Under the heading “American Music – Chicago” our trombonist Bruce Collings has put together a series of pieces that are particularly precious to him. Here he answers some questions about the program, which you can experience during our “Montagskonzert” on December 17th with Ulrich Löffler (piano), Dirk Rothbrust (drums), Sara Cubarsi (violin), Florentin Ginot (double bass) and of course Bruce Collings (trombone).
for your concert on Monday, December 17th, you have chosen pieces by George Lewis, Mike Svoboda and Anthony Braxton. Do these composers have something in common, besides being American musicians?
Yes, all three composers have quite a few things in common. All are originally from Chicago, Mike Svoboda was born in Guam, but grew up in, or around, Chicago. All three are also performing musicians, George Lewis and Mike Svoboda are trombone players and Anthony Braxton is a multi-instrumental saxophone/reed player. George Lewis and Anthony Braxton have been associated from the mid 1970s, forming one of the legendary avant-garde jazz duos, as well as George playing in many of Braxton’s ensembles. So, there is definitely a big connection there, of course.
Could you go into more details about the fact that the composers are also performing musicians? Does that have any influence on their compositions?
The fact that both Mike and George are fantastic trombone players of course influences their writing. George’s piece is a kind of catalogue of special techniques that he has used throughout his performing/improvising career. Many of these are difficult to put into the written score, so during the creation process George would send me short videos of himself playing these things. I learned quite a lot of new techniques from George.
Mike also writes much of his trombone material for himself to play so he knows exactly what is possible and what is not. This piece, Music for Trombone, Piano and Percussion, was a commission for the Trio Belli-Fischer-Rimmer (with our good friend Johannes Fischer on Percussion). One would think that Mike would go easy on the trombone player but no such luck. This is a really difficult piece to play, for trombone and the piano, too.
Some composers write stuff and you think, this is not playable, so you try and find something that works as well as possible, sometimes coming up with new material that gives the “gist” of what the composer was trying to write. Mike knows exactly what can be played on the trombone and he has really stretched the limits here. But, because it is all “playable” there isn’t any room for faking!
George Lewis and Bruce Collings before the world premiere of “Oraculum” in Huddersfield, 2016
The title of the evening also alludes to your own origin, the United States. Do you have a special connection to these pieces and to the composers, or perhaps a personal connection to them? How exactly did the selection of pieces come about?
I grew up in Minneapolis which is in midwest America, just like Chicago. In America, the categories, east coast, west coast, southern and midwest are very important because people from each region have their own type of personality, very broadly speaking. So we are are in that sense mid-westerners.
I was greatly influenced by the Chicago School of brass playing. My trombone teacher, Steven Zellmer came from Chicago and studied with Arnold Jacobs and Edward Kleinhammer (tuba and bass trombone with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) so I learned the Chicago School from them second-hand, so to speak.
The George Lewis solo was written for me, so, yes that is very personal. This was a great honour for me because George Lewis has been an idol of mine for years.
When I was beginning my career I stood at the crossroads of becoming a jazz player or a classical player. I chose classical but I still feel the jazz side in me and that is why the whole program has kind of a jazz feel to it.
Mike Svoboda and I have been friends for almost 30 years, in fact, Mike was the first trombone player to play with Musikfabrik, so this is kind of a homecoming for him. If I am not mistaken, this will be the first composition of Mike’s to be performed by Musikfabrik.
Although Anthony Braxton writes music for specific instruments, the compositions we will be playing are all non instrument specific. The instrumentation can be chosen freely, even the clefs are mostly left in the open so that instruments can be playing in different tonalities at the same time, even switching during the piece is allowed. We will be doing a so-called Tri-centric performance, which means that the music can be chosen freely between a set number of pieces and is relatively open. Improvisation is also a large part of the performance which underlines the jazz orientation of the evening.