Herb Pomeroy: “I don’t believe in recorded music.”

Herb Pomeroy Band in Copley Square, Boston, early 1980sHere is another insightful excerpt from Herb Pomeroy’s interviews with Forrest Larson for the Music at MIT Oral History Project. This came at the end of the last of the three interviews, conducted at the MIT Lewis Music Library on April 26, 2000.

Besides being a great jazz educator at Berklee and MIT, Herb Pomeroy was a trumpeter and the leader of an excellent professional big band. One of his early albums, Band in Boston, has finally been released on CD by Fresh Sound. For his great 70s and 80s big band, you had to hear them live at places like the Scotch ’N Sirloin in the North End. That band only released one album – the magnificent Pramlatta’s Hips on Shiah Records – which has never been reissued on CD.

Maybe this had to do with Herb’s opinions about recorded music. He was years ahead of his time in anticipating the increasing value that listeners would put on live vs. recorded music:

I’ve never heard a recording – never’s an awful strong word but I never can recall it – that was as glorious as a live performance: a good live performance. I don’t believe in recorded music. I don’t believe in the act of recording music. I believe that music is so precious that it should only be heard by the musicians who’ve given their life to play it, and the listeners that would drive 200 miles through snow to listen to it. Like it used to be maybe pre-radio days, early radio days, where people would drive all over the place to hear a symphony concert.

Oh, there was a marvelous article in the Atlantic Monthly just recently. Ah, did he hit the nail on the head for me in a number of areas. We’ve become so comfortable. You sit at home and listen to a CD with the fire going and your drink beside you. That’s not what music, as far as the listener and the player, the partakers of the whole act…

But I know, I mean I would have kids at Berklee who would study with me for two years, and then the last week of the last class, I would lay this on them, you know, and they’d say “Wow, are you weird!” Because they grew up in this period – and I’ve grown up, I mean, recordings were being made long before I was born in 1930.

But the live performance – the spontaneity, the reaction to each other, the act of being human beings with each other. I think the social act of being a human being is the most important thing, to me, why we’re on this earth – to get along with each other, to react to each other, to love each other. And I don’t see that a part of music when it’s a track in your head.

The love I feel next to my wife and my children and grandchildren, the next love I feel is the musician I get on the bandstand with to make music. That’s a very embracing thing that happens. And it doesn’t happen in a recording studio. Red light goes on, and 20 to 30 percent of your spontaneous creativity becomes tense. I’ve gotta be safe with this lick – here’s a great lick, I’m gonna, wooh what a lick – no I’m not going to play it – because I might make a mistake.

I’m really fortunate that I made my living and put my Berklee lump sum in a retirement thing, and my wife and I can be comfortable. Because if I lived with these principles, I couldn’t make a living today.

As with other oral history posts on this blog, I transcribed this interview excerpt. Any errors are mine, not the MIT Lewis Music Library’s. The library is working on officially transcribing the interviews. Hopefully the first transcripts will be available later this year.

Posted in Jazz, MIT, Music Business | Comments Off on Herb Pomeroy: “I don’t believe in recorded music.”

Michael Hammer Video Tribute

Michael Hammer at the WhiteboardHammer and Company, the management consulting firm that Michael Hammer founded, has posted a wonderful 12-minute video tribute on their site. I highly recommend it to anyone who knows or is interested in Michael Hammer’s work and life. I don’t know when this was posted; I just found it while cleaning up links on this new site.

It was great to see the MIT people in the video, including fellow Office Automation Group graduate students Stan Zdonik and Sunil Sarin. Of course there are lots of appearances from other business world giants, such as Clayton Christensen and  Reengineering the Corporation co-author James Champy.

The text on his biography page describes how “his work remains relentlessly pragmatic.” That relentless pragmatism is one of the things I learned from him at MIT that contributed to the MusicXML format’s success.

Posted in MIT, Software | Comments Off on Michael Hammer Video Tribute

Welcome to the New Site

Construction photoWelcome to my new online home! At Recordare we’re in the midst of a total redesign of our web site. So it seemed like a good time to do the same for my personal site. The main content of the new site will still be the Songs and Schemas blog, but I’ve also added material from my previous personal homepage.

I’ve tried to put in redirects so that everything maps from the old site locations to the new home. But like any construction project, some things might still be a mess. If you see any problems with how links or content have been moved over, please let me know in the comments.

The picture at the top of the page comes from one of the most beautiful concert halls I’ve performed in, the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing. There are more photos of The Egg in this post. The construction photo comes from Shanghai earlier in the same concert tour.

