Monday, May 3, 2010

Art of Listening Series: Marcell Bellinger at Klein Recital Hall


This series of entries will come from the many concert reviews I wrote this semester for my Art of Listening class.

The concert I attended was the Marcell A. Bellinger's senior recital.

The concert I heard was Jazz music.

This concert took place on Wednesday, April 21st at 7:30 pm.

The concert was held in the Klein Recital Hall.

A Listing of the Selections Heard:

Trumpet Sonata- Paul Hindemith (1895–1963)

Groovin' High- John Birks Gillespie (1917-1993)

Koko- Charlie Parker Jr. (1920–1955)

Polkadots and Moonbeams- Jimmy Van Heusen (1913-1990)/Johnny Burke (1851 – 1930)

A Day in the Life of a Fool- Luiz Bonfa (1922-2001)/Antonio Maria (1921-1964)

Beyond the Call of Duty- Marcell A. Bellinger

In Da' Groove- Marcell A. Bellinger

Marcel Bellinger's senior recital began with Paul Hindemith's Trumpet Sonata with Abigail LaVecchia's accompaniment on piano. Hindemith composed the piece in 1939 before leaving Germany to emigrate to the United States. The piece was part of a series of duo sonatas composed for a variety of wind instruments with piano accompaniment (Grimshaw). Hindemith had been living in exile in Switzerland as the Holocaust proceeded in Germany. Richard Freed writes that “the Trumpet Sonata, perhaps to Hindemith's own surprise, became a protest and a profound lamentation” of the events of the Holocaust (Freed). Knowing the chaotic events that surrounded Hindemith's life while composing this piece, one can hear the rising tension between the piano and trumpet. The work is in three movements. Freed describes the first movement, Mit Kraft (with strength), as “brooding and restless, punctuated with dramatic outbursts from the piano.” The piano part pushes the action maintaining a motor rhythm to fill the space between the trumpet's detached melodies. While the majority of the piece is homophonic, I really enjoyed the polyphonic sections of the piece when the piano and trumpet would sync together with their rhythms. The second movement, Mässig bewegt (at a moderate tempo), shows “the character of a march.” The final movement, Trauermusik—Choral(music for mourning), is an “out-and-out funeral piece, eventually leading to a certain level of grieving resignation expressed in the form of a chorale on a theme” (Freed). The added dissonances of the Trauermusik conveyed the heavy emotions Hindemith may have been releasing. The theme that the piece ends is borrowed from a chorale called "All Menschen müssen sterben" (All men must die) (Grimshaw).

While the Hindemith piece was a direct transcription, there was a lot of improvising Bellinger and his band of peers. Though the band plays the “head” of the song together, the rhythm section consisting of Jon Coyle, Chris Coyle, and Andy Martinek quickly shifted to accompany the horn soloists. Alto saxophonist Danny Janklow and Marcel Bellinger trade solos. Donald L. Maggin says, “Dizzy created a complex arrangement for ‘Groovin’ High,’ which became one of his most enduring hits; it encompasses a six-bar introduction, three key changes, transition passages between solos, and a half-speed coda as it demonstrates his skill in fashioning interesting textures using only six instruments.” The piece is based on the chord changes of “Whispering”(Burlingame). Gary Giddins claims in Visions of Jazz: The First Century that Gillespie once had been inspired by a film serial he saw at a matinee when he was a child that used the song "Whispering" as its theme (Giddins 285). The 1945 recording is considered one of the “first famous bebop recordings” (Owens 14).

The next song in the set, “Koko,” was also originally recorded in 1945 for an album by Gillespie's saxophone player, Charlie Parker. I enjoyed the harmonies between the saxophone and trumpet during the head of this piece. I later read that this piece was based off of the chord progression of “Cherokee,” which I had to play in high school band (“Parker, Charlie 'Bird'”). The piece provided room again for improvisation. The drummer and bassist had a chance to solo after the saxophone and trumpet. I wish I was more familiar with the playing of the individual musicians who took these solos understanding how their studying of the different musicians that play these original tunes has influenced their improvised performances. These musicians have transposed songs by countless musicians that have influenced their playing style to create something that is uniquely their own. Did Janklow use a higher range of notes like Charlie Parker would during his solo? Was Bellinger attempting to play with a tone that sounded as hot as Gillepsie?

