As Though I Had Wings, a suite for Chet Baker
Composed and Arranged by Bill Stevens
Bill Stevens – trumpet
Josh Sinton – baritone sax and bass clarinet
Corey Larson – guitar
Paul Pricer – upright bass
Brian Woodruff – drums
with special guest on Spoken Word Recitation: Ira Rosenberg
And on the Second Half, a Special Performance by the OKB Trio
Oscar Perez – piano
Kuriko Tsugawa – upright bass
Brian Woodruff – drums
As Though I Had Wings: a suite for Chet Baker
I first heard Chet Baker as a freshman in college through the album “She Was Too Good to Me”. Being pretty naive I did not know the backstory of Chet Baker, only that I was really taken by his playing. Of course, I did become aware of the backstory and over time I did not listen much more to Chet Baker which I believe had more to do with the fact that he simply did not perform very much in the United States over his last decade as he became more of a somewhat forgotten figure over time.
Moving now to the present, I was looking for a book to read, specifically a musicians biography, just not sure who. Then I came upon the book on Chet Baker, “Deep in a Dream” by James Gavin. I really become drawn in to his life and musical contributions. I began to listen more to his recorded output, really focusing on his comeback years from 1974 to 1988. As I shared what I was reading with friends it became obvious to me that it seems that everyone has a distinct opinion on Chet Baker through comments like, “What wasted talent.” or “He was a drug addict”. It got me to think about why is it that throughout history great talent is often accompanied by such abysmal behavior? Why were people not able to listen to the music without bringing in these other aspects? Is it even possible to separate the two?
To get to the answers to these questions and so many others, I began to formulate the idea of putting a composition together to get people thinking and re-examining Chet Baker, both the man and the musician. First, I came to the conclusion that this would not be a retrospective as Chet Baker wrote vey little original material and chose instead throughout his career to play standards. So I made the decision to use his songbook, but to re-imagine the music within my compositional style. For the opening piece, I wrote a “Lennie Tristano” type melody over his signature composition, “My Funny Valentine”. Thanks to the movie by Bruce Weber, it is hard not to think of Chet Baker without hearing the composition, “Let’s Get Lost” to which I wrote a new BeBop/West Coast style head over the existing changes. One observation of Chet Baker over his last decade was this constant fear he had of being alone. Taking the head to “If I Should Lose You” and elongating it over a set of new suspended chords I am hoping to bring across his anxiety and fear about losing companianship.
As I began to listen more deeply to his last decade it became apparent to me that he actually approached what every player strives for, that feeling that the man (or women) becomes one with the instrument. There is no longer any disconnect and the music that is drawn out is from deep inside, from a place of spirituality. Taking the standard “How Deep is the Ocean” I created a new head with a new set of chord changes to be performed in a floating, rubato style. Lastly, I wanted a composition that made one think about his legacy. Was he simply floating through time? Would he be remembered more had he died young? How do I express my conviction that there was something deep inside of him, a light, that allowed him to play and sing from his soul to create the music that he did.
As the compositional process was nearing a conclusion, I had the idea about adding a spoken word component. What if the spoken word were in the form of questions about Chet Baker? Questions that examine our own belief systems on how we approach the music and the man who is Chet Baker. The music would allow the audience the opportunity to reflect on a series of questions to see who Chet Baker is to them. Is it possible to get beyond the drug use and just focus on the man and his music?
Finally, I did not want there to be a feeling of comparison or imitation or an expectation within my own playing, so I made the conscious decision to mask my sound through the use of mutes. I will be using a bucket mute, cup and harmon mutes throughout. This is an introspective suite that I hope will draw the listener in through the spoken word and music to think about the legacy of Chet Baker and what that legacy means to them.
The OKB Trio
The OKB Trio was born on June 20th, 2010. Brian Woodruff (B) was running a jam session at Blackbird’s in Astoria, Queens and he had the privilege of putting together a different band each week according to his whim. He hit paydirt on his third try when he brought pianist Oscar Perez (O) and bassist Kuriko Tsugawa (K) along for the first time that Sunday and they hit it off immediately. All three arrived early and were set up and ready to go well before the scheduled downbeat, so they decided to get a drink before they started. They all chose Palm (a really nice Belgian beer on tap at Blackbird’s), offered each other a toast, and proceeded to swing their butts off for the remainder of the evening. They didn’t program anything super-difficult (nor do they ever), but there are usually a few simple originals and some standards folks may not have heard very often. At the end of the gig, Kuriko said “I always want to play with THIS trio,” and we all agreed. While they are focused on swinging, Oscar and Brian do have a tendency to jump off of buildings and set things on fire. Fortunately, Kuriko is usually there to catch them with a net or hose things off when necessary. Their rhythmic acrobatics never compromise their ability to swing their way through the outer fringes of the Great American Songbook, dance delicately over the Latin standards, or breeze lightly through a samba like their signature tune Tristeza. They always keep the “ing” in the swing. They are working on their first CD, set for release in Fall, 2016.
Tickets are non-refundable.