Piano Journal Book No. 1 is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here .
Program Notes with Score Video
Sometime during the last part of 1974, I first encountered the solo piano improvisations of Keith Jarrett.I was enthralled.I had never heard this sort of free improvisation before.The music was so inventive and fresh and yet easily comprehended and followed even without any of the predetermined structure so typical of jazz at that time.I was also free of the swing era rhythmic affectation which had become so tiresome.
I wanted my music to have that inventive spontaneity, but I had no confidence in my improvisational abilities at the time.I went about trying to devise a compositional means in which to bring this freshness to my music.I decided that one way would be to eliminate the structural constraints pre-imposed by the practical restrictions of time.I decided to write a piece as if it would go on forever!This is something you can only do when you are young!
So two days before my twenty-fifth birthday I started writing a “journal” for the piano, complete with dates.I had no idea how to go about it, so I decided to use a generalized “blues” formula to start with, A-A-B.Since continuity seemed as if it would be very important, I tried to derive new strains from the previous strains so that everything would flow along and be spontaneous.The first few minutes show this pattern quite clearly, but I moved on to a variety of small scale structures fairly soon.
Quickly, I found that some shortcomings would be contrast on one hand and momentum on the other.I explored different tempi, registers, and character in general, but also started to group the strains into larger sections.This made the piece sound less like a medley and more like a dramatic score such as a ballet.
After beginning the piece, I worked very hard on it for about three weeks and then stopped.I don’t know what happened, whether I was tired or had other projects and commitments, but I didn’t pick it up again until the end of May.I had the whole summer off in those days so it was clear sailing after that.I found the procedure very inspiring and plowed ahead with the Journal for nearly another year before the spring ran dry.
I would eventually group the Piano Journal in four volumes or Books.In 1976, I made a studio recording of the first two Books which I divided into two parts each to accommodate the A and B sides of a record album.These are the only divisions I have made in the music, and they were rather arbitrary.The practicality of live performance was not a consideration when I wrote the music, and it strikes me that excerpting them would be perfectly acceptable.They have no intended large scale structure so there are many possible places where a performer could start or stop.
The sheer volume of music has deterred me from engraving it. There is nearly three hours of continuous music, and with its impracticality limiting the likelihood of its performance, it has taken me until my retirement to make this music available.I think the music was actually quite successful in doing what I set out to do, which was to be inventive, fresh, and continually inspired.I have always considered it an important period of my compositional journey.