Volume 2 of the American Piano Music Series

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Album Notes

 

Volume 2 of the American Piano Music series focuses on the following seven composers. Click on a composer name to see full biographies.

     Scott Joplin (1868 - 1917)
     Amy Beach (1867 - 1944)
     Dave Brubeck (1920 - 2012)
     Keith Jarrett (b1945)
     Florence Price (1887 - 1953)
     Dave Grusin (b1934)
     Zez Confrey (1895 - 1971)

I've recorded three pieces by each of these seven composers and, as I did in Volume 1, I've mostly dovetailed the pieces from each composer in a more programmatic fashion, as opposed to playing the pieces sequentially by composer. The only time I don't do this is with the compositions of Florence Price and Zez Confrey. Their pieces were meant to be played sequentially; Price's three pieces forming her "Dances In The Canebrakes" suite and Confrey's comprising his "Three Little Oddities" suite. 

There’s a lot of nuance and detail in this music. The very best way to appreciate the album is to listen with a good pair of headphones. Try it - It makes a big difference!

I hope you enjoy listening to each of these pieces as much as I enjoyed recording them.

- Corte Swearingen, May, 2022

 

Notes on the Music

Gladiolus Rag (Scott Joplin, 1907) - Scott Joplin wrote Gladiolus Rag in 1907. It's a great example of a classic ragtime piece of that era - and no one wrote rags quite like Joplin! By 1907, Joplin was moving away from the strict oom-pah left-hand pattern and employing other devices like octaves and 16th note lines. This piece beautifully demonstrates how Joplin's writing technique was evolving and growing.

Under The Stars (Amy Beach, 1907) - I'm guessing you may never have heard the name Amy Beach before. While she was rather famous back in her lifetime, she's mostly forgotten about today. It's a shame since her piano compositions are so beautifully intimate. "Under The Stars," written in 1907, is a wonderful example of how she used the piano to describe nature - in this case, the nighttime sky.

Nimble Feet (Florence Price, 1953) - Florence Price was the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer and the first to have a composition played by a major orchestra (the Chicago Symphony). Nimble Feet is the first movement of her piano suite "Dances In The Canebreaks." 

Tropical Noon (Florence Price, 1953) -  Tropical Noon is the second movement from Price's solo piano suite "Dances in the Canebrakes." The beautifully slow-drag style and offbeat rhythms recall the ragtime style of the early 1900's.

Silk Hat And Walking Cane (Florence Price, 1953) - "Silk Hat and Walking Cane" is the third movement to Florence Price's "Dances in the Canebrakes." The predominant rhythm here is the “cakewalk,” a ballroom dance of the late 19th century. The music cleverly combines the feeling of theatrical dance with fashionable ballroom dancing.

All My Love (Dave Brubeck, 1999) - The great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck composed "All My Love" during a vacation in Maui in February of 1999. It is dedicated to his wife Iola. It's a short but beautifully sensitive composition that showcases his more introspective side.

Cuba Libre (Dave Grusin, 1990) - This is a wonderful Dave Grusin composition from the score he produced for the 1990 Sydney Pollack film "Havana." Grusin performed the version you hear in this recording on his CD "Now Playing." 

Testament (Keith Jarrett, 2008) - Keith Jarrett doesn't write down his compositions like most composers. His piano pieces are spontaneously improvised at live concerts. "Testament" was improvised by Jarrett at the Salle Pleyel in Paris at a live 2008 Concert. 

Magnetic Rag (Scott Joplin, 1914) - Out of all of Scott Joplin’s published piano works, this one is my absolute favorite - it’s Joplin’s masterpiece. Written in 1914, Joplin was already suffering the later stages of syphilis would would die only three years later. Possibly as a result of Joplin’s mood at the time, the piece expresses a melancholy almost entirely unheard in his earlier works. The piece is a great example of Joplin’s experimental period, where he was working to evolve and push the boundaries of the ragtime form. In the album notes to Scott Joplin: Piano Rags, Joshua Rifkin describes the "Magnetic Rag" as a "valedictory work" with Joplin paying "tribute" to a "transplanted Middle-European dance music" and the European masters whom he tried to emulate. Rifkin speculates that the composition's short coda at the end also "seems like a farewell, as if he knew how brief and bleak was the time still allotted him."

