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 circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.