Fragments: An Autobiography
Les Three composers Matthew Monticchio (front), Ron Thomas, and David B. Thomas.
Matthew Monticchio and David B. Thomas discovered in my work concepts, inspiration, direction, and hope for their own art and for the art of music generally. This was always one of my hopes (to contribute ideas, inspiration, hope and new direction for the art of music) and so I rejoice in the Providence that brought Monticchio and D.B.Thomas into my life. Our serious purpose masquerades as comic discussions filled with irony, parody, sarcasm, wit and wisdom, puns, double takes, slapstick, sight gags, send ups, and other miscellaneous labyrinthine intricacies all fed by a rich stream of vocabulary and imagery from literature, biography, social history, contemporary culture, politics, painting, music theory, etc. the whole gargantuan conceptual matrix of western civilization.
Les Three (the most enduring of our self-descriptions) is a bi-lingual pun linking us to Les Six, Jean Cocteau’s infamous public-relations confederation of French and Swiss composers in France during the polemical art-wars of the 1920’s. It is my favorite of our numerous mottos…. pure Joyce, who is himself (to me) the enduring emblem of “old” modernity and innovation. “Les Three” is the perfectly minimal and instantaneously pluralistic description of the hilarious “School that is not a school” that has grown up around me and my work…. funny, intellectual, innocent, nostalgic and “contemporary” ALL AT ONCE.
Les Three teamed up under that name in 1999 to produce concerts of our own music. Works of David B. Thomas, and Matthew Monticchio, and Ron Thomas and the performers listed for each of these first seven Les Three concert productions.
Music in Three Parts rhythm section: Ron Thomas, Paul Klinefelter, and Joe Mullen.
In 1995 my good friend Richard Burton asked me to collaborate with him on the production of my first CD as a leader (the second release for his company Vectordisc), Scenes from a Voyage to Arcturus. Around this time my good friend drummer/ percussionist Joe Mullen enticed me back into the record studio for some long evenings of experimental/improvisational musical work. Some of the most fruitful of these sessions were with Trumpeter John Swana and a compilation of the best of those sessions was released in late 2006 on Richard’s Vectordisc label. Its title is Cycles.
Doloroso rhythm section: Ron Thomas (left), Joe Mullen, and Tony Marino.
My second release for Vectordisc was House of Counted Days a quartet recording of my music featuring Joe Mullen, Tony Marino, and John Swana. Arcturus and Counted Days found their way (thanks to percussionist Dave Torchia) into the hands of Art of Life Records owner Paul G. Kohler who took an interest in releasing my music. My first release for him was Music in Three Parts featuring bassist Paul Klinefelter with Joe Mullen followed by Doloroso featuring House of Counted Days rhythm section Tony Marino and Joe Mullen. In 2003 Paul Klinefelter and I recorded Blues for Zarathustra and Art of Life Records which was released in 2008.
In March of 2006, Vectordisc released a 1991 recorded solo project 17 Solo Piano Improvisations.
I worked in the studio with Joe Mullen, a trio project tentatively called 100,000 Doves after a 1925 painting by Max Ernst. Featured on these new trio pieces is young bassist Joe Michaels, whose distinctive and beautiful approach to contemporary improvisation rewards the listener with unusually imaginative and well-integrated expressive musical designs. I was blessed to gain his attention and interest as a teacher/mentor and he has been studying composition and other broadly related subjects. He is destined to have a real influence on the contemporary musical scene both as a player and a composer.
The past returns to the present not once but twice.
In May of 2005, M. William Karlins died quietly in his home in Evanston, Illinois at the age of 73. Our mutual connection to Stefan Wolpe brought us back together in 1998 when we saw each for the first time in many years in Philadelphia at the first of several Wolpe Festivals and Conferences we attended together over the coming years. Bill and I never lost touch but our friendship was vitally reactivated and continued unabated until his death. It was a profound joy to me to have had this late opportunity to review my studies with Bill, and to experience the transformation of our relationship as teacher and student into an equally warm and fruitful relationship as mature artists.
Marshall Taylor (saxophonist, at right in photo) and composer Raoul Pleskow (left) began to collaborate in 2003. Raoul wrote several pieces for Marshall (and pianist Sam Hsu). Raoul travels by train from Little Neck, NY, to Marshall’s home in Radnor, PA, and I have been able to join them for many of these visits. I composed a variation piece for cello and piano dedicated to Raoul based on Anton Webern’s Three Pieces for Violin and Piano, a work that was a significant turning point in Raoul’s development as a composer. Raoul and I analyzed the work while I was studying with him during my graduate studies at C.W.Post in 1968-1970 and, because of this, my Webern Variations, I hope, is an appropriate hommage to him. Raoul turned 75 in 2006.
I owe to Dr Mark Rimple an unexpected and expanded view of music history, composition, and ideas. Having signed up as an auditor in his West Chester University Counterpoint class, I was an instant convert to his manner, his wit and his erudition and I returned four more times to learn from his teaching between 2009 and 2014; chances are, I will continue. In 2010 Dr Robert Gjerdingen from Northwestern University gave the Wilkinson lecture at WCU revealing some of his discoveries in the partimento tradition, calling his talk "How did Bach and Mozart write their music". It was a revelation to both Dr Rimple and myself; I am still exploring and processing the insights he shared that day. Dr Rimple subsequently absorbed Dr Gjerdingen's material, systematically importing it successfully into his own teaching and it was my privilege to be there for the process. Dr Rimple is a guitarist, counter-tenor, lutenist, conductor, a published scholar, and a composer. We became fast friends immediately and always enjoy vigorous and wide ranging conversations. His is a mind and a musical spirit that stands apart from even the many fascinating past and present colleagues and friends I have been privileged to know through the years.