Bill Stevens

2017 Reflection

Since my retirement from the NYC Department of Education in August 2015, I put together an ambitious plan to each year present a series of performances. In looking back over 2017, I am proud that I was able to present the Harmonic Explorations Series. These three performances were dedicated to my composition teacher while at the University of Miami, Ron Miller and each focused on an advanced area of Jazz Modal Harmony as presented both in Ron's classes and in his two books (Jazz Modal Harmony, vol. I & II).

The first performance in May 2017 focused on compositions using the modes of the unaltered diatonic scales of harmonic minor, harmonic major, melodic minor and melodic minor #5. In wanting to expand my study further, at this time I began to also look at the concepts of writing and improvising in a chromatic style as taught by saxophonist, David Liebman which resulted in our second performance in September. I composed four compositions, one in each of the chromatic styles identified by Mr. Liebman: triadic, clusters, wide intervals and Perfect 4th's & 5th's. Finally, in December this study converged as both Ron Miller and David Liebman conclude their studies with similar content by examining re-imagined/re-harmonized standards.

First, none of this would have ever been possible without the amazing musicians who agreed to challenge themselves and to bring this music to life in much more than as an academic study. Their musicianship brought out my music in a beautiful, introspective way that I am in awe of. I would like to thank the saxophonists Braden Smith (HE I) and Richard Philbin (HE II & III), pianists Hyuna Park (HE I) and Harry Miller (HE II & III), on upright bass, Luca Rosenfeld and on drums, Gary Fogel.

Another aspect of this series was that I made the attempt to perform each concert in an alternative performance site as opposed to a club setting. Our first event took place at the Treehouse which is a performance space with curated series by Luca Rosenfeld in the home of Richard Shaoul. The music of Harmonic Explorations I was introspective, on the quieter side of the dynamic range and was a perfect fit in the intimate space that is the Treehouse. The second concert featured compositions that were more structured in 20th century avant-garde classical music utilizing concepts from such composers as Schoenberg, Cage and Arvo Part with collective improvisational elements from the New Thing and Loft Jazz scenes. The space I chose for this performance was the industrial open warehouse venue Spectrum in Brooklyn.  The owner, Glenn Cornette, is incredibly supportive of new music both composed and improvised and this location proved to be the right site for their audience and the musical presentation.  Finally, wanting to move the final performance back to Manhattan, I was fortunate to re-connect with Trudi and Bruce Silver of the 5C Cafe & Cultural Center. This historic site, thanks in large part to both Trudi and Bruce, has for decades supported the arts and community of their east Village location. With the more straight ahead nature of the music presented in the third concert, this location proved to be the right choice at the right time.

Additionally, I would like to thank the artists Mayo Bucher and Laura Salzberg for the use of their art in my posters and programs, the Luca Rosenfeld Trio with Elias Stemeseder on piano and the great Billy Mintz on drums who formed a double bill for both the Spectrum and 5C performances. Laurence Donohue-Greene and Andrey Henkin of the New York City Jazz Record and all of the audience members who came to hear this series, I am very appreciative for your support.

Also this past year, I was honored to be asked to speak at a conference on the "Protean Musician: the musician in the 21st century" at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo, Norway. After the conference we spent the next two weeks touring Oslo and visiting Copenhagen, Denmark before returning to New York City. This along with a year full of gigs with both my Songbook Trio featuring Corey Larson on guitar and Paul Pricer on the upright bass and the Bill Stevens, Rich Russo, Gary Fogel Trio. I also performed throughout the year with the New York Symphonic Arts Ensemble and the New York Jazz Workshop Big Band. All in all, it was a musically productive year.

So what's ahead in 2018? There are already a number of projects on tap. I wrote and/or arranged five big band charts in 2017 and next year I will be finalizing my two sets of big band music for a possible performance in 2019. I have also written new pieces for the Bill Stevens Group to record in the spring. One is a suite of three compositions based on artwork by the Norwegian artist AK Dolven and the other is a five movement spoken word suite based on the book "The Flock and the Shadow" by the Norwegian poet Eldrid Lunden. This along with some new compositions that I will begin writing next year for performance in 2019-2020 and the hope of continued playing with my trios and other ensembles throughout 2018 and beyond.

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