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Charles McPherson: The Man and His Muse

Joan Gannij By

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To this day I think of myself as a work in progress. It's all about a journey into consciousness, through humanness. To be expressed via music as opposed to painting or architecture.
Acclaimed alto saxophone wizard Charles McPherson has a new muse: his 25-year-old daughter Camille, a premier dancer with the San Diego Ballet, where he also serves as composer-in-residence these days. McPherson was a young father in his twenties, with three children from a first marriage. Thirty years up the road, after marrying the lovely Lynn, a classical piano teacher in San Diego, he became the father of a daughter once again. "Thirty years, that's a big difference," he says, with a chuckle. "Back then when I was reading my kids fairy tales, I never thought about changing the heroes from boys to girls." But with Camille, he found himself doing that. "I want my daughter to feel empowered and that has manifested itself in a lot of things I related to her. I'm very much aware and have enough concern about her feelings of equality and self-worth"

He laughs as he reflects on his second go-round as a father. "I was a complete fool. Part of the day I was taking her swinging at the park. I'd bring along little stuffed rabbits and create characters and voices." Camille interjects, "he would sing to me. It was like having my own Mr. Rogers." But McPherson doesn't remember singing so much. "I just wanted to make her childhood bright and delightful. She started going to a ballet classes at three. I took her to class because her mother was teaching piano all day." Like her step-brother, Charles McPherson Jr (Chuck), who is a drummer, Camille is also very musical. "She played piano for a while, and then harp, but it was dance that really resonated," boasts the ever-proud papa. "As she got older, she did dance intensives all over the states—from Taos to Boston, and spent some years in Pittsburgh as a trainee until she had an injury. She decided to stay in San Diego and is now in her sixth year with the San Diego Ballet."

He says his post as composer-in-residence "came about in a very organic way. I was looking to get a grant and to satisfy that you had to partner with someone who does something different than you. I'm in music, and my daughter Camille was in the San Diego Ballet company. The Artistic Director Javier Velasco and I got together, and he knows his way around applying for grants. We worked on the grant to satisfy all the stipulations, and it came through. I write at least one commissioned piece of work a year for the company. I'm there. She's there." He describes the concept of combining music and dance as "symbiotic and quite natural. It's the straight-ahead bebop, which I favor, mixed with Jazz and Afro-Latin rhythms, and then mixing it with classical dance, ballet. Javier added some nuances of modern dance to his choreography, with all the hybrid nuances put together for the collaboration." Trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos is another resident composer and in a recent interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Velasco confirmed that he has encouraged both musicians (who often accompany the dancers with live performances) "to write what they love. I want them to write the best work they can, and when they feel excited about it, I'll listen and get as much information as I can. Sometimes, a piece will start with movement first, but not with these particular collaborations. Concept comes before movement, and usually I'm close to what they are thinking."

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