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Music

1 – Jazzmobile (2012)
for vibraphone and piano
Mike Taylor, vibes; Gary Smart, piano

2 – Del Diario de un Papagayo (From the Diary of a Parrot)
The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Dennis Russel Davies, conductor

3 – A Mighty Fortress is Our God J.S. Bach
Gary Smart, piano improvisation

4 – Movement 4 (Shortening Bread) from String Quartet (2006)
Ritz Chamber Players

5 – “Fairies are exquisite dancers” (1915) Claude Debussy
Gary Smart, piano (live performance, Jacksonville, FL)

6 – Bright Eyed Fancy for piano trio (2008)
The Florida Trio

7 – Nowhere Man (Lennon-McCartney)
Gary Smart, piano improvisation

8 – Wabi Sabi
for eight instruments (2005)
Ravel Virtual Studios

9 – Etude Tableaux in Eb minor, Op. 39, no. 5 Sergei Rachmaninoff
Gary Smart, piano (live performance, Jacksonville, FL)

10 – Yo yo
Electronic music

11 – For the Beauty of the Earth F. S. Pierpoint
Gary Smart, duo piano improvisation

12 – It’s Only a Paper Moon
Gary Smart, multiple pianos

13 – Song of the Holy Ground
for piano quintet
The Chamisa Chamber Players

14 – Frankenthaler
Gary Smart, piano improvisation

Notes on the recordings:

1 – Jazzmobile, is a jazz toccata. This music is actually the third, and final, movement of my Sonata in Fancy for vibraphone and piano. Of course, repeated notes, repeated rhythms and repeated gestures abound in a toccata. But, unlike European toccatas, my model here is the “big band”. Riffs, often asymmetrical and quite percussive, are layered up and thrown around with abandon. The insistent beat and the tricky ensemble effects make this loads of fun, both for performers and for an audience.

My vibes sonata is hard won. Its original iteration (ca. 1980) did not please me. Somehow it seemed cumbersome and not quite unified. Still, this particular toccata movement always seemed quite effective to me. I rewrote other movements of the work twice, once in the 1990’s and again in 2010. This last time I decided to start all over again, completely discarding two old movements and composing an entirely new first movement. And voila! Finally, I have a solid three-movement work. Patience and perseverance are rewarded.

It is interesting to revisit one’s earlier work. It is like meeting with an earlier self. It turns out we are quite compatible. Though I have perhaps learned a thing or two in the last thirty years and though my taste has broadened (not really changed all that much), I still adm,ire what my younger self accomplished, particularly with this final movement. Jazzmobile kept calling to me over the years. Finally it has a home. Mike Taylor is the vibraphonist here. I am the pianist. We recorded this in May 2012. We hope to release the complete work on a new CD this coming year.

2 – “Del Diario de un Papagayo”, or (From the Diary of a Parrot) was commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra for premiere at the Alaska Festival of Music in 1973. I was at the time the Ford Foundation Composer in Residence for the city of Anchorage. This was my first real job after graduating from Indiana University and spending a year studying in Germany. The three years in Alaska were a wonderful apprenticeship. It was a chance to experiment and experiment I did! This divertimento for small orchestra, conducted by Dennis Russel Davies, features (in quadraphonic sound) my new yellow-naped Amazon parrot, Pablo. The instrumental soloists and the orchestra set a surreal Mexican scene and my bird - on recording - sings, laughs, cries, even converses and (seemingly) interacts with the musicians. For a while the work was performed here and there, including performances in Great Britain. But it has not been performed for many years now. I’m not even sure where the original tape is. Sadly, Pablo bird passed a few years ago. When I recently came across this spirited performance on cassette, I decided to digitize it and put it on my site as an homage to my old avian friend. Pablo was one of a kind, as is evident on the recording. He was as exuberant a fellow as I have ever known.

3 – A Mighty Fortress is Our God is a solo piano improvisation on the Bach chorale tune. I improvise in various ways, in various styles. But this is indeed a jazz improvisation on a Bach tune. And why not? I like it. A good melody stands up to reharmonization and I think my restyling refreshes the tune’s meaning and even its extra musical associations.

4 – The fourth movement of my String Quartet is a fiery perpetual motion setting of the folk tune “Shortening Bread”. In this live recording, the Ritz Chamber Players (Jacksonville, FL) give a rollicking performance.

5 – “Les fees sont d’exquises danseuses”, a prelude from Debussy’s twenty-four Preludes for piano solo (1915), is one of Debussy’s most beautiful shorter pieces. This delicate fantasy piece evokes an imaginary landscape, where fairies sail through the air, dancing the waltz. Debussy’s title is in quotes and it is indeed a citation from a children’s book, Barrie’s “Peter Pan in Kensington Garden”. The exact quote is taken from a caption under an illustration: “The Fairies Are Exquisite Dancers”. Debussy’s daughter, seven year old Chou-chou, had received the Barrie book for Christmas. Undoubtedly, Debussy was charmed by the picture and was inspired to compose this sparkling little piano piece.