Posted in Site | Comments Off on Welcome to the New Site

Herb Pomeroy on Discovering Duke Ellington

Herb Pomeroy, director of jazz bands at MIT from 1963 to 1985, was known for his performance and teaching of the music of Duke Ellington. But in his early twenties, he preferred other bands more, like Count Basie and Woody Herman. There’s a great three and a half minutes in the first of his three interviews in the Music at MIT Oral History Project when Herb recalls first discovering the greatness of Duke Ellington’s music. The interview was conducted by Forrest Larson on December 14, 1999 in the MIT Lewis Music Library. Fred Harris, the current MIT jazz director, was also present.

Herb: I had no idea what Duke Ellington was all about at this point. I dismissed Ellington. I had Count Basie records, Stan Kenton records – God help me. The furthest thing in the world from jazz: Caucasian Wagnerian crap, OK, and you can print that if you want! And other bands, Woody Herman’s band, Dizzy Gillespie’s band. Let’s say those three: Basie, Herman, and Gillespie. All of which were very valid, but none of which that had the profundity of Ellington – and I didn’t know this.

Basie could swing magnificently. Dizzy’s band, every time you heard it all these new creative bebop licks and harmonies and arrangements. Woody’s band, sort of a combination of the two.

And I can remember the instance that a light went off in my head. I knew that Ellington – by the time I got to be about 21 or 22, I knew that it was over my head – something there. Too many people who I respect say “listen to this.” And I went to hear a battle of bands with Ellington and Basie down in Rhode Island. There’s a ballroom just outside of Providence called Pawtuxet on the Rhodes – I think it still exists. But back in the ballroom days, 30s, 40s, and 50s, it was big.

I think I went primarily to hear Basie’s band. And on this night, all of a sudden, I was 23 at the time, something went off in my head. “Oh – there’s something more here than there is here.” Basie, I was loving and enjoying it for the excitement, the swing, the fire, and all that, the rhythm section. But then I started to see. And that for me was kind of one of these changes, like from the swing period to the be-bop period change that I went through in the mid-40s.

Fred: I’m sorry, can you recall what it might have been – orchestration, the saxophone section, I mean… ?

Herb: To say now – now let’s see, what was that? That was 46 years ago – to say now I don’t think would be an honest memory of what did happen in that very moment. It would be what I’ve come to know since then, and I started to talk about that. I want to say it had to do with that coming out of the Ellington band was the sum total of 15 or 16 human beings, each being themselves. But I came to know that later. So I’d like to think that I reacted that way then. I probably was not consciously reacting that way.

You know, I refer to in my teaching that most of the other bands were sort of push-button bands. The leader said, “Do this, and do it to this level of competency, and you’ll get a week’s pay.” And that’s an awful, terrible way of simplifying it. With Duke’s band he just says, “OK, play.”

Forrest: Yeah, they’re all soloists.

Herb: Exactly. Even within the ensemble they were improvising – not as far as the pitches, but their feeling, their sound. I mean, with Ellington, within the sax section, there’s not five saxophones trying to blend with the lead player. It’s five individuals totally being themselves as far as expression. To the point that, by certain standards of accurate section or the entrance playing, it was bad.

The sum total of five people is so much greater than the sum total of five
saxophonists. And I don’t think I realized that. I think that just
something – I was age 23, I was beginning to open up to there’s more to what my previous eight years of semi-professionalism had been leading me to.

Please note that I transcribed this interview excerpt. Any errors are mine, not the MIT Lewis Music Library’s. The library is working on officially transcribing the interviews. Hopefully the first transcripts will be available later this year.

Posted in Jazz, MIT | 1 Comment

MIT’s Lipchitz Courtyard – Then and Now

Hair Pit Orchestra at MIT, 1987The MIT Libraries News blog had a nice article on some recent work done on the Lipchitz Courtyard within Building 14. The MIT Lewis Music Library and the Hayden Library are both on this courtyard. The replanted flower beds and planters and the new patio umbrellas all sound good. In the urban environment at Cambridge and MIT, these types of improvements are much appreciated.

But back in the day, the Lipchitz Courtyard had other uses. At least for one spring weekend in 1987, it became a theatrical venue! MIT students put on a production of Hair there, without the nude scene.

This was one of my last pit orchestra gigs. Having gotten out of the pit earlier that year for an onstage brass appearance during Iolanthe, I would soon start singing lessons. But here I am as an alumnus trumpeter in the pit band, second to the left in the picture. Everyone else in this picture was an MIT freshman or sophomore at the time; that’s the music director on the left. The photographer played percussion and was a junior.

