Posts Tagged ‘jazz’

Writing for Percussionists

January 22, 2016

For many years, I have written music for percussionists. Their diverse musical backgrounds generally gives them a very open mind towards the new and contemporary.

My music tends to be highly energetic, groove-based, pop/world-influenced and grounded in modes. In other words, the sound world of jazz and rock, a world that most percussionists of American origin are familiar with due to playing in bands as well as high school and college music programs.

So, if you’re going to write new music today, you’re probably going to find percussionists welcoming you. It is worth noting that the first classical percussion piece written specifically for percussion ensemble begins with Edgard Varèse’s Ionisation (1929-31) a seminal 20th century piece. And, by the way, it’s highly energetic with grooves and world music influences.

Here is the opening to my percussion quartet Material Rhythms. The world influence in the opening measures are found in the 3-2 clave pattern in the percussionist’s right mallet layered over a 2-3 clave pattern in the left mallet. Layering the clave in this way also creates a 3 against 2 rhythm within each 4-beat grouping.


Material Rhythms for percussion quartet by William Susman, Section I. Wood

William Susman’s Material Rhythms for percussion quartet performed by Reinhardt University’s Percussion Ensemble under the direction of Olivia Kieffer.




Album of the Week

December 23, 2014

In Seattle, the radio show Second Inversion, on KING FM 98.1 FM, selected Scatter My Ashes performed by OCTET Ensemble as their album of the week. We also received some very nice accolades, especially about our vocalist Mellissa Hughes. Here are a few excerpts:

“Hughes’ dazzling vocals soar… her voice amplifies the sorrow, hope, and drama of the poetry, making each word glow.”

“A beautiful and texturally fascinating sonic landscape which fully encompasses the listener in its sinuous melodies and jazz-infused rhythms”

“The album stands as a timeless combination of contemporary classical music, minimalism, and jazz into a profound and dynamic multidisciplinary work” – Second Inversion

Second Inversion on KING FM 98.1 FM

Second Inversion on KING FM 98.1 FM

Album of the Month at textura

October 6, 2014

textura honored Scatter My Ashes choosing it as an October 2014 Album of the Month. Here are a few quotes from their review:

“…resplendent and melodious, and easy to embrace when its fresh blend of neo-classical, jazz, and popular song-based forms sparkles so effervescently…”

“…ruminating on the self’s dissolution and communing with nature…”

“…the experience of big city alienation and its citizens’ insatiable appetite for sensory stimulation…”

“…rambunctious syncopations…”

“…both density and clarity…”

It was also a pleasure to participate in a thought-provoking interview where the album was described as a “genre-transcending fusion of contemporary Western classical, jazz, pop, and non-Western folk musics.”

textura October 2014 cover featuring Albums of the Month by Maya Beiser, William Susman and yMusic

textura October 2014 cover featuring the “Albums of the Month” by Maya Beiser, William Susman and yMusic

Earle Brown | Available Recollections: Jazz

July 24, 2012

Earle had it down. Like all great composers who develop a style all their own, Earle refined and honed his craft and sound throughout his career. I remember him mentioning to me that he was trying to compose in a way as freely, spontaneously and quickly as if he were playing the part live.

Earle played trumpet in jazz bands in his youth. It was as if he were creating an ‘improvisation-in-writing’ in real time. He knew his harmonic and melodic vocabulary inside out and attempted now to write ‘freely’ in the same amount of time that it would take to play the line. Certainly, MIDI and keyboards today are commonplace for such procedures, but Earle heard it and could get it down as quickly as Pablo Picasso could sketch a figure. He was an artist.

PIcasso drawing with light


Originally published in: “Earle Brown: From Motets to Mathematics” Contemporary Music Review, Volume 26, Issue 3 & 4 June 2007 , pages 371 – 375

For Internal Use

September 3, 2009
A granary commonly found in family compounds. This storehouse, one of hundreds in the village of Zogore, holds millet, a food staple of Burkina Faso, Mali and other West African countries.

A granary commonly found in family compounds. This storehouse, one of hundreds in the village of Zogore, holds millet, a food staple of Burkina Faso and other West African countries.

Through my research into African music I hope to answer questions about why I compose the way I do and where it is leading. Perhaps the journey will take me somewhere new and, or simply back to a place I have always known.

Simha Arom in African Polyphony and Polyrhythm sets out to create a typology of music in African Societies. i.e classifying it according to its characteristics.

I paraphrase the general features:

Popular music where anyone can play it and you don’t verbalize the theory surrounding it.

Oral music where it is passed on from generation to generation without notation.

Anonymous and undatable music where no one knows who wrote it or when.

Collective music where the whole community is responsible for preserving it as part of their heritage.

Music for internal use where it is particular to that society, used for communication and even a higher means.