Phillip Johnston first drew critical acclaim for his work as a saxophonist and composer in the Microscopic Septet. Since the group disbanded in 1992 (though it reunited for a new recording last year and occasional concerts), he distinguished himself leading various groups of his own (often several at the same time), composing quirky jazz that was avant-garde yet accessible, including several scores for films directed by Doris Dorrie, Philip Haas and Paul Mazursky. He was commissioned by the Film Society of Lincoln Center to compose a score for the 1926 Japanese silent film Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness), which was premiered in New York City in July 1998. This obscure movie was a special challenge as it is not available on DVD, nor readily available in restored condition to the public. The story depicts a retired sailor who has taken a job as a janitor in an asylum in order to look after his insane wife, committed after attempting to drown their child. After a decade of searching for a record label to release this compelling music, Johnston finally issued it himself.
Johnston doubles on soprano and alto saxophones, joined by Joe Ruddick (piano and baritone sax), vibraphonist Mark Josefberg and bassist David Hofstra (all members of his group of that time, The Transparent Quartet), utilizing a combination of written and improvised sections, though they were tightly synchronized to individual scenes. He omitted the extended periods of silence, jesting that he might be sued by the John Cage Estate. While most fans of Johnston's music will not have seen this vintage movie, the music stands on its own merits, conveying the sense of loneliness, despair, confusion and other emotions that the character would feel in such a tragic environment. There are only brief liner notes within the CD, but Johnston provides a link to his website for more extensive notes, along with YouTube links to view film excerpts with the synchronized score. This fascinating music will have immediate appeal to anyone familiar with Johnston's earlier CDs.
Track Listing: Prelude; The Dancer; The Mad Wife; The Visit; The Asylum; Parting the Waters; There's a Riot
Goin' On; Home Life; Home Life Ruined; Escape Attempt; The Dream; The Masks; At Peace
With a Mop.
Personnel: Phillip Johnston: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone; Joe Ruddick: piano, baritone
saxophone; Mark Josefsberg: vibraphone; David Hofstra: bass.
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid
I was first exposed to jazz when I was tiny. My earliest memory is watching Ella Fitzgerald scat on a Christmas special when I was no older than four. Like many who are from tiny towns, my first extended exposure was listening to the high school jazz band when I was a kid. For some reason I remember an arrangement of Hey Jude they did. My first real exposure was Stan Kenton in the Smithville, MO high school gym. Kenton and the band director there were old friends, so he would play there from time to time. My dad took me without telling me where we were going and it was the only show he ever took me to. I remember that Bobby Shew played Send In Clowns and I damn near levitated I was so excited. The huge sound and amazing chords floored me. I believe I was 13 at the time. I immediately started practicing and taking lessons. Music became a passion and nearly a career. I also listened to Dick Wright's Jazz Show on KANU every night. I can't even start to explain what I learned lying in bed listening to Dick talk about jazz. I met him once when I was struggling to put together a solo for Joy Spring playing in a combo at KU. Stopped by his office and asked for recommendations. He showed up at my jazz ensemble rehearsal the next day with a tape with example solos. What a kind man Dick Wright was.
My advice to new listeners is to stop worrying about what music is important and focus on music you like. I spent quite a bit of my music life listening to important music I didn't necessarily like. Must say I have quite a bit more fun now listening to music that I deeply enjoy. Some of it is even important.
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