Looking back on 2019, I attempted to present two diverse settings, one was a four movement electro/ambient suite for solo trumpet while the second was a series of compositions and arrangements for a 17 piece acoustic big band.
The solo trumpet suite was called The Seasons based on the series of paintings, The Four Seasons by Cy Twombly. I looked at this work as an examination on the cycle of life and the passage of time. It was dedicated to my parents, Laura and our son Miles. I released each movement at the change of the season at sunrise beginning with Winter followed by Spring, Summer and concluding with Autumn. Additionally, the compositions are not based on meter, but on time. The process I used comes from the late period Number Pieces by John Cage. These pieces employed time brackets to indicate where the performer was to begin playing and when to cease playing. What was played was up to the discretion of the performer as they followed a stopwatch. Using an iPad I used time markings to mark my entrances and exits from the music. Within those areas I used a number of notational devices. Sometimes actual notes and rhythms, other times just notes that can be played in any sequence or duration, at other times directional drawings that suggested movement of a line and sections of improvisation. I also used my horn in the purest organic sense without any electronic manipulation.
As for the second presentation, I touched the past by reaching out to James Rasmussen who for the last 30+ years has been the driving force behind the Jazz Police Big Band in Seattle, WA. I am proud to have been a member of the first iteration of this ensemble from 1987 - 1990. During those first years, the Jazz Police recorded three of my pieces - an arrangement of Chick's Tune, Jim Hall's Walk Soft and an original Latin song called Sweet Tender Peas. In 2017 I reviewed these three charts and set out to write six more to create two sets worth of music. I asked James if he and the band might be interested in rehearsing and recording five of these new charts and thankfully he agreed to do it.
I sent him music to arrangements of two Ron Miller pieces - American Hope and Kid Stuff, an arrangement of Chelsea Bridge and two originals of mine - Alone and Whose Blues and in September of 2018 I received live recordings of the Jazz Police Big Band performing my music at Tula's Jazz Club in Seattle. I had one more original that I needed to record and for this one, I put together a big band of some of the best players in New York for a one time gathering of the Bill Stevens Standard Time Big Band performing my original, That's All You Need to Know.
Like much of the event series productions since 2016, these pieces were dedicated to a group of people who were influential to me and included Burt Dunlap, Elliot Topalian, Herbert Winters Harp, Laurie Frink, Gary Lindsay and to the students of the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble which I was proud to direct from 2005 - 2015.
In 2020, I will be in the fifth year of my first five year plan since my retirement in 2015. For this year I chose two themes that are very personal ones to me. The first is a five movement suite for solo trumpet, percussion and one ambient setting called Fragile Beauty. It is based on the comprehensive aesthetic system of Wabi Sabi - an integrated approach to the ultimate nature of existence, sacred knowledge, emotional well being, behavior and the look, sound and feel of things.
I came across Wabi Sabi completely by accident one day in 2017 while looking at art books at the Union Square Barnes and Noble where I found the book Wabi Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren. I transferred many, if not all, of the concepts to the production of music as follows…
Metaphysical, the Nature of Existence - developing toward or evolving from silence
Spiritual, Sacred Knowledge - the observation of nature, beauty exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details, beauty out of ugliness
State of Mind, Emotional Well Being - acceptance and appreciation
Moral Precepts, Behavior - focus in the moment, without expectation
Material Qualities - the look and feel, the sound or non-sound of things present
These qualities helped me to be more accepting of my playing, to be in the present moment, right here, right now in complete acceptance, not looking for internal or external expectations. This is my daily mantra, whenever I play.
The second series I will be presenting is based on my journey to understand the concepts of Spirituality and Faith. This four movement work is prepared as an electro/ambient setting for solo electric trumpet. Since 2012 with the release of my album lea sabachthani, I have found myself to be on a path to understand my place, my existence and then it all seemed to come together in 2017 when I attended the Lincoln Center White Light Festival whose focus that year was on faith - faith of artists through the ages and faith in humanity to inspire a better future.
I used the central themes as presented by the White Light Festival for each composition as follows (movement titles are mine and not those of the White Light Festival):
Faith - state of being grasped by an ultimate concern.
Drifting to (a)void
Faith through - a variety of beliefs moving toward sophistication.
The Already and the Not Yet
Faith - Coexistence of sameness and other. Recognizing and accepting the other. Other is self. Other and self are identical.
Instead of Eloquent Words
State of Faith is inherently uncomfortable.
Far Away is Close at Hand in Images of Elsewhere
I look forward to releasing this material once again through my social media platforms throughout 2020. I hope that you will take a moment as they are presented to read further into my inspiration and conceptual ideas in putting these pieces together and to listen to the audio and video recordings. I would be interested in any comments you might be willing to share on the music or on the meaning of Spirituality and Faith from your perspective.