Monday, November 14, 2005

Dr. James Dorsey

I had an interesting opportunity – last Saturday I performed in a trio with James Dorsey (piano) and Ben Tokarz (percussion) at the Eubie Blake Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore.

James wrote a large-scale work that was a very cool (and very well written) blend of jazz and classical styles. The piece was about 60 minutes long, with a very clear structure, very clear themes, and lots of room for improvising. There is a “piano interlude” based on a theme from Chopin that returns several times during the piece, and in between these interludes, there are three different “themes” in different styles. There are a few places with space indicated for “solos” by different performers, and a few instances where the ensemble plays more freely. During this performance, there was one section (marked in the score as “spacey”) where we really took things out into left field – much more so than we did during rehearsal. In fact, Ben and I weren’t exactly sure where we were in the score, but things were going off in a different direction so we just went with it (with interesting results) and then found our place again when James brought the interlude back… Towards the end, James takes the interlude into a blues section, which was also elaborated much more in performance than rehearsal – and I even found myself accompanying his solo with some fragmented blues licks. Very surprising since I don’t really know any blues licks!

I was quite unsure of myself when we started working on the piece – I had to read notes on paper, which isn’t a skill I’ve really cultivated as a guitarist, but I think I did ok. James is a very talented composer and pianist, and I think I’ve learned quite a bit from him just in the short time we’ve been working on this piece. Seeing as my own compositions depend on combining notated / composed materials with improvisation in different ways, it was quite interesting to become familiar with his approach as a performer. This is also great timing, since I’m just starting work on a project with John Kamman and Carl Banner (director of Washington Musica Viva) that will likely explore similar terrain.

Ben Tokarz is an excellent musician as well. It was a treat to perform with him. He laid down some monster grooves with a pair of congas, bass drum, and high-hat. He made some really interesting choices playing with different groupings and subdivisions during a section of the piece that can be counted in four with a triplet feel, or in six. Unfortunately, he’s moving to Norfolk soon, but I hope we’ll have a chance to perform together again soon.

James will also be performing a solo piano piece in a “New Music Salon” event this coming Friday, presented by the American Composers Forum. I hope we’ll be able to find a DC area venue with a nice piano, so we might have a chance to do this piece again.

Photos by Jen. You can see all the pictures she took at the show by clicking here.

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