Columbine (Amy Beach, 1894) - This beautiful little waltz was composed by Beach in 1894, and is part of the suite “Children’s Carnival.” The suite is comprised of 6 pieces and was designed for young piano players. The 6 programmatic movements in the suite depict the characters of early European pantomime, popular in America in the late 19th century: Promenade, Columbine, Pantalon, Pierrot and Pierrette, Secrets and Harlequin.

One Moment Worth Years (Dave Brubeck, 1956) - This lovely jazz piano piece was first recorded by Brubeck for the 1956 album "Brubeck Plays Brubeck." It dovetails jazz and classical piano into a rich tapestry that personifies the genius of Brubeck.

Thanksong (Dave Grusin, 1980) - Dave Grusin is an American composer born in 1934. He’s won an Academy Award as well as ten Grammy Awards. He’s best known as the film composer for The Graduate, On Golden Pond and Tootsie. He’s written many solo piano compositions and this is one of my favorites. “Thanksong” came out on his 1980 album Mountain Dance and showcases his more classical side. In my opinion, it’s one of his most beautiful piano compositions.

Solace (Scott Joplin, 1909) - This, along with 'Magnetic Rag', are among my most favorite Joplin compositions. The first time I heard this piece was back in the late 70s when I caught an airing of "The Sting" on a local station. I was mesmerized by all the ragtime music in the film, but especially this piece, with its Latin rhythm and haunting melodies. Certainly, one of Joplin's finest! 

Radiance (Keith Jarrett, 2002) - Keith Jarrett spontaneously improvised this piece at a Tokyo concert on October 30th, 2002. It's amazing that he can produce these beautiful melodies without working them out ahead of time.

Impromptu (Zez Confrey, 1923) - "Impromptu" is from Zez Confrey's wonderful piano suite titled "Three Little Oddities." While Confrey was better known for his novelty piano pieces, this unusual impressionistic composition showcases his more classical side, and reminds me of Debussy or Ravel.

Novelette (Zez Confrey, 1923) - "Novelette" is the second movement of Confrey's "Three Little Oddities" piano suite. It's a beautiful number that evokes a gentle impressionistic mood.

Romanza (Zez Confrey, 1923) - Romanza is the third piece in Zez Confrey's "Three Little Oddities" piano suite. I find the title a bit misleading. These aren't oddities, but rather, beautiful impressionistic miniatures for the piano. 

Heartease (Amy Beach, 1922) - This beautifully impressionistic piece by composer Amy Beach is the second movement in the 5-movement piano suite titled "From Grandmother's Garden." Heartease is a summer wild flower, bearing many small blooms patterned with purple, lavender and yellow.

Audrey (Dave Brubeck, 1954) - Here's a fantastic short blues piece written by the late great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck (along with saxophonist Paul Desmond). The piece was inspired by Audrey Hepburn. The piece was originally recorded in October 1954, and released on the "Brubeck Time" album in early 1955.

Staircase (Keith Jarrett, 1976) - This piece us from Jarrett's fourth piano recording. Jarrett and producer Manfred Eicher had arrived at Studio Davout in Paris to record a soundtrack to a film. Finishing early with several hours of studio time left and impressed by the quality of the studio's piano, they spontaneously decided to record this album. This is one of the pieces Jarrett improvised for the recording.

On Golden Pond (Dave Grusin, 1981) - "On Golden Pond" was written for the 1981 movie of the same name. Grusin wrote the original version of this piece for orchestra, but created a solo piano version for his 2004 album "Now Playing." This is the version you hear on this album.