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Vic Juris - Music of Alec Wilder $12.95


Vic Juris - Guitar, Dave Liebman - Soprano & Tenor Sax, Tim Hagans - Trumpet, Steve Laspina - Bass, Jeff Hirshfield - Drums

1. Where Is The One 6:11
2. Goodbye John 5:44
3. Winter Of My Discontent 6:26
4. Moon And Sand 5:42
5. Blackberry Winter 5:05
6. A Long Night 5:05
7. Lady Sings The Blues 7:22
8. That's My Girl 5:36
9. While We're Young 6:53
10. Homework 5:51
11. Such A Lonely Girl Am I 3:49
12. Little Circles 4:05
Total Time (68:22)

Listen to CD Tracks

     The Music of Alec Wilder: Some Personal Reflections

    I first met Alec Wilder in the spring of 1974, several months after joining the faculty of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. During the latter part of his life Alec divided most of his time between residences at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City and the One-Eleven Hotel in Rochester, the latter of which was just around the corner from the Eastman School. When I began visiting the local jazz clubs in Rochester, which in those days included The Rowntowner and The Top of the Plaza, I noticed that Alec was often in the audience. He was especially faithful in coming out to hear musicians whose music he considered special, including Marian McPartland, Jimmy Rowles, Gene Bertoncini and Dave McKenna, among others. As I became more active with my own groups, or as a sideman with visiting name jazz artists, I got to know Alec through informal chats between sets or after hours.

    After we got better acquainted, we would often see each other on chance occasions at a small but popular diner right next to the Eastman School. Alec was an extraordinarily interesting conversationalist, who was well read in all of the arts, politics, history, philosophy and probably many topics which, much to my regret, we never got around to discussing. One of many fascinating books which he introduced me to was The Painted Word, by Tom Wolfe, a brilliant and witty brief history and critique of the twentieth century visual art scene. He had great respect for good, honest craftsmanship in any field of endeavor, and a healthy suspicion of "Art," especially in any context which smacked of the slightest elitism.

    Alec was, as Duke Ellington would have said, beyond category. He wrote music which other people put in the various categories of popular songs, chamber music, art songs, symphonic works, and even childrenís songbooks (Night Songs and Lullabies, a collaboration with lyricist William Engvick and illustrator Maurice Sendak). I was fortunate, indeed, to have had the opportunity to play many of Alecís songs in his presence, as well as his Bassoon Sonata #3, his Saxophone Sonata and eight of his octets. These octets, written in 1939 and 1940, are unique mixtures of classical, pop and jazz vocabulary, featuring the unusual instrumentation of flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, harpsichord, bass and drums. They foreshadowed the more recent popularization of classical and jazz "fusion" by several decades. They also personify Alecís constant predicament in relation to the music business; his musical stance was too disciplined for the jazz world and too stylistically open for the highbrow world of "serious music."

    Alec was extremely opinionated, but his opinions were never arbitrary or capricious. They resulted from a combination of deep reflection, personal knowledge or experience and, usually, inarguable logic. He had unbounded admiration for the musical creativity of jazz musicians. He was sincerely flattered that accomplished jazz artists would choose his songs as vehicles for their improvisations. He was certain that the general public is quite incapable of appreciating "the miraculous chain of events which occur when a jazz musician plays." On the other hand, he was deeply disturbed by the presumption of jazz musicians in changing the notes of other peopleís melodies before the improvisation had begun. He knew that, more often than not, this practice resulted more from the feeling of being a "kid in a candy store" than from intentional rudeness or disrespect. But I do know, personally, that Alec often took the trouble to phone or write musicians who had performed his melodies as he had composed them, just to thank them for their kind consideration of his musical intentions.

    Alec is one of the few musicians I have known, whose entire musical output had absolute integrity. His book, The American Popular Song, in collaboration with James T. Maher, is the definitive analytical work on this musical genre. Typical of Alecís genuine humility, he included no examples of his own work.

