B R A S S P L O I T A T I O N

commissioned by L.T. Townshend
instrumentation: tuba (or bass trombone) and piano
duration: 9 minutes
Premiered October 4, 2010 – Austin, Texas

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Program Note:

When asked to write a piece for tuba and piano, I was a bit hesitant. For one thing, I have always been uncomfortable with the traditional ensemble of “instrument plus piano accompaniment”. Secondly, the idea of using a primarily bass-oriented instrument seemed to be an immediate obstacle in writing a soloistic piece. However, as I began to think about the connotations that the tuba brings, a unique idea began to emerge. I immediately thought of Paul Hindemith’s Sonatas for various instruments, including one for tuba, and his democratic approach to chamber music all instruments.
Then I began to think about what I associated with the tuba. My immediate impression was
the low brass in a New Orleans brass band, and then, strangely, to the film scores of gritty 1970’s crime and exploitation films, such as Herbie Hancock’s score for Death Wish, Mikis Theodorakis’ score for Serpico, and Don Ellis’ score for The French Connection. Thus, I decided to synthesize Hindemith’s idea of the instrumental ensemble with the gritty and rhythmic jazz-influenced music of the film scores, creating a strange hybrid of neo-classical formal and contrapuntal structures with the raw, relentless rhythms of early 1970’s jazz-fusion and funk.
What resulted was Brassploitation, a title referring both to the films upon which it is based and the use of the tuba as soloist, accompanist, and rhythm section, thus exploiting it to its fullest potential. In the piece, the listener will essentially hear the neo-classical opening slowly dissolve into a dark, deep vamp that completely interrupts the activity of the movement, allowing the bass trombone to sing freely over a simple chord progression. Eventually, the preceding music is restored, but not before it is influenced by “the vamp”, which is simply a collection of two repeated chords moving in near-parallel motion.

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