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Straight No Chaser - A Jazz Show

Welcome to Straight No Chaser, the Award-winning Podcast hosted by Jeffrey Siegel

Apr 20, 2013

The artistic muse strikes when it will. Personal tragedy or pain can be the catalyst for the creation of art just as often as joy, or the experience of beauty. The artist takes what comes, and if they are successful in their chosen medium, the resulting work gives the world a sense of what Susanne K. Langer called “felt life”.

For Bill Horvitz, the tragedy was the sudden death of his younger brother Philip from heart failure in 2005, at the age of 44. Horvitz, who as a composer and guitar player had stretched the boundaries of jazz, classical, folk and rock music for three decades, the process of making sense of his loss sent him to work.

In the years that followed Philip’s death, Horvitz wrote and arranged a long-form piece of music for a large ensemble, which has become The Long Walk, a tribute to his brother. The piece has grown in length, and the ensemble, which began at a dozen, has grown to seventeen, including brass, woodwinds and strings backing a core jazz band. The Bill Horvitz Expanded Band, as it is known, recently performed the work on the West Coast (where Horvitz and his wife reside), and the CD studio recording has just been released on Big Door Prize Records. An East Coast version of the Expanded Band will perform The Long Walk at Roulette in Brooklyn on June 30th at 6:00 pm, six years after the piece was last performed there.

While the catalyst for The Long Walk may have been tragedy, the CD is a life-affirming tribute to a man who spent his life in dance, theatre and movement. While there are notes of sadness in the title track and “As If”, they are outweighed by the joy in “Funk Side Story”, the wit of “Where Did the Monkey Go” and the exuberance of “Do You Want to Dance?” The ensemble directed by Omid Zoufonoun, and features strong ensemble playing as well as solos from artists including Horvitz on guitar, his brother Wayne on piano, and Corey Wright on tenor sax.

I spoke with Bill about the creative process that resulted in The Long Walk, and how he composed and arranged for a large ensemble. Click here to listen to our conversation on Podcast 344, along with musical selections, including:

Bill Horvitz Expanded Band – “Do You Want to Dance?” from The Long Walk.  Philip Horvitz spent his creative life in the world of dance, and Bill knew that any tribute to Philip would have to include a dance number. This track fits the bill, showcasing solos by Darren Johnston (trumpet), Cory Wright (tenor sax) and Vijay Anderson (drums).

Bill Horvitz Expanded Band – “Child Star” from The Long Walk.  Horvitz tells a delightful story about his brother’s love of putting on shows for the family at a very early age. Spurred by this memory, he composed this wistful piece, which features solos by Kyle Bruckman (oboe), Sarah Jo Zararka (violin), Ned Haran (trombone) and Shirley Hunt (cello).

Bill Horvitz Expanded Band – “Funk Side Story” from The Long Walk. For me, this is the most fun piece on the CD. A piece of jazz-funk that resonates with the feel of a “West Side Story” number, it features some driving solos from Steve Adams (alto sax and flute), Johnston, Haran, Aram Shelton (clarinet) and Bill Horvitz (guitar).

Tone Bent – Title track from Angels in the Kitchen. Not all of Horvitz’ work is on such a large scale. He enjoys playing guitar and banjo and singing with his wife Robin Eschner in this two person group. This track, is from a 2011 release, which is being re-released in a new edition lter this year. Bill relayed the story behind the track:

In Paris France there is a bakery that has been going strong since the early 1930's when it was started up by Pierre Poilane. Pierre baked individually hand-crafted traditional French sourdough loaves in wood-fired ovens.

In 1970 Pierre's son - Lionel - was handed ownership of the bakery. Lionel was very charismatic and a seeker who believed that bread was intimately linked with history, politics, arts and language. Salvador Dali was included in his circle of friends and it was Dali who requested that Lionel build among other projects - a bird cage out of bread, and an entire bedroom set. I don't know if this was to scale.

Eight years ago this story took a very sad turn when Lionel and his wife Irena died in a helicopter crash on a foggy night over the English Channel. Their two daughters, Apollonia and Athena, were 18 and 16 at the time and the oldest daughter; Apollonia decided that she would take over the family business. She had grown up in the bakery and knew what was required. She attended Harvard and graduated and today - she's indeed running the family bakery, continuing the traditions of her Father and grandfather. Today the pain Poilane remains one of the most desired and respected breads in the world and is still baked in wood-fired ovens.  This song is for Apollonia and her sister Athena.

note: We had a CD release party and Robin had been in touch with Apollonia about the song. Apollonia offered to Fed Ex Poilane bread for the occasion, which she did: 10 very large loaves (2.5 lbs) and then it got strange as someone in customs didn't think it was ok or something and we got a call at 5 in the morning saying that customs was holding our package because the twist ties were not declared on the then we had to call Paris and explain that to them, which was not easy....anyway we got the bread and it was delicious .... so nice of her to do that!