After the fast tempo of “Koko,” Bellinger gave his band and his trumpet chops a rest, accompanying vocalist Samantha Rise Roberson on a ballad called “Polkadots and Moonbeams.” The song was written by the songwriting team of Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen, who used to write for Bing Crosby's films. This piece was written during that time period but was never used in a film although it did become an early hit for Frank Sinatra (Wilson). Though the ballad may be tonally simpler, I feel like the sense of space within this song shows how dependent jazz musicians are upon understanding the function of their particular instrument or voice in relation to others. While the bigger band pieces are loud and energetic, the duo of piano and voice is soft, calm and almost intimate feeling. Even though Roberson's singing did not demand dramatic changes in pitch, dynamics, or rhythm, she managed to use the length and spacing of her notes to build suspense as her voice resolved with Bellinger's chords.

Bellinger's band returned to the stage as Bellinger took his own shot at singing a standard, choosing “Manha de Carnaval” from the film, Black Orpheus. Bellinger mistakenly announced the piece as being written by Antonio Carlos Jobim who wrote the majority of the music for the piece. However, the Bossa Nova piece was actually written by Luiz Bonfá, the son of an Italian immigrant who picked up classical guitar at the age of 11. Bonfá worked as a singer touring the US and composed for Brazilian films until director Marcel Camus asked him to write for Black Orpheus in 1959. He worked with Antônio Maria, a Brazilian sports commentator who wrote advertising jingles, to compose the lyrics in Portuguese. The English version was titled “A Day In The Life of a Fool”(Ginell). I thought Marcell's ability to perform so many different duties within his band gave his audience a feel for the different elements of his personality during such a short show.

One thing that made Marcell Bellinger's recital unique compared to all the other concerts I attended through the semester for Art of Listening was his original music. His first piece, “Beyond the Call of Duty,” was an assignment for Ben Schacter's theory class challenging him to use an odd meter. He introduced Jeff Reid as an additional alto saxophone player while Danny Janklow played tenor saxophone. Bellinger played a flugelhorn, providing a deeper and warmer tone for the head. Bellinger said the piece followed a jazz standard although he left it up to the audience to guess.

Bellinger thanked many members of the audience including friends, family, and teachers, noting that the next song he would be performing would the end of a long journey through school. He quoted James Brown to introduce his final piece saying “Whatever you're going to play, it's got to be funky. It's got to be funky!” He announced his newly formed funk project consisting of tenor saxophonist Danny Janklow, trumpet player Amanda Fisher, trombonist Kevin Grant, electric bassist Ben Rivello, and Kevin Daly on drums. Bellinger played piano with the group, giving room for the other soloists on his final number.

I think the variety of tones made possible by the variety of instruments made the show have a more lively sound. Given the fact that so much of a jazz performance relies upon improvisation on the part of soloists, I feel like if the entire show relied on even the most interesting group of soloists it would be difficult to maintain the attention of an audience. Instead, jazz uses the individuality of its performers to add to the variety of the music. I think the necessity for variety of timbres in modern music was reflected in the variety of genres which the show's set drew from. Though standards make chord changes strict and rely upon the music of others, each version of the song can become a unique version because of the possibilities enabled by the performers.

The quality of individual performances is important to the type of audience that Bellinger's band was performing for: a critical one. The audience consisted of mostly music students and music professors as well as friends and family to Bellinger. I think this made for a much more different dynamic between the audience and the band. The audience understood a lot more of the technicalities of the musicians' virtuosity than an average concert goer. Many of the audience members could guess the standards within seconds of Bellinger's playing. The performance was clearly more personal, being an important moment in Bellinger's life. While the audience was quiet during most of the performances, some of the more lively songs had the audience reacting back at the musicians, especially for a particular solo they liked.

I think the personal and communal elements of this performance represent what I thought was lacking from the Orchestra, Chamber, and Stage productions for me. While I appreciate the other concert experiences for the organizational skills, the difficulty of conducting, and the dedicated musicianship required to make those kinds of complex performances work, I felt like the unique nature of a jazz concert provides something that larger performances lack. Perhaps some of this stems from the relationship between the audience and performers being so close but I also think it has something to do with the way the music is performed. Instead of having the leader of the band dictate notes to performers, everyone is allowed to do their own thing from time to time while respecting the musical space of others. I feel as though jazz performances also enable musicians to interact in a way which makes the music more interesting. Jazz musicians seem to be expressing ideas to each other through their music rather than dogmatically following a sheet of music. At the same time, this makes the music much more sensitive to the failings of an individual performer. I think this is part of why standards became so important to jazz musicians because in order to perform adequately together, musicians need to find some sort of common language to speak with each other. Ultimately, playing music in such an ensemble requires a responsibility to work towards bettering one's individual abilities while also learning how to listen to the contributions of other musicians in order to fill the space and time in a collaboratively expressive way.