25 years ago I performed my first straight through solo performance at the Longy School of Music. It was to be the first of many, and followed a specific format: featured works within a thematic timeline joined together by completely free improvisation. At the time it seemed like the perfect challenge. I gave always loved to just sit down and play, improvise, for hours since I was quite young. Audience response was amazing. Perhaps that total immersion in a one set journey uninterrupted provided the perfect journey.
During the time my wife Shari and I were raising my kids (now 20 and 17), these performances took a back seat. Now they’re back. There’s a lot of great songs to play, and a lot of unexplored territory out there in the musical universe!
A recent concert at the Taylor House in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts featured works of and dedicated to my mentors. Here are some selections from that performance:
Consciousness / Veien
Lake Whittlesey / Elodi’s Magic
Mother / Taxi Driver / Smokestack
Program from the Concert:
Ben Schwendener: Solo Piano
Friday May 9 2014
Taylor House, Jamaica Plain
For My Mentors
Song List for Improvised Set:
- Consciousness (George Russell)
- Veien (Jan Garbarek)
- Lake Whittlesey (Uli Schwendener)
- Elodi’s Magic (on a theme by Elodi Rose Schwendener)
- Mother (Daisaku Ikeda)
- Taxi Driver (Bernard Herrman)
- Smokestack (Andrew Hill)
- April Showers (Pearl Kavenaugh and Ben Schwendener)
- Nighttime Meditation (Schwendener)
- The Human Sensing of Unity with Great Nature (George Russell)
Ran Blake was one of the first people I met in 1982 when I began attending NEC. He came up to me and with a big warm smile said: “Thank you so much for coming here to study with George Russell!”. Ran remains to this day an enormous influence, in the bredth and freedom of melody and harmony, and in the humanity and appreciation he has always shown towards others.
I studied and worked with George Russell for over 30 years up to his passing in 2007. His uncompromising vision, work, respect for nature, intuitive intelligence and the potential of each individual has guided my own pedagogical journey these past 25 years.
Joe Maneri and his wife Sonia were pillars of love and support to me during the early days here in Boston. Joe believed in my music and set up an ‘Enchanted Circle’ concert in Jordan Hall for me and my group in 1990. The love and wonder with which he performed both on stage and in the classroom remains a constant inspiration.
Selected notes on the pieces:
‘Consciousness’ and ‘The Human Sensing of Unity with Great Nature’ are both events from ‘The African Game by George Russell
‘Veine’ is from the album Folk Songs by Jan Garbarek. Jan and George go back a ways. This work has often been referenced in LCC classes.
‘Lake Whittlesey’ is a beautiful inland lake on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. My son Uli, 5 at the time, and I were canoe portaging to there when he sang me this melody, which I promptly wrote down.
Elodi was singing the theme which became ‘Elodi’s Magic’ one day playing with paper dolls. She was 6 then. I heard her and asked what that song was. She said “what? What song?” In her dream world…
‘Mother’ is a poem by Daisaku Ikeda, a founding president of the Buddhist organization I have practiced with since 1986. He goes by the pen name ‘Shinichi Yamamoto’ (see attaached)
‘Taxi Driver’, besides being a great movie, has a wonderful score by Bernard Herrman. A favorite of Ran’s, and also my dear friend Gregg Ramsey.
‘Smokestack’ is the title track on a Blue Note Album by Andrew Hill of the same name. Andrew was a great influence. He said to me once “Don’t just make a cup, make a pot of coffee before you practice!”
‘Night Time Meditation’ was written and is often a featured instumental at ‘Night Song’ – the wonderful creation by Daryl Bichel which I have been fortunate to have been a part of the past 8 years.