Richard Thompson: Video Interview
Before Premiere of Mask In The Mirror
This is an updated follow-up in response to reader request. Composer/pianist Richard Thompson thanks you all for the positive reader response. Although he and I have not seen much of each other since the semester began, we do keep in touch. He forwarded this interview for readers who want to know a bit more about him and his work.
Thank you Richard and congratulations to a friend and colleague whose dream day is here...
Part 3 A Dream No Longer Deferred
Pianist and Composer Richard Thompson
It's finals "season" here at San Diego State University and most of us faculty are patiently reading and grading student work that will help to determine how well this semester's academic efforts align with coursework goals and outcomes. This is also a time to slow down a bit, to sit down and catch up on our lives, ambitions, accomplishments in and outside the university, before summer teaching appointments, next semester preparation, musical performances and research projects take our focus. It was in this spirit that Richard Thompson and I sat down in the School of Music and Dance faculty area for a brief and very informal mini-interview/conversation.
Richard: You look tired . . .
Me: Really? (Laughter as I sit down). How are you?
Richard: How are YOU doing may I ask?
Me: Typical end of semester tiredness. I'm still working on my book and archival research on African American popular music from the late 1800s to early 1900s. Got a few new poems and eclectic instrument ensemble pieces that I want to complete during the summer. What about you?
Richard: I've finished the opera! And . . . it is going into a full production this August. I will be in Newark New Jersey for rehearsals before fall semester starts here.
Me: Wow . .
Richard: Yes, all this time has elapsed. I had begun to resolve myself to, well, I thought that perhaps a staged "reading" was all that would come of my work. It's a dream come true.
I can hardly believe it. It truly is a gratifying feeling.
We talked for almost a half an hour more about compositional aesthetics, operetic works in twenty first century America, vocalists, and the social network of American composers. It has been a long time in arriving, but some dreams do become reality.
Here's a sample of one of my favorite song stylizations by Richard:
----For the full 2012 interview to be posted during mid-summer 2012 go to my other blog: http://sonictapestry.wordpress.com/
Congratulations my friend,
Up Close and Personal with Richard Thompson:
Composer/Pianist/Educator: Part 2
While eagerly awaiting news about the state of his " Mask in the Mirror" orchestration-the original was his solo piano score- Richard and I had several conversations about historical research for compositional works.It often requires demanding critical archival scanning and precise documentation.(More in the next interview). When asked to supply a brief synopsis of his new chamber opera, Professor Thompson sent the following:
The Mask in the Mirror Libretto and music by Richard Thompson
The chamber opera, The Mask in the Mirror depicts the courtship and failed marriage between the famed African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and novelist Alice Ruth Moore (1875-1935). The chamber opera follows their relationship from Dunbar’s initial letter of introduction to Alice, Dean Howells’ watershed review of Dunbar’s work in Harper’s Magazine, Paul and Alice’s secret engagement and marriage, to their difficult married life together in Washington, their final estrangement and Paul’s imminent death at his home in Dayton Ohio. The work is extremely accurate historically. They courted by letter and exchanged hundreds of letters during their relationship. I have structured the libretto around this source material and other pertinent extant documents. The letters are extremely revealing in terms of Paul’s and Alice’s individual psychology interpersonal dynamics. I have chosen pivotal moments in their lives to plot their relationship in a two- act work, consisting of thirteen scenes and a prologue. The work requires the two central protagonists, Dean Howells, Paul’s and Alice’s mothers and a small number of other minor characters. It is scored for chamber orchestra. The duration of The Mask in the Mirror is approximately two hours.
Dunbar’s short life is marked by great triumph in the face of adversity and also by great tragedy. He was the first African-American man of letters to achieve national and international fame and financial success. His story is a truly great American story. As the son of illiterate and extremely impoverished ex-slaves his literary success would have seemed highly improbable. Somehow his parents, his mother in particular, recognized a particular inner spark in the young Dunbar. He went to school in Dayton, Ohio, with the Wright brothers and in fact collaborated with them on a local paper. Characteristically, they built a printing press from scratch, and Dunbar was appointed editor of the paper. After completing high school he was unable to attend college nor find employment at local newspaper offices because of his race. He had already published several poems in papers in several cities and had expected to find employment in this field comparatively easily.
At this time of post-Reconstruction America, African-Americans were struggling to find a viable, positive identity and place in American society as a whole. The remarkable aspect of Dunbar’s personality was his sheer determination. After graduating from high school he worked as an elevator boy. While manning the elevator he wrote poems. He not only self-published his first book of poems Oak and Ivy (1892), but did so after convincing the publisher to print several hundred copies with no deposit. Dunbar sold his poetry volumes to passengers riding on his elevator, made a profit, paid his publisher and started work on his second volume, Majors and Minors, which brought him national fame and recognition.