    I first met Vic Juris during the early 1980ís, while working with bassist Chuck Israels and drummer Bill Goodwin. Vic is one of the most creative and musical guitarists I have heard, and I am delighted that he has put together an imaginative and broadly representative collection of songs by one of Americaís great songwriters.

    Apart from the fact that Vic assembled a stellar group of musicians for this project, there are two aspects which immediately caught my attention. First, the tunes are relatively short, which allows for both musical conciseness and a large and varied selection of material. This was all the more important in the case of Alec Wilder, whose best known songs are still, unfortunately, largely unknown. Second, Vic has utilized all the possibilities of instrumental combinations from a guitar and drums duo to the full quintet instrumentation. This creative use of orchestration extends to dividing the statements of some of the melodies between two or more solo instruments, and using the full range from harmonic and contrapuntal textures to ensemble unison. In other words, Vic was well prepared, and the results show it.

    Since I felt like I knew Alecís music fairly well in advance, I was quite impressed that Vic found three great songs which I had never heard before, "Inner Circle" (inspired by pianist Marian McPartland), "A Long Night" (whose rubato treatment here results in particular dramatic pathos) and "Homework" (whose typical AABA form contains a quite atypical five measure bridge). Some of the more familiar songs are presented in unusual treatments. The up-tempo guitar and drums version of "Such A Lonely Girl Am I," the fast Latin tempo which, in effect, doubles the form of "The Winter Of My Discontent," and the brisk version of "Where Is The One," with sixteen measure exchanges between Dave Liebmanís soprano saxophone and Tim Hagansí trumpet shifting back and forth between the original key of Eb and key of C, are obvious examples. Alec actually wrote the lyric to "Where Is The One," with music by Edwin Finckel.

    The musicianship is world class throughout. Bassist Steve Laspina and drummer Jeff Hirshfield offer convincing swing, confident support, creative interaction and strong solos throughout. Tim Hagans is one of the most commanding jazz trumpet soloists to emerge during the last decade. David Liebman is, simply, one of the most creative improvisers in jazz today. The rare tenor performances are an extra treat. The empathy between Hagans and Liebman is particularly in evidence on "A Long Night." Vicís soloing on every tune here is, to my ears, a perfect balance of heartfelt lyricism and thoughtful thematic development. His accompaniments are unusually varied, including single line counterpoint, chords of every texture from thin to thick, and the courage to lay out entirely from time to time, ensuring that the music has the maximum potential for change of direction.

    Some people considered Alec Wilder to be gruff or old fashioned, simply because he was uncompromising and refused to lower his standards for commercial concessions. He was very skeptical of the idea of "progress," but never tired in his striving for quality. Since his death in 1980, I have often missed our conversations. The world could certainly use more souls like his. I wish he could hear this recording. He might raise an eyebrow occasionally at the free-spirited treatment of some of his melodies, but he would be awed by the display of spontaneous musical creativity and interplay, and honored by the care and attention to musical detail which Vic and the group bring to their perspective of his work. Although there is much here that Alec would find well worth repeated listening, his favorite selection might be "Thatís My Girl." Trumpet, guitar and bass, playing the melody in unison, exactly the way he wrote it!

- Bill Dobbins - October, 1996 -

Bill Dobbins is currently Principal Conductor of the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. Between 1973 and 1994 he was on the faculty of the Eastman School of Music, where he taught in the Department of Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media.

This is an interesting collection of tunes by Alec Wilder, performed in an unusually adventursome groove. I think Alec would be intrigued and stimulated by Vic Juris's interpretations of some of his lesser know pieces - including two that he wrote for me, "Inner Circle" and "Homework".

Marian McPartland

I would like to thank: Mom & Dad, Denise, Ed Berg, Dave Liebman and Charlie Banacos for their inspiration. Special thanks to Kate Baker for the project idea and artist coordination.

Vic Juris