Convocation World Premiere
This year, convocation at reunions was a concert—the world premier of an improvisational jazz piano concerto composed by David Schiff, R.P. Wollenberg Professor of Music, and performed by pianist Larry Karush ’68. Below is an excerpt of the Q&A with the audience that followed the performance in Kaul Auditorium.
David Schiff (left) at keyboard and Larry Karush at piano
Audience Member: Why do you classify the piece as jazz?
David Schiff: Very good question. We don’t know what it is. We think it’s not really jazz—certainly it’s not constructed like jazz, it’s not based on chord changes, and, even in terms of free jazz, I don’t know if it’s conducted, put together, like free jazz. But I don’t think it sounded that much like classical either, so we’re just calling it 21st-century music, and we’ll figure it out. But, yes, it’s something else.
In some ways, this reminds me of the storm in the Pastoral, Beethoven’s sixth symphony. Then, I say to myself, when I listen to this, what does this convey to the listener?
DS: And? Your answer?
DS: Part of the adventure of this piece is that none of us really know where we are in the course of it. You’re right, being lost is part of the quality, and then being lost and enjoying
it is the next step. That’s what we were aiming for.
Are Larry Karush’s notes written out?
DS: I did not write a single note for Larry. Larry, why don’t you address this issue?
Larry Karush: I’m basically a boogie woogie piano player, and sometimes I think that all the stuff that I’ve developed goes back to that root of rhythm or energy, and how you work with that. So, over the course of the last number of years I’ve tried to expand the vocabulary of what I can spontaneously play with. And David has given me an amazing amount of really delicious stuff to play with.
The very nature of the piece is improvisational, or at least there’s a lot of spontaneous structural composition in the moment. When you first sat down to write this, did you have a sense that it would sound like this?
DS: When I finally decided what I wanted to do after a year of thinking about it, I had a vision of the piece, which is exactly what we got tonight. And then it took work to sort of figure out what that is in the details. But the effect of the piece—I know what that is going to be, and sometimes I find that when I get to that point in the piece where I finally know what the piece is, the strange thing is that composing almost becomes effortless, it becomes automatic writing, because the piece is there already and you just kind of sit down and, okay, there it is. But there was a lot of thinking, and especially in any creative process the hardest thing is deciding what you’re not going to do, so there are a lot of exclusions, and then one day you wake up and say, “Oh, that’s the piece.” For a while the problem was that I could hear the piece but I didn’t know how to notate it. But the piece was there, it was just a question of getting it on the page.