william bolcom tackles 10 questions

buckle up faithful readers, because it’s back-to-back interviews this week.  the classical beaver investigative journalism bureau brings us more testimony from a real live composer… please enjoy as william bolcom reminisces eloquently about jazz, love, and skype.  i’ll even forgive him for yelling, since i’m always whispering.  thanks so much mr. bolcom!

the oregon symphony is performing your violin concerto this weekend – please tell us about it!

THE CONCERTO WAS INSPIRED BY THE FACT SERGIU LUCA TOOK AN INTEREST IN GREAT JAZZ VIOLINIST JOE VENUTI – ALMOST THE FIRST CLASSICAL FIDDLER EVER TO SHOW INTEREST IN JAZZ VIOLIN.  ONE DAY IN 1978, HE AND VENUTI WERE ONSTAGE TOGETHER AT NYC’S MICHAEL’S PUB, JOE INVITING SERGIU FOR A DUET ON DVORAK’S “HUMORESQUE” (A SAFE CHOICE FOR NON-JAZZERS).  MY WIFE JOAN AND I WERE IN THE AUDIENCE.  I THINK JOE’S BASSIST, AN OLD FRIEND OF MINE, MILT HINTON, RECOGNIZED ME BECAUSE VERY SOON JOAN AND I WERE INVITED TO SIT IN WITH JOE, A THRILL FOR US. OUT OF THAT CONTACT CAME THE CONCERTO.

you’ve won a pulitzer prize for your music – what does the prize actually look like?  a plaque?  a statuette?  a crown?

JUST A CERTIFICATE SUITABLE FOR FRAMING, FOR WHICH I THINK WE FOOTED THE BILL OURSELVES.

what’s so great about experiencing classical music live?

IT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TALKING WITH SOMEONE ON SKYPE AND BEING IN THE SAME ROOM WITH THE PERSON.  YOU CAN’T HUG ON SKYPE, BUT IF YOU LOVE A PERSON’S PERFORMANCE WHILE IN THE SAME ROOM, HUGGING IS OK.

please tell us about the musical collaboration with your wife joan morris.

WE MET IN 1972 AND FOR A LONG TIME RESISTED WORKING TOGETHER OR EVEN LOOKING TOO HARD AT THE OTHER’S WORK.  I FINALLY SCREWED UP COURAGE TO GO HEAR HER AT THE WALDORF-ASTORIA.  I THOUGHT SHE WAS TERRIFIC; SHE REMINDED ME OF A GREAT 1920’S TORCH SINGER, SO WE BEGAN PERFORMING AT PARTIES.  IN JANUARY 1973, WE DID A CONCERT FOR THE AMERICAN MUSICOLOGICAL SOCIETY MEETING.  SOMEONE THERE ASKED US TO COME PERFORM AT HOLLINS COLLEGE IN VIRGINIA; SOMEONE THERE ASKED US TO COME TO THE SMITHSONIAN; AND FINALLY WE PLAYED IN NYC. THE HEAD OF NONESUCH RECORDS CAME AND SAID, “WHY NOT DO AN 1890’S TURN-OF-THE CENTURY ALBUM?”  THAT, PLUS A GREAT REVIEW IN THE BOSTON GLOBE, GOT US OFF AND RUNNING.  STILL ARE, AFTER 37 YEARS OF TOURING.

how do you feel when you hear one of your works performed?

GREAT, IF IT’S A GOOD PERFORMANCE.  MOST OF MINE HAVE BEEN, BUT I’VE SAT THROUGH STINKERS TOO.

if you weren’t a musician, what profession would you choose?

NO IDEA.  I COULD BE A WRITER IF I CHOSE BUT I DON’T HAVE THE PRACTICE I DO AS A COMPOSER; BESIDES THERE ARE A ZILLION WRITERS ALREADY, ONLY ABOUT 40,000 COMPOSERS IN THE U.S.

if i were to buy you a drink, what would you order?

PLYMOUTH GIN MARTINI, WITH MANY OLIVES, MOST OF WHICH I GIVE TO JOAN.  OR A GOOD NORTHWEST WINE; A FRENCH FRIEND SAYS THAT WINES FROM WASHINGTON AND OREGON TASTE LIKE WINE TO HER, UNLIKE CALIFORNIA ONES.

what composer really rocks your world?

DEPENDS ON THE DAY – RIGHT NOW I CAN’T GET SCHUBERT’S C MAJOR QUINTET OUT OF MY HEAD.  MY WORLD WAS ROCKED AT AGE 8 BY A RECORDING OF STRAVINSKY’S LE SACRE DU PRINTEMPS (I STILL CAN REMEMBER WHEN THE 78’S BROKE IN THE PIECE, WHEN I HAD TO GET UP AND CHANGE THE DISC).  THE NEXT YEAR CHARLES IVES’ CONCORD SONATA CAME OUT AND I WAS BOWLED OVER AGAIN.

are you stoked by any non-classical music?

SOME JAZZ (I’M A FAN OF AHMAD JAMAL), BOB MARLEY, HANK WILLIAMS, BEATLES AND STONES, LEIBER AND STOLLER (WE WERE OLD FRIENDS FOR NEARLY 50 YEARS).  NOT MUCH NEWER POP MUSIC – MOST OF IT SOUNDS TO ME LIKE SELF-ADVERTISING BY SOLIPSISTIC SINGER-SONGWRITERS, OR MARKET-ORIENTED MUSIC-BY-THE-YARD.  I AM AFTER ALL 72.

benjamin schmid will be the soloist playing your concerto this weekend – what sets him apart from other violinists?

I DON’T KNOW SCHMID, WHICH IS GREAT – I’M TOTALLY SURPRISED THAT A VIOLINIST UNKNOWN TO ME CHOSE TO DO THE PIECE.  IT ALMOST GRADUATES ME TO THE DEAD COMPOSERS SOCIETY, ALTHOUGH I’M STILL ALIVE AND HEALTHY!

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3 Responses to “william bolcom tackles 10 questions”


  1. 1 John Pitman, Music Director, All Classical October 27, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    Great interview! Lots of wonderful responses from Mr. Bolcom. And capitalizing sentences is the universally-recognized method of someone SHOUTING! I’m looking forward to hosting the “Concert Conversation” this Saturday and Monday with conductor James Gaffigan. – John Pitman, Music Director, ALL CLASSICAL FM.

  2. 3 Alicia October 31, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Brian, your blog is quickly becoming one of the most interesting classical music blogs out there! Congrats! This is definitely my favorite interview so far. And Mr. Bolcom, we’ve truly enjoyed playing your music this week. What a stunning concerto!!


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