At precisely 8:12 PM on Sunday night I finished a two-month writing project, a commission for Jazz at Lincoln Center. Each of the eight movements of “The Presidential Suite” is inspired by a great political speech.
As with every long trip the journey is the richest part: all the investigating, experimenting, starting over, and ultimately making choices and executing them. When you compare these weeks of travel with the actual destination - an hour performance, twice - it seems a slight bit anticlimactic. But it won’t be, of that I am sure. I am very excited to have this music performed by Wynton and the gang next week (Jan 17 and 18). It’s always a privilege to have your music interpreted by a group great of players and composers, who bring their insight to the realization of the music.
Great political speeches combine three elements: a prominent orator, a significant statement and considerable eloquence. Some of the criteria I used in considering speeches are rhetorical brilliance, originality, historical importance, lasting influence, delivery and inspirational quality. But the ones that made my “A list” also move me emotionally.
A sub-theme, a thread common to all of these, is the idea of freedom. For most movements I have used the intonation - the ups and downs and cadences of the voice - to form the thematic material. The one exception is Aung San Suu Kyi whose speech was actually an essay and was not spoken publicly.
I’ve allowed the spirit of their messages to shape the intensity of the
arrangements. The era and location also had an impact on the creative choices I made.
I invited a special guest - actor Wendell Pierce - to read excerpts of the speeches before we play each of the movements. He is a good friend of ours over at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and one of Geoffrey Ward’s favorite orators. Speaking with Mr. Pierce today I was especially happy to learn he was already familiar with many of the speeches and excited to read them as part of this performance.
“Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You” -- John F. Kennedy
“Tryst With Destiny” -- Jawaharlal Nehru
“We Shall Fight On The Beaches” -- Winston Churchill
“The Four Freedoms” -- Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Freedom From Fear” -- Aung San Suu Kyi
“Tear Down This Wall” -- Ronald Reagan
“The American Promise” -- Lyndon B. Johnson
“The Time For The Healing Of The Wounds Has Come” -- Nelson Mandela
Sharing the bill with me on this premier is my section-mate Victor Goines, whose own commissioned work, Crescent City, will feature his New Orleans “brother” Branford Marsalis. I am anticipating some beautiful music from the saxophone of Mr. Marsalis, and the pen of Mr. Goines who has contributed much to band’s repertoire over the years.
I will do a pre-concert lecture on Jan 17th and Victor will do one on the 18th, both at 7:00.
I hope you can join us!