I'm nearly fifty - just past fifty counts as near to fifty, right? These pieces had been on my desk for years. Picking at them, avoiding the hard decisions required to finish. making the commitment to finish writing, practice sufficiently and extend to everyone I wanted to hear has been an effort for most of 2018.
I've had the title for a long time, and I tell this following story often. One winter morning I was walking across the plaza at the PPG building in Pittsburgh. PPG stands for Pittsburgh Plate and Glass. The headquarter building is a glass plated castle with four pinnacled towers reflecting the light from off the surrounding rivers. I was walking across the plaza for a cup of coffee with a work colleague. Someone I didn't know called out "Hey!". I suppose there are different people in the world and one difference is how you respond to a "hey!". I peer around, wondering what is happening. Not so much do I think it is directed to me, but maybe something observable and interesting is happening. "Hey!" More emphatic now. "Hey you!" "Hey!! Red Hat Stick Man!"
I was as I often am wearing a red hat and I was as I always am walking with a stick. So I stopped, turned and looked. "I know you" he said. He didn't ( know me). " I saw you play at Hard Rock cafe last week". No. No he didn't. "Yeah man you played bass". Sorry, I said, but you don't know me. Three times denied, right?
So maybe he did know me, better than I know myself. Red Hat Stick Man is about as good a description of me as I ever did hear. I've adopted Red Hat Stick Man as an avatar, a moniker, a general emblem and distillation, a brand for my music. Navigational beacon: What Would Red Hat Stick Man Do.
During the concert, I spoke before each piece for a bit mostly to let off my nerves but also because I want people to feel about the music the way I do.
Poulenc The most extraordinary composer. He is like a beauty-producing machine. Stop at any randomly defined point in any of his pieces...anywhere, it doesn't matter what....and let that sound reverberate. it will be the most beautiful sound you ever heard. Ravel, you expect it. But really it is Poulenc who moves throw this flow of elegance.
Duckworth. I first heard these pieces on an album that had Philip Glass etudes on Side A, and a selection of the Time Curve Preludeson Side B. I picked the three I played quickly one day, knowing I wanted to play three and not having a thought which three to play. Each piece is an intricate pattern that is both immediately apparent on the surface, but at the same time distant and ethereal. A single slip and that dynamic is broken. While I was learning the pieces, I saw a video of the magicians Penn and Teller working with a nail gun. The gun was randomly loaded with nails. The trick was to have 'memorized' the sequence of nails and then slam it into either wood or your hand depending. Each of the Duckworth pieces have that life and death balance.
This Troublesome Bard I wrote these three pieces at first thinking it would be a longer rhapsodic single movement but decided eventually that it was better to keep each sketch separate. Maybe some day I will return and build up that larger piece but for now, each of the three sketches has a separate 'mode' of interaction with the electronic components. It is really important to me that electronic sounds with acoustic instruments are organic. So to start with, all the sounds generated in these pieces begin directly with a live feed from a contact mic on the piano soundboard. There's no sound that isn't controlled somehow by how I play the piano.
Red Hat Stick Man I feel like these pieces represent a stability in my musical language. From here on, those larger pieces that I've had in mind since I was 20? I feel like I have the capacity to run through my writing and be coherent. Does that make these my 'Journeyman' portfolio?
Writing is very different from playing . There's a gymnastic quality that felt wonderful to get under my fingers. y friend Lowry - he lives in Flordia now and saw the video, commenting on how good it was to see me exercise at the keyboard. When it comes down to it, I think every piece I ever want to write is based on this same kinesthetic kernel. The measure of my craft is how close the piece actually ends up that way (rarely).