Jazz Professional               



A Third Stream Triumph

A Third Sream Triumph
Each Film has its own sound
My approaches to the film score
A musical alchemist
A new direction
Talking in 1967

Photo: Howard Lucraft

An important event for me last year was when I gave a concert at the Los Angeles Chamber Music Society. Igor Stravinsky is one of the heads of this, and they have what they call the Monday Evening Concert. They called me to do a concert, in which I combined the modern contemporary classical techniques with jazz. This was the first time this Society had introduced jazz into their presentations.

I wrote four pieces—which was also very unusual, because most of the young composers are allowed to do only one when they are called to do something. But I did four, which made up the second half of the concert. It was tremendously well received, and according to all the critics, including Leonard Feather, it was the only completely successful attempt to blend both idioms.

I suppose I shouldn’t say this, because it’s lack of modesty,. but at the same time I have to be objective about it. I didn’t do it in the Gunther Schuller or John Lewis way. I went a little further, trying to integrate both idioms, not just by making a physical mixture, but by bringing about a chemical combination.

The first piece was called “The Living Cell”. It was the idea of a living cell which is jazz—being born and starting to grow in a mineral universe. You know, absolutely cold, dead, eternal. And this cell starts to grow in it with the vitality of jazz. It develops, arrives at its climax, and then deteriorates into decay and death. The mineral universe of death takes over again, and stays for ever.

In order to do it, I had to divide the orchestra in two. I had Don Ellis (he’s one of the avant garde trumpet players) and he was actually leading the totality of the orchestra, in the sense that he was taking care of the universe of death. Jack Sheldon (trumpet), Lennie Niehaus (alto), Red Mitchell (bass) and Shelly Manne (drums)—were the living cell. And they were trying to fight against Frank Rosolino (trombone), Red Callender (tuba), Buddy Collette (flute) and Jack Nimitz (bass clarinet). It was very interesting.

Then the second piece was called “Study On Rhythm, in which I developed the idea of using counterpoint. It was a little bit complex, in that rhythms were going one against each other. It was not only polyrhythmic in the normal sense of the word. I was using devices of counterpoint applied to rhythms—like, a rhythm against its own retro gradation, against its own inversion of values, also against its own augmentation and diminution of values.

And the augmentation or diminution was not simple—not by halves or by doubles. You know, in 18th Century music, the quarter note became a half note and the half note became a whole note, and vice versa. I was doing something a little more complex, and adding the fifth of the value to each note of the rhythm, or the seventh, or sometimes adding a dot. So it becomes quite complicated, but doesn’t lose swing—or the perspective of pulsation, at least.

It’s a different approach to just working with metres. You see, this is what Dave Brubeck has been doing mostly—working with 5/4 and 10/8 and 9/8. Which, after you get used to it, becomes static. You’re repeating the same thing for one bar after another. What I was doing was going inside the rhythm. I was not too much concerned with the metre. Actually, what I conceived could have been written with no bar lines. I used bar lines because it was easier for practical rehearsal purposes.

The third piece was strictly jazz, called “Lalo’s Meditation”. I wanted to show what jazz improvisation is, so it was a sort of a minor blues. Mostly improvised, with some riffs I had for different soloists, and at the end tutti.

The last piece was one that I wrote originally for Gunther Schuller, that he conducted at the Carnegie Hall! called “The Ritual Of Sound”. In this I integrated the sounds of jazz with the contemporary techniques of composing, especially the serial technique. It was based on the principle of ‘the total organisation of sound’.

Arnold Schoenberg’s contribution to Western music was the organisation of the twelve notes in different rows—the twelve–tone technique, in other words. Now, what I did was to go further than that, not using only the sounds, or pitch, organised serially. My rows, in fact, were not only rows of notes, but rows of length of sound, rows of density—how thick is a chord, for instance. Rows of metre, rows of attack, like marcato or legato accent, rows of nuances, dynamics, from pianisszmo to fortissimo. Rows of pitch in the sense not only of what note it is, but in what octave it is located—it could be very high, or in the middle register, or in the low register.

So all these were organised. But, at the same time, I was using some of the elements of jazz. I was organising, in rows of jazz phrasing, particular jazz attacks, articulations and syncopations. So the whole thing was integrated. And, as I say, it came out as a very successful effort. I can say that I’m very proud of it. I want to stress that this was not experimental music. I don’t experiment.

I think experiments are for chemists in laboratories. The one who experiments is trying to look for something. I don’t look for anything—I have found things. I cannot answer for the future of jazz, for the same reason. I have my own problems and I try to solve them my way. I’m not a prophet or historian or even a music critic to say what the direction of jazz is going to be. I couldn’t even predict what is going to be the direction of music, period.

I could say that in the near future there will be the use of more and more electronic instruments. I’m talking about the kind of electronic instruments they’re using now in Germany and at Columbia University, in which you can create your own timbre. You don’t have to use the given sounds of instruments, you know. But this is all a bit vague yet, and doesn’t convince me, particularly.

In my film writing, I have used some of those instruments, but always integrating them into the orchestra somewhere —never by themselves. For what I want to say, I feel there are still many possibilities with the standard instruments—many things that can be done yet.

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