Opus Colorado

James Pellerite, David Baker, and James Getzoff: a re-release of a great jazz CD

Laurel Records has just re-released a CD that was originally recorded in 1984, and the CD attracted my attention for a couple of reasons. First, the composer on the record is David Baker who teaches Jazz, Improvisation, and Composition at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. The second reason this CD caught my eye, is because it features one of the most distinguished flute players in the world, James Pellerite, who, for at least 30 years, was a member of the faculty at the Jacobs School of Music. He became a member of the faculty in 1957, the year before I enrolled at the Jacobs School of Music as a freshman. Of course, back then, it was not called the Jacobs School of Music. However, I can remember James Pellerite performing with the Baroque Chamber Players, which was a chamber ensemble comprised of faculty members including Marie Zorn, harpsichord, Jerry Sirucek, oboe, James Pellerite, flute, and Murray Grodner, bass.

But, before I get ahead of myself, allow me to introduce you to the people on this specific CD.

The following is from Mr. Pellerite’s web site:

“As a performer on the modern flute, Mr. Pellerite is well-known as an orchestral musician. He succeeded his renowned teacher, William Kincaid, as solo flutist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has held the position of principal flute also with the symphony orchestras of Detroit and Indianapolis and performed with orchestras of Chautauqua (NY), Radio City Music Hall (NYC), L’Orquestra Sinfonica de Puerto Rico, as well as, the San Francisco Symphony, Dallas Symphony and the Minnesota Orchestra. His performances have included those under such eminent conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Pablo Casals, Neville Mariner, Dimitri Mitropoulos, Eugene Ormandy, Leopold Stokowski and Igor Stravinsky.

“For many years he served as Professor of Flute at Indiana University, and many of his students now hold prominent university and symphony positions. During much of his career as a classical flutist and artist teacher he has appeared throughout the U.S., Canada, Mexico and abroad. Numerous residencies have included tours to Australia, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and People’s Republic of China. For a return invitation by the National Youth Orchestra of Hong Kong he offered classes and woodwind seminars. Since leaving academia, James J. Pellerite has pursued a new career — performing contemporary music on the Native American flute. His publishing company, JP-PUBLICATIONS, well established as a leader in the field of contemporary flute literature, has commissioned works by American composers for the Native flute. Beautiful compositions have been created by an impressive roster of outstanding musicians. They feature the Native flute in solo, chamber, and orchestral settings.”

I still have a 1962 Bulletin from the Indiana University School of Music, and it has photographs of Mr. Pellerite and his colleagues who performed with him in The Baroque Chamber Players. What is astounding to me, is that Mr. Pellerite is still a very active performer, and truly, why not? Performing has been his life, and composers such as Colorado’s own William Hill, Hayg Boyadjian, Nancy Bloomer Deussen, and Michael Mauldin, are actively writing works for him and the Native American flute.

The composer on this particular CD from Laurel Records is David Baker.

“David Baker is a Distinguished Professor of Music (Jazz Studies); Chair, Department of Jazz Studies. As a composer Mr. Baker has been commissioned by more than 500 individuals and ensembles, including Josef Gingold, Ruggerio Ricci, Janos Starker, Harvey Phillips, the New York Philharmonic, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Beaux Arts Trio, the Fisk Jubilee Singers, the Louisville Symphony, the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, the Audubon String Quartet, the International Horn Society, the Indianapolis Symphony, the Chicago Sinfonietta, and the Plymouth Music Series. His compositions total more than 2,000 in number, including jazz and symphonic works, chamber music, and ballet and film scores.

“Professor David N. Baker received the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ “Living Jazz Legend Award” for lifetime achievement on March 3 in Washington, D.C. The honor is one of many accolades Baker has received in his extraordinary career. During the past year, he received the International Association for Jazz Education Lawrence Berk Leadership Award in recognition of meritorious efforts to organizationally strengthen and further the mission of the International Association for Jazz Education. He also received the Indiana University Sonneborn Award that recognizes an IU faculty member who has achieved international recognition for work as a performer, composer, scholar, and educator.”

Quoting from the liner notes that came with the CD, David Baker writes:

“The Concerto for Flute, String Quartet, and Jazz Band was written for and dedicated to another of my Indiana University colleagues, the great classical flutist and pedagogue, James Pellerite.… Classical formal structures are utilized in two of the movements, Sonata Allegro form in Movement I and the Passacaglia in Movement II… The Concerto was premiered on May 2nd, 1971, at Indiana University with James Pellerite as flute soloist and myself as conductor. Both his performance that night, and on this recording, clearly demonstrate the artistry and virtuosity which have marked him as one of the greatest flutist of our time.”

There are two compositions on this CD by Dave Baker. The work that was written for James Pellerite is the Concerto for Flute, String Quartet, and Jazz Band. The opening is a little reminiscent of Gil Evans, because it starts with tone clusters that resolve outwardly by half-steps into 9th chords and 13th chords. The band that plays on this recording is the 27 member Indiana University Jazz Band and String Quartet, so there is a wonderful, full, big band sound. When Pellerite makes his entrance in the first movement it immediately brings back many of memories of hearing him play simply because of the incredible sound that he gets from a flute: it is warm and full and round with amazing breath control. He plays remarkably long phrases without ever taking a breath. This is an absolutely excellent piece of music: it is definitely jazz but it is also unmistakably a “classical” work of the 20th century that uses jazz harmonies and rhythms. The art of this work is immediately noticeable, as is the art of James Pellerite. Those two elements go hand-in-hand. I have never heard octave overtones and fifths on the flute (think double stops on a violin).

