This Thursday, multi-reedist and composer Brian Krock will convene his large ensemble Big Heart Machine at The Jazz Gallery to celebrate the release of their eponymous debut album. The centerpiece of the album is a five-part suite, “Tamalpais.” In a post on his website, reprinted below, Krock details the genesis of the piece and gives a blow-by-blow account of his compositional process.
The centerpiece of the soon-to-be-released Big Heart Machine record is a suite in five movements called Tamalpais. On a cloudy day in 2014, my sister, Becca, took me on a hike at one of her favorite spots—Mt. Tam in Marin County. We’ve always been a hiking family—and Mt. Tamalpais isn’t really that exceptional as far as hiking trails go—but for whatever reason I was so musically inspired by the topography of that mountain on this particular day. I’m sure Becca will remember me telling her about my sudden inspiration: to write a piece in which every musical consideration would be based on the specific elements inherent in the trail we followed that day. Over the next three years, I worked on this idea pretty much constantly.
I was also thirsty for a project when the inspiration hit; I needed a daily endeavor to structure my lifestyle on the road. I had been touring with musical theater productions for a couple years, and while that was a rewarding professional experience, it was anything but creatively satisfying. I loved being on the road- and making a living wage for the first time in my adult life- but I had also never been so uninspired. Playing the same show eight times every week is mentally fatiguing to say the least, and traveling around North America non-stop was physically exhausting. So, I adopted this large-scale project to give myself some structure and a goal to set my mind towards. No one commissioned me. I didn’t even have hopes of hearing the piece performed at that point in my life. But I decided to work on this idea every day, and see how far I could take it.
There is a deep but relatively short history of programmatic suites written for jazz big band. Duke Ellington made a series of well-loved suites for his band. Black, Brown, and Beige; The Far East Suite; The New Orleans Suite; The Queen’s Suite; The Togo Brava Suite; Such Sweet Thunder—these are some of my favorite recordings. However, they are nothing more than collections of unrelated pieces of music. There isn’t anything wrong with finding a pleasant order for a collection of random songs and presenting them as a continuous suite of music. Composers have done this for centuries (think of The Nutcracker Suite—Duke’s reimagination of Tchaikovsky’s immortal work is another great album). (more…)