BoulezPierre Boulez, (March 26, 1925–January 5, 2016), composer, conductor & author

Pierre Boulez was perhaps the most important and influential classical musician of the last 60 years. As a child, he showed a great talent and understanding of mathematics and music and began taking piano lessons. He then enrolled at the Paris Conservatory and studied with Olivier Messiaen, as well as private instruction in 12-tone method with René Leibowitz. During this early period, he became well-known as a brash, opinionated, yet articulate spokesman for modern music, particularly serial music. He was a great champion of Webern and took the next steps implied in Webern’s music to greatly systematize and serialize all aspects of a musical composition, such as rhythms, dynamics, instrumentation, and articulation. Some of his works from this period include the cantata “Le Visage Nuptial” and the highly-acclaimed Second Piano Sonata. He became associated with other composers of the Darmstadt school, such as fellow Messiaen student Karlheinz Stockhausen, as well as Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna, and John Cage, who introduced Boulez to elements of chance.

One of his most celebrated pieces is Le Marteau sans Maître, (“The Hammer Without a Master”), written during the 1950’s. It was an important serial composition, but it differed significantly from the music of the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg and his students, due to the inclusion of world music elements like the metallic sounds of Balinese Gamelan music, as well as African wood percussion instruments. Le Marteau seemed to combine the worlds of chance music, post-war Serialism, and earlier impressionistic sounds of Debussy and Ravel, along with the poetry of René Char. Other significant works include Pli Selon Pli (“Fold By Fold”), Éclat-Multiples, …Explosante-Fixe…, Repons, and Incises. He often regarded works as unfinished and frequently would revisit composition to either revise them or develop new pieces from older material.

In his role as conductor and recording artist, Boulez had a profound impact on music. He was a great champion for the works of the great 20th Century masters such as Stravinsky, Bartók, Debussy, Ravel, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Varèse, and Messiaen, as well as older composers such as Hector Berlioz and the post-romantic music of Wagner, Mahler, and Bruckner. Although he was demanding in his expectations, he was also considered to be quite kind and charming. Boulez was beloved by the members of the orchestras he worked with and had a longstanding relationship with several American orchestras, including the Cleveland Orchestra, (where he served as Principal Guest Conductor), New York Philharmonic, (music director from 1971-1977), and the Chicago Symphony (Principal Guest Conductor and Conductor Emeritus). He also served as conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and was the founding conductor of the Ensemble Intercontemporain. He was especially noted for a centennial performance of Wagner’s 4 opera Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 1976 which was later filmed and released on DVD. He also conducted the premiere performance of the completed version of Berg’s opera Lulu in 1979.

As an author, Boulez could be quite blunt in his assessment of music and musicians. He was outspoken in his criticism of what he considered to be a “museum culture” in classical music, which he considered to be detrimental to current musical innovation. His time as conductor in New York was controversial, in which some patrons expressed displeasure with his emphasis on modern repertoire. Many of his articles and liner notes were collected and publishing in the book Orientations.

Another  of Boulez’s great accomplishments was the founding of IRCAM (Institute for Research and Coordination Acoustic/Music) at the Pompidou Center in Paris. IRCAM continues to be an important place for the development of new techniques and ideas in electronic and acoustic music, with a modular concert hall and the latest in music technology.

During Boulez’s career as a conductor, he produced a large number of benchmark recordings of 20th Century music for Sony/Columbia. He later became an artist for Deutsche Grammophon and rerecorded much of the same repertoire for this label, as well as expanding to new pieces. The comparisons of the the recorded versions from different periods of his life can be quite interesting. He was noted for the clarity and transparency he brought to the most complex scores, as well as for a sensitive ear that could detect mistakes in the remotest places of the orchestra. He served as mentor to many younger conductors, including Daniel Barenboim and Simon Rattle.

Boulez was highly honored throughout his career, including 26 Grammy Awards, a lifetime achievement Grammy in 2015, named an honorary commander of the British Empire, and numerous other honors and awards throughout Europe, the United States, and Asia. No other figure so thoroughly dominated modern musical life during the last half of the 20th Century. The loss of Pierre Boulez will leave an enormous hole in the musical life of the modern symphony orchestra.

Visit the Pierre Boulez page at his publisher, Universal Editions Boulez, or his biography page at Deutsche Grammophon Bio.

“Creation exists only in the unforeseen made necessary…  For me, curiosity is life. If you are not curious, you are in your coffin.”

Clark TerryClark Terry, (December 14, 1920–February 21, 2015), jazz trumpet player, scat singer, composer, educator

Clark Terry was one of the major swing soloists on the trumpet and a godfather of jazz to thousands. He was born in St. Louis and took up trumpet and valve trombone. He started out playing in local jazz clubs before moving to New York.

Terry is one of a handful of musicians that played in the bands of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He was known for a smooth, warm sound and imaginative solo work, complemented by a joyous, outgoing personality and keen sense of humor. He pioneered the use of the flügelhorn in jazz and developed a legato approach to swing with the use of his “doodle” tonguing. He later became the first African-American staff musician at NBC when he joined the Tonight Show Band. During Johnny Carson’s tenure, the popular “Stump the Band” segment would often feature Terry’s conversational scat singing in a routine that later turned into his best-known song, Mumbles, which he first recorded with Oscar Peterson.

