Yet another important post by Ethan Iverson at Do the Math, this time on Hall Overton, the fellow I mentioned below in connection with Robin D. G. Kelley’s book on Monk. Let me add a couple of points around the margins of the post:
-A good survey of the music of Miriam Gideon – perhaps my favorite of the “mid-century classical music women geniuses” mentioned by Iverson – can be found on New World Records. I believe Gideon is best known for her vocal music, but this retrospective disc includes both vocal and instrumental pieces, including a very fine piano sonata. (Correction: The New World album has many fine pieces, but Gideon’s piano sonata is actually on a different disc, an older CRI recording, with Robert Black playing. Should not have relied on my memory of the contents of that disc! New World Records is handling the tremendous catalog of the late lamented Composers Recordings Inc., and has re-issued the more recent albums on CD. Their site seems to say that while earlier CRI recordings will eventually be put on CD, the old LPs are still available – though I would have to say I haven’t tried to order one. Ethan Iverson, who has been trying to track down the Gideon sonata score and recording, has written to New World about this. The score, by the way, is available through American Composers Alliance.)
-Iverson mentions attending a concert by Robert Helps playing Roger Sessions, a program also attended by, among others, Garrick Ohlsson and Alfred Brendel. Ohlsson, who is a wonderful advocate for Wuorinen, would be fantastic in Sessions, the Second or Third Sonatas in particular, rather than the more introverted First. But try to imagine Brendel playing Sessions; it’s hard to know what to think. The Schoenbergian side of the music would come to the fore?
– Myriad classical composers have worked as jazz pianists (as an example, find out about John Harbison’s recordings from the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival here), but I agree with Iverson that it is tough to come up with classical composers who played piano with jazz musicians of historic importance as did Overton and Mel Powell. There was a legend around my undergrad school that one of my teachers, the late composer Rudolph Bubalo, had played piano for Sarah Vaughan; no way of confirming that now, surely no recordings to document it. If you look beyond the piano for a musician performing on a truly high level in both classical and jazz worlds, the first composer you would bump into would be, of course, Gunther Schuller. A less well known example is the late Donald Martino, who was a good enough jazz clarinetist to have played with Bill Evans. I’d be interested to hear what Iverson would have to say about Martino’s quite superb piano music. Martino’s Fantasies and Impromptus is very high on my list of greatest American piano pieces. (Note that the link is to a disc that includes Robert Helps’s reading of the Sessions Third as well as Martino’s Fantasies and Impromptus.)