When my band Chaise Lounge played a concert with the Pan American Symphony Orchestra this spring, I knew it was being recorded, but didn’t think much about it. Then the recording engineer, Jeff Gruber of Blue House Productions, invited me over to have a listen. I was amazed at the clarity and sonic presence of the recording. But what most impressed me was simply the energy Jeff captured. It has been quite a while since the band has released a live album, so I picked 12 songs from the concert to release on CD. Some are old Chaise Lounge favorites, with a lush orchestral backing. Others are songs chosen just for this occasion, like Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion.” This has become the Chaise Lounge CD that I am most likely to put in my car’s CD player. Yes…I do that.
My orchestral music has been featured in seven children’s concerts over the past six months. In years past, this might have bothered me: I always like to imagine my listeners as sophisticates, grown-ups who during intermission sip martinis and maybe even (dare I say it) smoke cigarettes. But I’m beginning to come around. Recently, I went to hear the Capital City Symphony play my jaunty and nostalgic 12-minute piece My Own Personal Rocketship for an audience full of Washington, DC public elementary school students. It was an attentive if boisterous crew, and the piece got as great a reaction as I could have hoped for. Afterwards, the kids stuck around to learn more about the instruments from the players. At right, concert-master Robert Spates explains the intricacies of violin playing to a few interested third-graders…or should I say “future sophisticates.”
Sometimes a gig comes along that seems like it’s just about the money, but it rarely turns out to be in the end. This one was a vanity album project that came my way via master rock producer Jim Ebert. The client, Dave, was a man on a mission: to record an album of emotionally meaningful songs as a peace offering to a beloved family member. Dave would sing on the project, but he had zero thought of releasing the album commercially. It was simply a plea for connection through music. I got to arrange the pieces and then play piano in the studio with a bunch of top-flight rock session guys, including the remarkable guitarist Buddy Spier, drummer-to-the-stars Andy Hamburger, bassist Greg Watkins and a superstar horn section consisting of Al Williams on sax, Joe Jackson on trombone, and Kevin Burns on trumpet. With Dave’s emotions flowing through all the sessions, it turned out to be a very good rock recording and an unforgettable musical experience for me.
I live in a county (Montgomery County, Maryland) with a very large and diverse immigrant population. There are streets in Silver Spring where you can hear 20 languages spoken during a one-block sidewalk stroll. So when I was awarded a grant to compose a piece for spoken word on the subject of the immigrant experience here, I thought it would be easy to find personal stories. And it might have been, a couple of years ago. But the level of fear I encountered while interviewing people who had immigrated to this country was striking. Even among people with legal residency or citizenship, many told me they worried that bringing attention to their experiences might endanger them. I can’t say I blame them: We’ve seen plenty of headlines lately about federal authorities imprisoning and even deporting legal residents and naturalized citizens. In the end, I decided to focus my piece on the story of one man who made the terrifying journey from Guatemala and through the Sonoran desert as a child. The “score” for this piece is written for piano, guitar and cajón (rhumba box) along with various other hand percussion. I hope I can musically do justice to his story, and his courage.