateful he was willing to drive out from the westside.

I met my piano man, 18-year-old self-described "slacker" Michael Saucy at Stephen Bent's trombone/voice recital on March 30. He was playing big time jazz and was as cool (and cute!) as a button. I ask him if he's a music major: " don't know." Is he available to play for me: "Sure." I don't speak with him again for three weeks... but I know he'll be there.

8:00 pm, Thursday: I talk Max onto campus from the freeway and my guys are all there. I'm so embarrassed by the state of this music -- the parts are a mess, there are barely any articulation/dynamic markings, and I'm lucky I even have measure numbers in the darn thing. Thank goodness for pencils. :) And of course, there's no violin player.

But then that magic moment happens that (Professor) Andre Myers talks about -- the moment you hear your music off the page, off the computer... and in the hands of real musicians. We got through the first two sections... and I'm in heaven! This piece exists now way BEYOND ME... and it really is thrilling...

I forget though, that I've written what I think is a "simple" piano part for a professional pianist/accompanist that, of course, I can't play myself... and I just realize that Michael is an A-#1 jazz guy and improv man. Doesn't necessarily mean he's a good sight-reader! OOPS. So we struggle through a little bit, but he assures me he'll practice and get it. I tell him we'll put some chord symbols in there and make it easier for all of us!

Max, on the other hand, reads like a demon. His part has a lot of rests in the beginning so he says, "I'll just play the violin part." "But it's in the wrong key for you." "It's okay, I'll transpose it." And boy does he! So we get to hear the melody for awhile, until he has to play the real clarinet part, and I just sing the violin.

Simeon? He's a rock. My biggest cheerleader, who kept it real and calm and fun for me. And boy do I love a double bass.

The B-section -- well, talk about SCREWED. Can you believe I wrote that with only 11-bars in it? Standard jazz is at least 12 -- what was I thinking? So it was sounding pretty awful, esepcially since it was just piano and bass written and Michael was having trouble reading the mess I wrote. So I make an appointment to meet Michael late Friday night after a recital to fix the damn chord progression, and I tell Max he's the man -- he gets to improv a beautiful clarinet jazz solo and make me look good!

And talk about good... at one point during break, Max gets on one piano and Michael's on the other and they are just going to town, doing improv all the way. SO HOT. My eyes were watering as I called my friend Diane and let her answering machine record some of it. As Michael told me later about Max (who returned the compliment): "That guy is SICK!" (GOOD, in today's lingo... who knew?)

"How could I be so lucky?" I kept asking myself. Simeon joined them later... and I think "With musicians like this, WHO NEEDS FUCKING WRITERS?" Those three men are amazing, and know a world (jazz) I'll never understand... but will appreciate forever.

I was floating on air after that rehearsal as I rushed out to shoot the last scenes of PLUTONIA at 11:00 pm with Travis and Aubrey at LACMA. I'm running completely on empty, but still find a way to shoot the shit til 3:00 am at Denny's with Travis... all the time thinking "I've got a video to cut and a tango to frickin' fix... I'm insane!"

So Friday night, a half-dead and comatose me spends an hour-and-a-half in a practice room with Michael the Piano Prodigy, and we "fix" my B-section and go over the piano part. I loved talking with that young man, a Berkeley High graduate born to be a musician, who's played jazz internationally, and was/is feeling stifled by the academic life at Oxy. I told him to do what he loves -- play jazz -- he'll figure the rest out as long as he's passionate (and talented!) at what he does. I will be a fan and a supporter and will always wish him well. The future of music is in guys like him.


Sunday at 12:30:
I meet Jean and hand everyone their newly cleaned-up parts (except for Michael's). They run through it once, with Jean sight-reading it perfectly and with the best of flair. I only give her one direction: that at the recap she embellish all she wants!

Throughout the rehearsal though there are people calling me because they're lost, and the singers are arriving and refreshments are being set up... and I can't hear the whole thing all the way through -- aargh! But my musicians are pros, and after I tell them where they should sit, stand, set up and exit, they take care of themselves. They rehearse it twice and it's beautiful. Jean is all and more she promised to be, and Max is a pro improviser. My only notes? I ask Max to make sure he's playing something on Beat 4 before the recap since everyone else has rests, and then for he and Jean to join in with their own improvised notes at the end so they're all quietly playing.

And they do. It's a tiny rough start at the beginning... but within seconds... again, I'm in heaven.

BRAVO to the players!

The feedback I got from this piece was amazing... and even now, a week or so later, I'm still surprised by it. And so pleased.

It's been the hardest piece for me, with no lyrics and just guts and emotion, romance and longing... and the shock to me: people liked it.

Again... I am so happy. I finally feel seen.