Thank You Professor Thompson!
Up Close and Personal with Richard Thompson:
He comes from Aberdeen Scotland and made his debut at the Purcell Room in the Royal Festival Hall In London. His manner is quiet, yet strong. When he sits at the piano, his posture is that of one who is greeting an old friend.
This is the first installment of the long awaited interview dialogue with San Diego State University School of Music and Dance associate professor of Jazz Studies--Richard Thompson.His official bio is posted at: http://jazz.sdsu.edu/faculty/thompson
For samples of his jazz/spirituals CD with Mirage entitled: Swing Low Sweet,Chariot click onto: http://www.amazon.com/Swing-Sweet-Chariot-Richard-Thompson/dp/B0014DW84I
I have know Richard for several years now. His music is a unique blend of African American and European stylization. At a concert in honor of Black History month a couple of years ago, he signified at the end of an original composition with a combination of blues, modal jazz, and sanctified church gospel riffs that spoke volumes to the breadth of his understanding of African American idiomatic pianistic expression. Richard is a well read and knowledgeable music scholar with whom informal conversations over the last several years have been a pleasure.
Q:What are your first most vivid music memories?
A: Hearing Ellington's Black , Brown and Beige, On a Turquoise Cloud, C Jam Blues; Bud Powell's Dance of the Infidels, Bouncing with Bud and some fairly obscure tunes by Clark Terry.
Q:When did you start becoming wanting to become a musician.
A: Pretty early on. I think by about 6 I wanted to play music. But at that stage , it was the trumpet that fascinated me. My father was a jazz trumpet player, so I knew all the major trumpet players from his record collection. I wanted to play like Cat Anderson!! I actually met Cat Anderson, when I was about 7. Ellington had a British concert tour and he came to Scotland. My father knew one of Ellington's trumpet players,who arranged for me to meet my hero. Cat let me hold his trumpet! I was over the moon!
When I was about 8 years old my mother bought some classical records. One was a record of virtuoso piano pieces,played by Shura Cherkassky. That was it for me. The sound of the piano just invaded my soul. She also got an Art Tatum record which I loved.
Q.Who were your first teachers?
A. My first teacher was a lady in Aberdeen. her name was Gina Harper. I had a lot of precocious talent and a natural technique. She encouraged me so much. After her, I went to Edinburgh University and studied with Dr. Colin Kingsley. I graduated from there and went to Milan, to study with a Hungarian lady, called Ilonka Deckers. After her I had two great concert pianists as teachers, David Parkhouse , who lived in London and Theodore Lettvin, at Rutgers. I also had two great jazz pianists as teachers, Donald Brown at Berklee, in Boston and Kenny Barron, also at Rutgers. Looking back, I can say that I have been very fortunate. Strangely enough, I have never had a composition teacher. I have learned to compose by playing and listening to music and by studying scores. Probably just as well!
Q: What types of music did you enjoy playing and listening to as a child?
A: When I started playing the piano, at age 8, I completely forgot about jazz. I learned to play very quickly. I fell in love with Chopin and learned a lot of his music very early on. Somehow I could read and play a lot of difficult music quite easily, so I had a lot of fun! For years all I thought about was classical music.
That single-minded interest persisted until my second year in Italy, when I heard Max Roach with Billy Harper. I knew who Max was because of my father's records. After that concert I started to think that there was more to music than Beethoven, Schuman etc. I didn't know where to begin, but I just wanted to hear some modern jazz. Soon afterwards a girl I was seeing gave me "Crystal Silence" by Gary Burton and Chick Corea. Again , I was captivated by the sounds. It was a different world! I wanted to play like that!
INTERVIEW WITH DANNY KING
The history of San Diego's African American community's contributions to theater has yet to be fully written. Floyd Gaffney, Richardo Pitts-Wiley and the Humanii I Theater, CAT, Calvin Murphy, and Don Robinson are just a very few names and theater companies that immediately come to mind. Some of the above are still with us. A fellow theater musician (Danny is a drummer and also plays trumpet) with whom I worked almost a decade ago is Danny King. He has been on the theater scene since 1992. He and I played for a small African American theater company that produced "Fame," "Ain't Misbehavin', " and "The Wiz."
We have met sporadically over the last ten years, but were usually occupied with different pursuits. Among his present projects, Danny works with the CYC-California Youth Conservatory founded by Shan Evans.You can view the type of dynamic young people who work with the CYC on Youtube. Listen to, for instance, Loren Lott singing "Home" at the CYC Theatre 2009 Gala at:
I have heard this young vocalist live. Loren is a vibrant and gifted soon to be national San Diego talent.