I believe this was a totally student-initiated and student-run project. The trumpet parts in the show are fun and I recall that it was a pretty good performance. There’s a fine recording of last year’s Broadway production, and the soundtrack from Milos Forman’s movie is excellent too.

The sad thing, though, is that there still is no good performance space for musical theater at MIT. The amphitheater next to the Stata Center looks promising for this type of outdoor production, but I don’t know if it is being used that way. This may have been a one-shot for the Lipchitz Courtyard as well. Nobody at the music library could recall any such performances in recent years.

Posted in MIT, Music, Theater | Comments Off on MIT’s Lipchitz Courtyard – Then and Now

Dolet 5.4 for Sibelius and Dolet 5.5 for Finale Released

Recordare has released maintenance updates for both the Dolet 5 for Sibelius and Dolet 5 for Finale plug-ins. Version 5.4 of the Dolet 5 for Sibelius plug-in improves how beaming is exported to MusicXML files. Version 5.5 of the Dolet 5 for Finale plug-in adds better import of system breaks from PhotoScore MusicXML files.

These updates are free for current Dolet 5 customers. Both plug-ins are available at the Recordare Online Store, with upgrade discounts available for Dolet 4 users.

We have also updated our MusicXML 2.0 tutorial for software developers. The frequently asked questions (FAQ) and the MusicXML example files have been updated to account for the changes in MusicXML use and software over the past year or two.

Posted in MusicXML, Software | Comments Off on Dolet 5.4 for Sibelius and Dolet 5.5 for Finale Released

Cabrillo 2010 Wrapup

The 2010 edition of the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music is wrapping up tonight. Led by the brilliant music director Marin Alsop, this is always a highlight of the Northern Californian summer. This year proved no exception.

The first weekend was highlighted by a concentrated look at two composers: Jennifer Higdon and Mark-Anthony Turnage. Both composers were introduced to me at earlier Cabrillo festivals. Higdon has been a particular favorite, so it was a great delight to hear two concertos: her concerto grosso for eighth blackbird, On a Wire, and her Percussion Concerto performed by Colin Currie. The Percussion Concerto might be my new favorite of the Higdon works that I have heard performed live. The writing where the percussion soloist was halo-ed by the percussion section was particularly evocative.

There seems to be a lot of concerto grosso in the air at Cabrillo these days. The eighth blackbird concerto of course is in this idiom with a sextet of soloists, but the halo percussion parts in the Percussion Concerto and the halo soloists in last year’s Azul cello concerto by Osvaldo Golijov are pretty close relatives.

Although I liked Turnage’s Riffs and Refrains clarinet concerto two years ago, other works of his have not had the same effect. His opening Scherzoid this year fell into this category – it was fine, but I didn’t find it particularly compelling listening. But when you get to hear three works by a composer in two nights, it makes it easier to find your way into their language. Midway through Chicago Remains in the second concert, I had an “ah-hah!” moment where the musical language started to make a lot more sense to me, and my listening became much more involved. I then thoroughly enjoyed the concert-concluding Drowned Out. Thanks to Marin for such great programming – and, of course, for conducted such inspired performances of these works.

Last night’s concert featured John Adams‘s most recent orchestral work, City Noir. The Cabrillo Festival Orchestra fielded 16 extras for this one, including San Francisco Symphony principal trumpet Mark Inouye on second trumpet. It was well worth it! This score sounds quite different from the other orchestral works by Adams that I have heard – even denser with musical ideas than before, and with a rather different treatment of rhythm. It also sounded crazy difficult, with a lot of tricky lines at fast tempos. While I enjoyed the performance tremendously, this is definitely a piece I will need to hear more to absorb. And as one of the orchestra members said at the post-concert reception, it’s the type of work that you would like to play multiple times in a subscription setting to really dig into it.

The other special highlight of the concert was Kevin Puts‘s piano concerto Night, with the composer as soloist. Even though Mr. Puts was introduced by Marin as being a festival favorite, somehow I’ve missed his past compositions. I’ll try not to repeat that mistake in the future. This was a beautiful concerto that makes me eager to hear more of his music.

As usual, there were many shorter pieces in the concerts that served to introduce composers new to the festival. Anna Clyne, Sean Hickey, and Michael Shapiro all offered attractive and interesting compositions, and once again whetted the appetite for more of their music.

This year I believe that all the composers being performed were present at Cabrillo, which I think is a first for the festival. One of the joys of Cabrillo is being able to talk to the composers and performers about their music and experiences. At intermission last night, I introduced myself to John Adams and told him how thrilled I am to be performing El Niño with him in December as a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus. He asked what part I sang; when I answered “tenor”, he seemed to wince a little and mentioned that “I write pretty high for tenors.” We’ll see how it compares with Der Freischütz – but it’s a lot different singing with a large tenor section compared to the 6-voice section we’re limited to at West Bay Opera! In general I’d rather have a composer write pretty high for tenors than pretty low, but I’ll know more after our first rehearsal next month.

