Composer and Jazz pianist Phillip Golub writes playful music taking into account elements of real-time decision-making, melody, and improvisation. He is based between New York City and Boston. Catch the premiere of his latest work, Twenty-Five Short Piano Pieces, Part One, on our upcoming Solo Soundbox concert featuring pianist Kara Huber.
CSB: Could you tell us a little about your musical activities?
PG: Well, they are varied! I am a pianist and improviser, and I play in a number of different kinds of groups. I do things that one might sometimes call “free improvisation” or “experimental jazz” or “avant-garde jazz”, and other things that you might just call “jazz” without qualification, but I don’t usually think of there being such a divide. I really just play with my friends and usually the contexts in which we have met go on to inform what music we make. I am writing for those contexts but also writing for contexts such as this concert, where there is more of a clear distinction between composer and performer and I am more solely responsible for the vision of the piece, which is to be realized by a performer other than myself. This, from my perspective, is what constitutes the main difference between the historically African-American and historically Euro-American modes of music making that I am a part of.
CSB: Describe the work being premiered on this concert. What was the compositional process for it like?
PG: It is a set of seven short piano pieces. Each is repetitive and much of material and ideas are shared between them. They are meant to take the listener on a surprising yet coherent journey, with each movement still being able to stand on its own as well. They are conceived in a sort of song form; there is a kind of AABABA like structure (or similar) in some of them, until that begins to break down. They began as exercises in a certain kind of harmonic thinking pioneered/theorized by jazz composer/theorist George Russell called the Lydian Chromatic Concept. I wrote the seven pieces over the course of an entire year, first three, then another, then two more, then the last one (which is a mashup of the first six). It is quite a loose application of the “concept”, but the pieces could not exist without it. The pieces also all concern themselves multiple simultaneous lines and with an extreme variety of long and short notes. They are not in the slightest easy to play and I want to thank Kara for taking on the challenge!
CSB: How do you feel your background in jazz influences your compositional thinking?
PG: It’s a question I will be answering all my life both for other people and myself, but, frankly, I don’t have the clearest answer. I know things about music, about the world, about how people can listen, and so on, from my experiences with jazz that I cannot unlearn and that are an essential part of who I am as a listener and artist. My pieces often have some kind of improvisation, or at least on the spot musical decision making built into them, but not all of them do—these seven pieces don’t really feature that sort of thing. Ultimately, I think the best answer I can give, is that I know about a range of things that are musically possible that a lack of experience in jazz would make someone unaware of. It is an awareness of those things that may influence my compositional thinking.
CSB: What upcoming projects are on your radar?
PG: I’m writing a trio for flute/alto flute, violin/viola, and bassoon. It will explore clearly differentiated kinds of music which will also be separated in space; i.e. the performers will travel around the space to different “stations” to play the varying types of music. It will be an experiment in musical simultaneity, and something quite new for me. But it is also a listening challenge to the players, because there is a complex set of rules that govern when they can go where according to what other people are playing. They have to make many, many real-time choices and they also are asked to improvise in small spurts all over the score.