Fragile Beauty, a blog by Bill Stevens: Vol. 2, No. 8 - A Reflection - 2020 

What a year, right? Even in a pandemic, life goes on. I am hopeful that everyone is safe and well. Like many of you, this year actually started out with a lot of exciting news concerning my music, performing and lecturing. 

1. I was selected to participate in Cities and Memory: Future Cities (Oxford, UK), the largest ever survey of the sounds of urban spaces around the world examining how the soundscapes of our cities are changing and what that means for us all. Future Cities will examine sounds from cities all over the world, with artists recomposing and reimagining these recordings to reflect on the role sound has to play in our changing urban spaces. Please find the link here to the Cities and Memory: Future Cities site including links to the BandCamp page to hear my piece, Echoes and the other finalists.

2. I was invited to present and perform at the International Association for the Study of Popular Music International Conference RE-peat, please!, May 14 - 16, 2020 at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, the Netherlands. Topic of Presentation: an examination of popular cover songs as a concurrent musical transgression and transposition when taking a songs first recording, made popular by someone else and then re-interpreted allowing for the covers constant comparison to, transformation from what has preceded it, a renewal, looking forward and listening backward. Three of the compositions that I was to present with the lecture can be found here: A New Day Yesterday  

3. I was also invited to perform at the International Society of Improvised Music at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of Music in Melbourne, Australia from June 3 - 7, 2020. Planned performances were to include a series of solo improvised trumpet pieces with recorded spoken word and/or ambient electronic settings. 

4. I submitted a paper and PowerPoint to the Research Catalogue of the Nordic Journal for Artistic Research, Stockholm, Sweden - Theme: One More Time, Let's Do It Again ... What insights may emerge by doing something again and again, repeatedly, over a long period? We invite expositions of artistic research where “doing it again” is of importance, and we invite contributors to expose the artistic research questions, contexts, practices and outcomes in which repetition manifests itself, reflecting upon how “doing it again” may contribute to practice, to research, insights and to knowledge production. ...” 

Lecture Title: An Examination of the Music and Performance Practice of Miles Davis, 1960 - 1969 

5. I submitted a video as part of the Roger & Brian Eno Mixing Colors Project - "We want to ask you to submit a single shot film of a quiet scene; at home, or out the window, or in your garden. Clouds passing, rustling tree leaves, a bird nesting, people conducting activities in the house: quiet moments that we are all enjoying, together, in isolation." - Roger and Brian Eno 

Click here to view the Video using the music Far Away is Close at Hand in Images of Elsewhere from the suite Spirituality and Faith 

Throughout the year I released two video suites as part of my 2020 Event Series: 

Fragile Beauty and the four movement suite Spirituality & Faith which can be seen here

And then on March 20, 2020 the shelter in place order was given and New York City went to sleep, as did literally the entire world. Needless to say, any idea of a planned trip to Belgium, Australia or Sweden were called off as all of the conferences were now either postponed or cancelled. 

Laura and I had planned a trip to San Francisco in March to see Miles, but that was cancelled also. Thinking that this would be over by the summer we rebooked the flight for August, 18 weeks away, so I started an 18 week project of performing and recording a tune per week while sheltering in for solo trumpet that I call: We Are Apart, Our Song Together. It is dedicated to the musicians that I miss dearly and hope to play with once again.  

It became very clear early on that this was going to be with us for the foreseeable future, so I began using this time to tell my own stories through my music, spoken word and video productions. 

1. The first piece I assembled is a spoken word sound collage that speaks to New York in the first nine days of sheltering in called Never Without Music with a video showing the empty streets of New York City and can be viewed here on my YouTube channel. 

2. This was followed by a ten movement suite that I call Echoes that through the music and my own voice performing the spoken word interludes is like a personal journal speaking to my thoughts and feelings on New York City pre-COVID and what a post-COVID New York looks like, immigrants and migrant populations in New York who are truly our essential workers, income disparity and the racial tension that has made itself manifest by the death of George Floyd. The suite is based on the five types of minimalism: additive/subtractive repetition & phasing, silent music, music of minimal differences, music of limited means and drone.  For this suite I have added three very special guests who have recorded their parts remotely from Syracuse, NY and New Bern, North Carolina: Peter Allen, Bob Cesari and Phil Owens. Here is the SoundCloud link to hear this composition: Echoes Suite 

3. The epilogue of the Echoes Suite is called Mandatory Reality and is a concluding musical statement that speaks to the changes that the arts will need to take and what New York will need to do to remain the artistic capital of the world. This also features some friends who have recorded remotely from Syracuse, NY. It is return of sorts for the ensemble Bill & the Belltones (Syracuse, NY, 1982 - 1985) - Lee Tiffault, Peter Allen and Mark Tiffault. Mandatory Reality will be released at a later date as the piece is still under production. 

4. My plan for the lecture in Belgium was to record six interpretations of songs by Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Eric Clapton and Bjork to be used in my talk. I was looking to do the recordings in February and March, three with a group of friends dating back to our days at Fredonia State some 40+ years ago as a reunion and re-connection and three with a group of younger musicians that I have recently been performing with. We were unable to do the first set of recordings; however we are looking to finalize this project in 2021, but we did a trio of recordings remotely and you can hear the arrangements to Blackbird, Come Together and Tears in Heaven here: A New Day, Yesterday

5. As winter approaches and the hope for a vaccine, I have continued to use this time in isolation to compose. I have just concluded a set of solo trumpet improvisations, a sound collage on the theme of transformation and a remix of my 1986 Suite for Jazz Quintet. All of this music will be released on a future date most likely in 2021 even as I look to plan for additional projects through next year as we wait for the day when we can acclimate to our new normal, hopefully by a year from the time that I am writing this now. 

Along with all of this, in November of 2019, Miles moved to San Francisco to start a new job at a start up called Future Fitness, an online physical training and nutrition counseling site. For the first three months it was really great and then, like in New York, California imposed their shelter in place rules. Luckily he was sharing a house with a number of people so he was not alone, but as COVID fatigue set in and ultimately the fires, Miles made the decision to move back to New York City especially in light that the company was now allowing its employees to work from home anywhere of their choice, so in October of 2021, Miles traveled cross country and found an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

Miles other news is that he has recently become the owner of a beautiful shelter puppy that he has named Nola. We have all been bonding together and it is fantastic to have him back in New York City once again. 

I think we will all be very happy once the new year comes and we can put 2020 behind us. So what is on the horizon in 2021? The biggest news comes from Laura who will be presenting a solo show of her artwork with a tentative date for early June which is all contingent on the status of the effectiveness of the vaccines and the state of the pandemic at that time. We do have a tentative location, so watch our social media accounts, our blog posts and websites including our newsletters with further details. We hope that you will be able to join us in celebrating Laura’s art and the end of the pandemic. 

Finally, I would like to wish each of you and your families a wonderful holiday and a joyous and happy new year. Until we have the opportunity to meet up again, all the best and thanks for being the most important part of my music. 

Bill