When I saw Danny a few weeks ago, he mentioned that he had played the San Diego premier of "The Princess and the Black-eyed Pea" at the Lyceum. I was preparing to participate on a panel discussion at San Diego State University addressing the status of twenty-first century Theater for people of color at a symposium sponsored by the BEAR Arts Foundation. Our chance meeting mid June felt like an opportunity in the making. I asked, and he consented to an interview about his life in theater. Have blog, will travel . . .
Looking back over the years, I know theater captured me back East when I was less than six years old. Our church always had Christmas plays-sometimes with trumpet fan fare accompanying angels in long straight fake blond hair and long puffy white baptismal robes. We also had passion plays that told the story of Christ's crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. One year, I played one of the Mary's, weeping loudly with a most dramatic wail--the one I unleashed on my parents when they were not in the mood to spoil me. Very vivid images. So my lead question to Danny addressed his first theater memories.
Q: Do You remember how old you were when you became aware of the concept of theater as a "reality" ?
A: Oh, I most certainly do. It was 1968, in New York: "Man of La Mancha" with Richard Kiley. Then, I saw "Pearly," you know, with Melba Moore, Sherman Hensley and Cleavon Little?
Q: Yes, actors who also impacted my life as a young performer, especially Melba Moore (what a voice) and Cleavon Little(His performance as a cowboy in "Blazing Saddles" was groundbreaking). So, you were "bitten" from that point on?
A: Yea, I know where you're goin' with this. For me, theater is like coming home. I can put my bed there. I am where and what I want to be for my life. So in my place, when I'm there, I don't want to leave.
Q: Did you participate in school, church,or neighborhood productions?
A: I played in high school and church musicals. It was highly competitive even then. You had the chops or you were replaced. Our musicians were serious!
Q: What was your first show; can you recall?
A: It was for the COGIC (Church of God in Christ). They had this innovative program for us kids. You know, it was in the ghetto, but we never really knew how poor we were because adults in the neighborhood surrounded us with love, positivity, and creative opportunities to express ourselves. Many of us COGIC kids knew music, but only a few had formal training.
We had these pageants, you know for Easter. I can remember being four or five years old. They would encourage you to participate every year. They gave us a sock full of goodies as a reward--fruit, nuts, candy. I was raised by my grandmother, so church was just part of my life. She was the one who sometimes took me to see Broadway shows.
Q: Speaking of shows and playing musicals,when did you start formal music lessons?
A. I started formal lessons in high school, reading music, playing in ensembles. I was a music major (percussion) in college. I wanted to go to Julliard but didn't have the money. I went to Queen's College instead. I enjoyed performing so much that it felt "right" for me to switch from Music Ed to performance. I didn't get into acting until much later.
Q: Wait . . . (laughter) . . .I didn't know you act!
A: Yea, I took acting classes with D. J. Sullivan. We did scene studies. In her classes, we had to dig deep, you know, get to the darkest places if needed and get into the part, the role.
Q: What was your first theatrical production as a musician . . . after college?
A: A new piece, based on the gospels--"The Prophecy Fulfilled." Quite different.
Q: What about your early years here in San Diego? 'Cause I can remember a point in my early theater years here in San Diego, working with Minerva Marquis and the Marquis Public Theater, when life WAS theater, rehearsals and all.
A: I truly enjoyed, and still do, my experiences with CAT Community Actors Theater-in South East San Diego. It had a family, supportive feel. It continues to produce works by local directors and still has a community based program that trains children as well as adults. CAT recently finished remodeling- expanded the venue.
Q: How do you see yourself as a theater musician?
A: I am a singer's drummer. It is so enjoyable when a singer is honest and believable as he/she performs. When I did "Three Mo' Divas," I could feel where the singers were going and went with them. My purpose is not to just follow from stationary ground, but to be on the ride with them, add accents, flavor appropriately. The ability perhaps comes from playing in church where the moment is raw and the soul's song is real. I've done at least 100 shows. It is always about being engaged in the drama/music moment.
Q: One last question: Where do you think theater is headed in the twenty-first century and why?
A: We somehow have an artistic disconnect occurring. Let me break it down . . .
Singers for example today rely more on the sizzle that the substance. This bleeds over into theater--how do I cook? Is my chest big enough? Am I showing enough cleavage?
Unless the old guard does something about it, we are going to continue falling away from the actual substance that constitutes creativity. Some of the artists today say,"I am a musician. I make up music on my computer." Takes me back to college. We needed to first learn the basics. Study others. Evolve our sound from there. Groom our sound.
