In 1977, I started an improvisatory ensemble. It was modeled after some of the then-current jazz ensembles, except it did not have a drummer. Our “solo” sections turned into group free improvisation segments, piquing my interest in free improvisation, a trait which has continued ever since. For the ensemble, I wrote several tunes. During the summer, I used these tunes to create several piano pieces.Each tunes uses a different approach, though I used the ABA structure we used in our ensemble as the starting point.
After writing the first two suites, I decided to orchestrate them. After hearing a couple movements of the first two sets performed, however, I decided I liked them much better as piano pieces. As piano pieces, they are not only enthusiastic and vivacious, they are also quite virtuosic. The music just sounded better on the piano.
Insomnia is a blues that grew out of the original bass line. The bass line and two chords were all we used in our ensemble. The middle section is a complete change of mood. The opening material is transformed into a hell-bent-for-leather, panic stricken, syncopated moto perpetuo. This slickly retransforms back into the blues bass line, without the tune this time. African Dance dates from a class I took in African Music at the University of Washington. The class final was mostly aural and I ended up having to cram through a dozen or so listening assignments in about four hours. Afterward, I went to a practice room and wrote the tune for this piece. African Music is unbelievably infectious! The last movement, I’ve Made Up My Mind, is a tribute to my grandmother Mattie May Stallcop who passed away about this time. She was vivacious and high spirited, tending a huge garden and canning fruit and vegetables for a large extended family well into her nineties. However, in her mid-nineties, she grew despondent when she found she was outliving some of her children. She decided she did not wish to outlive any more children, so she stopped eating. They found her passed out, weak and dehydrated, and rushed her to the hospital. There, they gave her fV fluids which revived her. When she woke and saw the IV tubes she said, “It won’t do no good, Doc. I’ve made up my mind.” She died that evening.