Executive director Ellen Primack and development director Tom Fredericks received many accolades and honors before the opening concert to honor their 20 years with the Festival. I haven’t dealt directly with Mr. Fredericks, but ever since singing in the chorus of the Bernstein Mass at the 1999 festival, I’ve been in awe of Ellen Primack’s skills in making things work out so well behind the scenes. Hats off to everyone at Cabrillo for another great success of a season!

Posted in Music | 1 Comment

The Amazing Sasha Cooke

Sasha Cooke press photoLast night we attended our first concert at the Music@Menlo Chamber Music Festival to hear mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke sing spirituals, some of Bolcom’s Cabaret Songs, and Barber’s Op. 13 songs – the set that includes Sure on This Shining Night. This was part of the festival’s closing “Dvořák’s America” program which included Dvořák’s American Quartet and Quintet. The string playing was fine, especially in the closing Quintet, but as singers our focus was on the amazing Ms. Cooke.

The first time I heard Sasha Cooke sing was last year in the San Francisco Symphony’s semi-staged performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe. Ms. Cooke had the title role and was just outstanding vocally and dramatically. She totally nailed her closing “He loves!” aria, which to me is perhaps the most single spine-tinglingly beautiful moment in the entire G&S canon. That performance had some curious amplification – much to the displeasure of the starring Lord Chancellor, Richard Suart, and perhaps other cast members as well. So I couldn’t be sure of how great she was, but I had a pretty good feeling about it.

That feeling was confirmed when my wife (also a mezzo-soprano) and I heard her sing Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony in June. I’ve heard these songs both live and on recording with some pretty famous singers, but the cycle as a whole had never really grabbed me. Individual songs like Absence are outstanding, sure, but the cycle has a lot of pretty slow songs that can blur together. Cooke made great dramatic sense of it, giving each song its own characterization and distinctiveness, but in a totally natural-sounding way. Some excellent solo singers have trouble being heard in the vastness and acoustic imperfectness of Davies, but this was no problem for Ms. Cooke at any dynamic level.

There are times when you can tell from the audience that MTT is having even more fun than usual, when a performance is just spectacularly good. This was one of those times – he was really radiating throughout the cycle. At the end during the applause, he knelt down and kissed the hem of Ms. Cooke’s gown. We’ve been subscribing to the San Francisco Symphony ever since we moved here, which was MTT’s first season with the Symphony, and we’ve never seen that before!

So the very next day we booked the tickets to last night’s Music@Menlo concert. I was thinking the Barber and Bolcom were pretty sure to be outstanding, but I was skeptical about the spirituals. Those were what opened her part of the program, and they were incredible. She was totally into the style, with the dialect and tone just right, but still with her personality. She was literally jaw-droppingly good, and demonstrated even more versatility than ever. The Bolcom songs were indeed outstanding. After intermission were the Barber songs, and perhaps it did these songs no favors to hear them after the others. I love them, but their poetic language makes them less immediately accessible to the audience than the much more vernacular spirituals and Bolcom. They are also tricky songs, and this was the only time where you could perhaps detect a little bit of singer’s calculation about getting everything just right.

But that’s in part because Ms. Cooke, unlike far too many other concert singers these days, actually learns her music by heart. I have yet to see her bring music on stage, and of course this frees her both physically and musically to really communicate with the audience. To see and hear her in a real chamber-music sized hall, seating about 120 people, was a special treat indeed.

Having heard her sing three times now in three different settings, I am really looking forward to performing with her next year! Sasha Cooke will be the mezzo-soprano soloist with the San Francisco Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 on May 7 and 8. Tickets are available online now. I will be singing tenor in the chorus. Yes, we just performed this in March, but the Symphony will be taking it on tour next season. So we are reprising it with different soloists; Karina Gauvin will be the soprano.

The last time we heard Lorraine Hunt Lieberson sing in person was when she sang the Mahler 2 with the San Francisco Symphony in the set of concerts that led to the orchestra’s recording. Katrina Karnéus sang it fabulously in our March performances. I can’t wait to hear what the amazing Sasha Cooke will do with Urlicht and the 5th movement. Catch this wonderful singer as soon as you can. With any luck she’s just at the start of her brilliant career!

Photo by Rikki Cooke.

Posted in Music | 1 Comment