Monday, November 2, 2009


After numerous delays, we finally had the first rehearsal for the Alec Wilder concert yesterday....

For several years, I have wanted to present a concert of the music of Alec Wilder, that most unusual American composer. His amazing music is not as well known as it should be, perhaps because he is so unclassifiable. Wilder wrote some of the best songs in the "Great American Songbook," even if "While We're Young," "I'll Be Around," "Blackberry Winter," and "Moon and Sand" are not as widely known as the songs of Gershwin or Cole Porter.

But after years in the pop music business, Wilder began composing "classical" music, often for wind instruments. Again, this music is not widely known among classical listeners, but instrumentalists love it - Wilder's classical music is melodic, challenging, and fun to play. He wrote for musicians he liked - Julius Baker, Harvey Phillips, Donald Sinta - and just gave his scores away, not charging the recipients, and often not keeping a copy of the music for himself.

Although Wilder was by no means a jazz musician, much of his work was touched by jazz. He first gained fame by composing and recording a series of octets with titles like "Sea Fugue Mama," "It's Silk, Feel It!," and "Jack, This is My Husband." These pieces were written for woodwinds and a rhythm section which included harpsichord. They're not really jazz, not quite pop, and not exactly classical. They're totally Wilder, though.

And he wrote pieces like "Jazz Waltz for a Friend" for the great Marian McPartland. "Jazz Waltz" is strange, twisted, but ultimately logical. I wanted to play it for the concert, but was unable to find the sheet music. So I transcribed it from McPartland's first recording of the tune. It took me three days and gave me nightmares, literally - I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about those chords. But the odd harmonies and 38-bar structure make sense in the end.

At our rehearsal, we stumbled and felt our way through the tunes, but music started to emerge. When the other members of Standard Deviation, Scott, Janna, and Ben, began to rehearse what is perhaps my favorite Wilder song, "Blackberry Winter," I was somewhat overcome. I had only heard this song on recordings, never in person. That halting first attempt was so beautiful that it literally brought a tear to my eye. At the same time, I was chagrined and disappointed - the three of them sounded so perfect together on the song that I realized I shouldn't play on it. So I won't be playing my favorite Alec Wilder tune at the concert.

That concert, by the way, will be February 6 at the First Existentialist Congregation (The Old Stone Church) in Atlanta. It will feature Wilder's songs performed by Standard Deviation as well as some of his classical pieces - in particular the Clarinet Sonata performed by Sandy Wade. I'll keep everyone informed.

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