6 – On the first page of the score of this trio for violin, cello and piano I quote the English poet Thomas Gray : “Hark, his hands the lyre explore! Bright Eyed Fancy, hov’ring o’er…”. This quote is taken from Gray’s “The Progress of Poesy” (1754), which the celebrated Christian mystic and poet-artist William Blake (1757-1827) illustrated some thirty years later. My Bright Eyed Fancy was inspired both by Mr. Gray’s words and Mr. Blake’s watercolor. Blake’s picture depicts an angelic muse hovering over a working musician, who strums his lyre while the muse sitting above on a rainbow pours forth a cornucopia of musical ideas. I hoped to evoke with this music some of the strange truth that Blake proclaimed. It is often exuberant, even ecstatic, but is also at times profoundly solemn, sometimes quite simple and lyrical. My choice of musical materials is not unusual, though perhaps the way I mix materials is. I make some use of jazz gestures and style, but I also have made free use of folk music modal melody and Anglican hymnody as well as other more abstract textures. As would seem appropriate I let “form follow fancy” in this work. The opening is bright and enthusiastic, full of light. A second section presents a solemn, sustained chorale. A third florid ensemble section with shades of modal jazz improvisation closes the exposition. After these three ideas are developed, the solo cello presents a melody labeled “Song of the Angel”. Following more free development, the solo piano restates the “Song”. The last section of the work opens with the solo cello stating a motive (A-B-D-C#) over which I have written the syllables “Al-le-lu-ia”. This motive dominates the last part of the work. The climax of the work is simple, almost minimalistic in its ecstatic repetitions. Over grandiose piano flourishes the “Song” rings out. The piece closes playfully, with no great show of emotion. The angel simply disappears with no fanfare. The visitation is over. As any artist knows, the muse is shrouded in mystery.

7 – "Nowhere Man" is a solo piano improvisation on the Lennon-McCartney classic. This cut is from my "Beatle Jazz CD," released by Mastersound Recordings in 1998.

8 – Wabi Sabi is a fantasy for eight instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and bass. The title, a Japanese phrase, refers to a love and nostalgia for ancient times, for old
things - antiques - things which evoke feelings of purity, nobility, hard won wisdom, an essential spirituality, true worth. A tea ceremony in a Kyoto garden is “wabi sabi”.
The piece was formed intuitively as a kind of drama, perhaps a Japanese folk tale. The expansion of “time perception”, the savoring of sound colors and the evocation of mood is central to the aesthetic of this music. I’m very pleased with this wonderful virtual performance by Ravel Virtual Studios (Boston). Perhaps this is ballet music?

9 – Sergei Rachmaninoff wrote “orchestral” piano music. Works like the Op. 39 Etudes-Tableaux challenge the pianist to make all those notes coalesce into a simple, unified texture: foreground, middle ground and background. This wonderful piece, Etude-Tableau in Eb minor, Op. 39, no. 5, spins out a gorgeous modal melody, surrounding it with counter melodies extremely and active textures. For too long, Rachmaninoff was dismissed as a major voice in the classical idiom. His music was too easily understood and enjoyed, perhaps. But no matter, Rachmaninoff’s work is now firmly entrenched in the standard repertoire, as it should be. This is great music. This is a masterful piano composition, immediately appealing, yet subtly complex.

10 – “Yo yo” is one of five Electronic Preludes that I composed, directly on synthesizer, in 1995. The meaning of the title is quite apparent as one listens to the piece. This “work” is actually more an improvisation, as I simply layered up improvised lines, listening and playing along with previous material…until it seemed finished. This seems very much like the way many painters work, doesn’t it?

11 – For the Beauty of the Earth was improvised in the studio, utilizing overdubbing techniques. This is a duet in which I play both parts, in other words. I love this British hymn. Like a good folk tune, it presents many possibilities to an improviser. Again, this is a jazz improvisation on a venerable hymn. I believe it works just fine.

12 – This overdubbed recording features three pianos. The repeated notes are actually “muted” piano tones. This optimistic tune from the depression era tells a great truth. Really. It’s only a paper moon.

13 – This piece won the Robb Musical Trust 2009 Composer’s Competition. The challenge was to compose a chamber work utilizing given ethnomusical materials. “Song of the Holy Ground” for piano and string quartet was written in reaction to an Apache chant recorded in 1953. The original recording, sung by a young girl, is clear, delicate and charming at first hearing. The text itself is unknown to me, beyond the fact that this is a song of consecration, a blessing. But the music of the chant is enchanting, with its uniquely expressive melodic shapes and its asymmetrical rhythms. In approaching this material I first made a detailed transcription of the chant and became fascinated with the intricacy of the motivic and rhythmic repetition which creates a simple, but unified musical format . My composition is a fantasy, an abstracted music that at times 1) spins out a music which freely develops small pitch or rhythmic motives taken from the original chant and at times 2) directly “sets” a statement of the chant – as with the solo violin statement at the very closing of the work. My quintet is not to be taken in any way as a decorated version of the original chant, nor is it in any sense an attempt to improve upon it. First of all “Song of the Holy Ground” is an act of artistic homage.

14 – Frankenthaler is a solo improvisation, taken from a “suite” of improvisations called Four American Painters, which are included on a recent solo piano CD of mine: “Blossoms”. This improvisation is dedicated to the recently deceased painter, Helen Frankenthaler, whose abstract, expressionist, “color field” work creates a mysterious, sparkling beauty out of a spacious mixture of gestures and “objects.” I attempt to do the same. With this music I offer my homage.