Archive for Sunday, February 25, 1990


February 25, 1990


An interviewer once asked Coleridge Taylor Perkinson, a classical and jazz composer, how much of a saxophone jazz composition was his and how much was the saxophonist's.

Coleridge's answer was simple: It was all of Perkinson' and all of the saxophonists'.

"What composers do is write down what notes to play," said Perkinson, speaking Wednesday at an African-American composers' forum at the Kansas Union. "The musician takes the notes and adds the little twirls above them."

The forum, which included Perkinson, jazz composer Greg Dyes and Judith Still, the daughter of composer William Grant Still, was held in conjuction with the Black History Month observance at Kansas University.

BOTH PERKINS and Dyes said they sought links between classical forms of music, in which they were both schooled, and the sounds of jazz native to the United States. One of their goals, they said, is to incorporate elements of both traditions to keep both fresh.

"One of the things I desired from the start was to incorporate jazz into a thoroughly composed, European-based classical art," said Dyes, who is completing a doctorate in compostion at the University of Colorado. "That's certainly not new."

THE LACK OF jazz programs at American universities upsets Perkinson because, he said, the music is integral to American culture. He praised KU for having a jazz program; its coordinator, Ron McCurdy, chaired the panel.

"In order for music to evolve, you've got to pay attention to jazz," Perkinson said. "We've adopted the European forms from across the seas, but people here are reluctant to embrace what we've got at home."

To make ends meet, Perkinson wrote scores for television and film, including background music for stage and television productions of the Negro Ensemble Company. One of the frustrations of being a composer, he said, was the lack of opportunity to get new music played more than once.

"TO WRITE a symphony, it could take the better part of a year," he said. "Maybe somebody will play it once. That's all you get."

Dyes and Perkinson also said they struggle to find their own musical voices styles of composition that form a musical personality. As a student, Dyes said, he finds himself living up to the expectations of his teachers and not himself.

"The judges at my most recent contest told me to stop being a student composer and just be a composer," Dyes said.

Perkinson said he tries to stay true to his own musical background.

"To the composer, the most familiar music is the sound he hears in the mind," he said. "To him, it almost sounds tired, but to someone on the outside, if you heard it you'd say it's wonderful."

STILL, WHOSE father wrote hundreds of compositions, said she has a hard time getting that music out to the public. Her father, who died in 1974, is known in classical circles but not by African-Americans in general, she said.

To help distribute the music, she's started her own music publishing company for William Still and women and minority composers. But it's still difficult to get the music out.

"The recording producers say there's no market for black music," Still said.

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