Globe Trotters and Jet Setters

- Amanda MacBlane, NewMusicBox

November 1, 2002

When I was 20 years old I, like generations of American college students before me, packed a suitcase and got on a plane for my junior year abroad in Paris. I had never been to a country where English wasn’t the primary language and I remember in my post-departure panic saying to my French professor: "If you don’t think I speak French well enough and that I’m going to be an embarrassment to my country, be honest with me and I won’t go!" Of course, when I realized that most Americans in France practice what David Sedaris calls "Easy French" (simply speaking English louder), I eased into my new culture without a problem. When the cab driver dropped me off at my apartment, I knew I was at home. I have never been as comfortable in my life as when I was in Paris. I wanted to be Parisian, whereas I am not quite sure that I want to be considered a New Yorker. I believe strongly that every person has a corresponding place that feels like home and this is not necessarily (or even usually) where they are born. I was fascinated this month to find so many artists among the stack of new recordings who have moved away from their roots and ventured into the unknown to find their mental and spiritual homes.

Across the Ocean

It makes sense that many composers and musicians would have a desire to live in Europe. After all, many of our American musical traditions come from European roots and academic ties to European institutions are plentiful. Barney Childs took a break from the American West when he was invited to attend Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and George Walker, like dozens of American composers before and after, sought the tutelage of Nadia Boulanger in Paris. Before this he had been studying in Fontainebleau about 45 minutes southeast of the grand French metropolis. Film and television composer extraordinaire Danny Elfman escaped from his native L.A. at age 18 to join a theater troupe in Paris with his brother and soon pushed off to Africa. Only a bout of malaria convinced him to return to the States! And bassist Andy McKee continued a long tradition of ex-patriot jazzers in the City of Lights, living in Paris in the mid-1980s.

The bustle of Rome (not to mention the American Academy there) has also attracted many American deserters throughout the past century such as Samuel Barber, Frederic Rzewski, and Alvin Singleton. Both Singleton and Rzewski extended their stays in Europe for a couple of decades!

Some artists have venture farther afield in search of inspiration. Larry Polansky's time spent in Central Java continues to inspire his output as is evident on his newest recording. And although they hail from all over the US, Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacodk, and Jack DeJohnette joined forces in Tokyo for a live recording. Due to the improvisatory nature of their music, one can’t deny the impact of location on the performance.

Road Trip!

Because the United States is so vast, many artists are continually inspired by the variety within their homeland. Most composers seem to follow in the path of the pioneers and settlers moving from east to west. MIDI-raga composer Michael Robinson left New York City for Maui in 1989, backtracking a year later to land in Los Angeles. JazzersSkip Heller, Mike Fahn, Terii Lyne Carrington, and contrabassoonist (whom I’ve also heard called "contra-nut")Allen Savedoff left their northeastern abodes for the palm trees of L.A. Improv artist Adam James Wilsonstopped halfway west from New York in Ohio and Illinois for university, and legendary tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyd along with the funky tin hat trioboth opted for the northern vibe of California. Composer Daniel Adams who specializes in percussion music took the southern corridor westward moving from Miami to Texas via Louisiana (and Illinois).

(The first five paragraphs of the article are reproduced above.)

SoundTracks: November 2002


Michael Robinson's continuing study of raga forms leads to this meditation on the revered Hindu god Shiva. The title, meaning "Bearer of Ganga," describes how the sacred Ganges River supposedly flows through the hair of Shiva as it travels from heaven to earth. The result is a fluid reflection, based on an elegiac melody with trumpet and kawala timbres accented with sparkling bells and rainsticks.

Michael Robinson - computer programming