The second movement is subdued and almost dreamy. As the Passacaglia proceeds, there is a section that uses only the string quartet and flute that is very much like a chorale. Its appearance is a surprise, and yet completely logical and intensely beautiful. There are many moments in the second movement that are positively pastorale-like, serene and peaceful.

The third movement of this Concerto has some of the most astounding virtuosity from James Pellerite and the IU Jazz Band that it is very difficult to describe. First of all, it opens with a kind of East Coast jazz sound, fairly hard driving and very rhythmic. But there is a passage work similar to a glissando, except that in every four note group there is a turnaround – or a “reverse.” It is done at absolutely blinding speed by the band members, and then by Pellerite. It really sounds like something Liszt might have written for the piano. Pellerite enters with a very jaunty theme, and infuses the movement with incredible riffs, including some repeated notes, again done at a startlingly fast tempo. The highlight of this movement, for me at least, is a cadenza where the percussion section – really, just the drum set – acts as a foil to Pellerite’s improvisation. It is long and it is difficult, and it is wonderful to listen to, because it is done in the form of a conversation between the two. It demonstrates amazing skill of the performers and the composer.

As I said in the opening paragraphs, I heard Pellerite play many times when I was in school at Indiana as a piano major, but this recording cements the fact that he is one, as Baker says in the liner notes, of the greatest flutists of all time. And, and I wish to emphasize this: he is still performing actively. His main interest for the past several years has been the Native American flute. I will certainly review some of those recordings in the near future.

The other work on this CD is the Concerto for Violin and Jazz Band, which features the late James Getzoff on violin, but instead of the IU Jazz Band performing this work, it is the Hollywood All-Star Jazz Band with the late Carmen Dragon conducting. Again, I will quote from the liner notes written by the composer David Baker:

“The Concerto for Violin and Jazz Band represented a major compositional breakthrough for me. It was my first serious third stream work, and was commissioned by, and dedicated to, my dear friend at Indiana University, colleague Josef Gingold, one of the most important violinists and violin teachers of the 20th century. I approached the composing of this work with excitement, nervousness, and not a small amount of trepidation; and spent countless hours listening to violin works, studying scores, and pondering solutions to the challenges posed by combining the jazz and classical elements I envision for this piece. Josef offered technical advice, encouragement, and suggestions that I found very helpful in creating a work that would reflect the virtuosity and artistry of both the violin soloist and the accompanying jazz performers.

“The Concerto had its premiere April 5, 1970, at Indiana University, with Josef Gingold as violin soloist and myself as conductor. Since that time it has been performed throughout the United States and Europe and has received especially outstanding performances by Paul Biss and Steven Shipps, two of Gingold’s most accomplished pupils. The recording presents the artistry of violinist James Getzoff, the wonderful long time concertmaster of the Glendale Symphony, and one of the busiest and most highly respected soloists and concertmaster’s in the Hollywood film, television, and recording studios; and also features an exceptional group of jazz musicians gathered together as the Hollywood All-Star Jazz Band, under the direction of the great conductor-composer-arranger Carmen Dragon.”

In the opening of this work, the violin sounds very avant-garde, almost serial in technique. The first movement is driving, and the solo violin gives way to jazz chords which are almost unexpected after the writing style of the solo opening. But it works and, as a matter of fact throughout this entire Concerto, there is a genuine contrast between the “jazz” of the band and the very serious and wonderfully played style of the violin writing and performing. It is abundantly clear that David Baker is a fine composer because the writing for the violin (and I will wager, even without the aforementioned help and suggestions from Josef Gingold) is so remarkably idiomatic. And I hasten to point out that the two styles of writing – that is to say the contrast between solo and band – never conflicts musically.

The second movement of this Jazz Concerto is absolutely beautiful, and I mean beautiful in the sense of listening to a Mendelssohn or Brahms or Tchaikovsky violin concerto. If you doubt me, buy the CD and listen to it. The second movement is haunting, and is full of technical demands which are not dissimilar to the technical demands faced by the violinist in the Bach Chaconne. There are double stops and occasional contrapuntal voices. It is enormously skillful composing, and enormously skillful performing. It is soulful, and again, like the Flute Concerto also on this recording, it is very pastorale like. What makes it even more fascinating is that the writing dissolves into a Blues style that simply takes your breath away. The third movement is a hard-driving East Coast style that is broken by a slow section that is absolutely sweet in sound and this, in turn, breaks into a boogie. There is a cadenza to the third movement, which again demands superior technique from the violinist. And again, it sounds 12 tone in structure with some exquisite high notes and mellifluous writing. The cadenza ends with trills that provide the clue (just like a romantic period concerto) that the cadenza has come to the end.

This CD, with its fortunate combination of artists James Pellerite, David Baker, and James Getzoff, simply has to be heard. It reminds me very much of the new CD entitled, Live, by Bill Hill and Friends. And again I point out, that William Hill has composed for James Pellerite.

This CD combines a very elegant style of jazz composition, with a very elegant musicianship. Considering everyone involved with this CD from composer to performers, I am not surprised at all.

It is from Laurel Records, LR-825.