Besides recording with various groups with such as Peterson, Thelonious Monk, Bob Brookmeyer, Red Holloway, and Louie Bellson, he also fronted an orchestra known as the Big B-A-D Band, which featured performers such as Phil Woods, Jimmy Heath, and Duke Jordan, as well as the arrangements of Ernie Wilkins. He continued to perform in his later years and appears on almost 1,000 recordings as a leader or sideman. He also served as a jazz ambassador for the United Nations

In addition to his work as a performing artist, Terry was deeply interested in jazz education and helping out young musicians. This began early in life when he mentored fellow St. Louis trumpet player Miles Davis, as well as musician and producer Quincy Jones. Terry played an important role with Dr. Billy Taylor in the development of jazz education and later taught at William Paterson University. He later helped discover and promote a new generation of leading jazz stars, such as Dianne Reeves and Wynton Marsalis. This side of his professional life is featured in the critically acclaimed 2014 documentary Keep On Keepin’ On,” which showcases Terry helping and encouraging the young blind jazz pianist, Justin Kauflin. Diabetes may have slowed him down in his 90’s , but he continued to teach and inspire visiting musicians from around the world at his home in Arkansas. He also published his autobiography in 2011.

His numerous honors include a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an NEA Jazz Master, and over a dozen honorary doctorates. He also had the distinction of performing for eight U.S. Presidents. Clark Terry died from diabetes at the age of 94.

Visit the official Clark Terry website here.

On a personal note, one of the biggest highlights of my professional career was sharing the stage with CT during my college years at the University of Montana. Not only was he one of the most gifted musicians I’ve ever known, but he remains in my memory as one of the kindest and encouraging, as well. An amateur photographer friend took a couple of pictures of the two of us on stage. I had one blown up into a poster and years later, when our paths crossed again here in Wichita, I had him autograph it for me. It is one of my most prized possessions.

Playing "Take The 'A' Train"

Playing “Take The ‘A’ Train”

CT& Me (Feb. 2, 1985)

CT & Me (Feb. 2, 1985)

My sincere condolences to his dear wife, Gwen. I am looking forward to a great jam session with him again in the presence of God, who Clark affectionately referred to as “Big Prez.” His humility, graciousness, and generosity of spirit remain as an example of a life well lived. As CT himself said in a recent blog post:

“To all of you who are still on this side of the grass with me, I want you to know that I appreciate everything that you have done and are doing for me. I thank Big Prez for all of your kindness and encouragement every single day. I love you with all of my heart. Let’s keep praying for each other, and keep on keepin’ on!”

 

Miles Davis: Workin’ With The Miles Davis Quintet

WorkinThe Songs:

  1. It Never Entered My Mind
  2. Four
  3. In Your Own Sweet Way
  4. The Theme [Take 1]
  5. Trane’s Blues
  6. Ahmad’s Blues
  7. Half Nelson
  8. The Theme [Take 2]

Personnel:

  • Miles Davis – trumpet
  • John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
  • Red Garland – piano
  • Paul Chambers – bass
  • Philly Joe Jones – drums

Workin’ with the Miles Davis Quintet was recorded at the same two marathon sessions in May and October 1956 that also produced the albums Cookin’, Relaxin’, and Steamin’Since Miles had signed a long-term deal with Columbia Records in 1955, the 1956 sessions were done to fulfill his contract requirements for Prestige Records. Workin’ is a laid back collection of bluesy tunes and ballads. With the exception of “Half Nelson,” (which was recorded on the October date), the rest of the album was done at the May session.

Miles and the rhythm section were in excellent form throughout the session; however, John Coltrane seems to have struggled some on this date. At this point in Coltrane’s career, (before his apprenticeship with Thelonious Monk before returning to Miles), he was battling drug addiction and still searching for an adequate personal style of expression. His output on Prestige was inconsistent, and this particular material did not yet seem to suit him. (Coltrane’s enormous growth, particularly on slower songs, is in evidence on a pair of 1963 Impulse albums: Ballads and John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman.)

Nonetheless, this album and its three companions still showcase one of the most legendary groups in jazz covering some classic material. Miles revisits his own classic “Four,” trading licks with the powerhouse percussion of Philly Joe Jones, while offering a quicker take on Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way.”  In performance at clubs, Miles would frequently take a break and allow the rhythm section a featured number or two. Workin’ reflects that practice with the trio performance of “Ahmad’s Blues,” with Red Garland both imitating and later contrasting Ahmad Jamal’s own style which was such an influence on Miles. Each side of the original album ended with the quintet’s signature tune, “The Theme,” which remained Miles’ set closer clear up into his jazz-rock period in the early 1970’s. (Buy it here.)

Suggested Reading:

Frank Alkyer (ed.). The Miles Davis Reader (Downbeat Hall Of Fame).

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