For the 70th anniversary of the Body and Soul recording by Coleman Hawkins, I wrote a three movement suite with the intentions of having it performed by my jazz orchestra. I was asked to perform in the Northwinds Big band concert that happened to coincide with the day of the anniversary. I agreed to play with the understanding that my piece be performed on the concert. This saved me some time organizing a band as the director had musicians and a few rehearsals already scheduled. Unfortunately after three rehearsals in preparation for the concert, 43 degree weather shut down our outdoor concert.
My original intentions were for the suite to be much longer than three movements. I simply ran out of time to extend it several more movements in length. Once I was done, I went on to my next composition and did not look back to extend further. The future may hold a few more movements.
My goal was to pay tribute to the improvisational work of Hawk. The first challenge for me was to study the solo and determine what the building blocks, motives, for composing the suite would be. After this, my main concern was the first movement. Do I start constructing my own themes or do I somehow acknowledge the recording? Chances were quite good that a good portion of our audience would not have even heard the original recording. I decided to write a transcription of the original recording with just a few twists.
The orchestration was based on my tenet. The group consists of an alto, tenor, and Bari sax, two trumpets, two trombones and rhythm section. Both the alto and bari double as well on flute and bass clarinet for extended colors for the ensemble. With the tenor center stage, I was left with six horns and rhythm section for building the suite. My choice of a tenet is based on an early instrumentation of the band Either Orchestra.
In analysis of the recording I discovered what appeared to be multiple levels to Hawk’s lines as if to imply his own counter lines or playing a duet with himself. I decided to score horns coming in and out on the solo outlining the different levels. This means that the horns must move in and out of phrases along with the tenor soloist. Many players thinking as one with Hawk’s sense of phrasing. This would be a challenge for the band and hopefully at the same time open up an appreciation to his masterful solo. How do I write the parts? Do I simply put in rests between the phrases or do I write out the entire solo with cues? I chose the later and in addition to shrinking the note size for the cues, I enlarged the size of the main notes for each horn player. In addition to the shadowing of Hawk’s solo I included the original background accompanied horn figures and then altered them rhythmically to complement the rhythms of his improvisation.
Sometime in the early 90’s a Picaso exhibit was held at the Cleveland art Museum and featured a performance by jazz tenor saxophonist David Murray who was commissioned to write “The Picaso Suite” based on the first unaccompanied tenor saxophone solo which was also recorded by Coleman Hawkins. Since the event was sold out, I was able to listen to the concert broadcast live on WCPN Cleveland Public Radio. During intermission of the concert, but before the performance of the suite, the radio station played the original “Picasso” recording. This opened up the idea of allowing my soloist the opportunity to pay homage to Hawk’s “Picaso” in a similar manner. Between the movements the soloist sews the seams of my suite with their own take on Hawk’s improvisation.
The second movement entitled “Looking Forwards and Backwards” transfers the listener from the 1939 recording to something quite unexpected. The movement starts off with a straight eighth syncopated bass pedal point and leads into a modal composition with interpretation of motives extracted from Hawk’s solo.
The third movment, “Hawk’s Blues” continues to explore motives in a straight ahead swinging minor blues.
The transformative nature of the suites last two movements allow each to stand very much on their own. Often the third movement is performed by itself.
The world premier of this work took place on April 18th 2013 at the Liberty Performing Arts Theater in Liberty Missouri.