Now --laptops create our young people's songs for them. With technology, we can have whole songs without much effort. (Note, not talking about those young artists who spend hours on their laptops shaping sound banks into distinct instrumental timbres that truly reflect their artistry beyond pre-packaged one- beat-one-sound-fits-all programming).
Our new singers need to consider longevity, not "bling-$" earned from being a one hit wonder. We've got to stop that way of thinking from bleeding over into theater. Theater and its music is an outcry of living that the soul is doing-not just detached gazing on. Singing and acting should be based on experience. Being a true theater person happens over time, show by show.
As for African American theater and aesthetics, the "why" should continue to manifest in our dialogic ideas of community. We talk to our audiences lives; they respond back. It is spontaneous, true feedback. We strip away all the stuff, get down to the heart of the matter (as Indie Irie says). Maybe we are minimalists. It's not the costumes, scenery; it's communication- words and music is so strong, our imagination gives substance to writing and acting that is unique if we let the truth of us unfold for audiences.
It's good to connect with old friends-an opportunity in the making.
As I said . . .have blog will travel.
DANIELLE LOPRESTI INTERVIEW
It has been a few years. I decided to bring back the old column, but this time in blog format. First, to say hello to my fans who wondered why the music reviews stopped. Basically, it wasn't because of disillusionment with the San Diego music industry---- had to work out a few "life" issues.
Music, poetry readings, and performance art is the focus this time, from traditional to eclectic to "so innovative I just got to talk to ya 'cause it's just too much to not speak on."
And so . . . . recently received an email from one of my favorite Indie performers. It reminded me of an interview that was somewhere in my archives.
A while ago I covered a now well known collaborative Indie Group called Danielle LoPresti and the Masses. They have gotten huge enough for people to blast on them. (Seems in the 21st century, that's when you know you have arrived!) The following excerpt is part 1 of an unpublished exclusive interview with Danielle.
"Talkin' to Ya: Independent Music in San Diego California"
The following is the third in a series of interviews with Danielle LoPresti that span a four year period. We have talked informally numerous times at the group's shows. This particular session, an official interview to celebrate her then new CD Outloud, we met on a clear and crisp morning at a coffee shop in North Park. Located on 30th Street near University Avenue, the venue is a very active arts friendly sit down and relax space for artists to just "be".
Q: What was your process with this new CD?
Danielle: I had the good fortune to have the available resources in town for a majority of the tracks. I knew the musicians I work with would be in town also, and we put everything on the fast track to record.
Similar to the last CD, I worked with co-writers and wrote a few songs on my own. I usually don’t write a song until I feel a burning desire to do so, period. I journal until I reach a raw, honest space. I don’t record until I’m there.
Q: Was anything different about the collaborative writing?
Danielle: I wrote with a new collaborator, Alycia Champion. It was a very rewarding experience. She is an incredible producer.
Q: Could you describe the way in which you worked?
Danielle: Alycia and I developed songs together-to the fullness of where they “landed”-
before bringing them to the band. We work well on several levels.
Q: What are the levels of song writing that you feel are important for co-writers to have?
Danielle: They should have a similar sense of the spiritual and emotional nature of songwriting. Also, they should have a similar sense of musicality.
Q; So, the creation experience was synergistic?
Danielle: Yes, it was exciting and awe inspiring. I was grateful because Alycia was excited to be creating with me; I use the expression gratitude . . .humbling . . .when someone whose artistry you’re in awe of responds with awe for your artistry. Alycia felt great joining in. I wrote,"No Poetry" on guitar, wanted to put a trip hop beat to my words, sound. I approached her; she was a joy to work with, positive.
Q: The collaboration continued?
Danielle: Yea, basically it was “I have this guitar thing. I never was happy with—
Would you like to write to it?” Well, I’ve tried it before; it’s a very vulnerable thing to do. If it doesn’t move me-someone else's song-I find that difficult to say. Anything can be interpreted as rejection. It can be a beautiful work, but, doesn’t fit. It scares me because my overarching goal in life is to respect and support others. So I listened to this song, liked it. It had “whip.” Alycia worked with it in the process.
Q; So, this song was one of those really hard songs? You know, the kind that is just “not right” for a while. You GOTTA work it.
Danielle: Yes. Some songs are painful, others just develop. Alycia developed it to some chord progressions. I brought it to her finished. She said that the title she had originally for the song was "Feel Alive". The hook was "...When will I feel Alive?” The resulting song was titled differently from the original chord progression feel.
Gotta find more of these!!! Of course, I'll bring you new ones too. Oh yea, check out their new video "Objectify" at :