The Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo
featuring Mark and Bob Applebaum
the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree
1. Footprints Wayne Shorter 8:10
2. Beautiful Love Victor Young 7:46
3. Buffalo Wings Mark Applebaum 4:12
4. Stella By Starlight Victor Young 8:21
5. Caravan Juan Tizol 3:40
6. Tornado Food Mark Applebaum 4:17
7. 8 Years Mark Applebaum 3:36
8. Funkallero Bill Evans 8:14
9. Titled Mark Applebaum 3:47
10. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise Sigmund Romberg 3:13
11. All Blues Miles Davis 4:49
12. There Is No Greater Love Isham Jones 3:34
I really dig this CD!
This appealing set of piano duets features Bob and Mark Applebaum—two accomplished pianist-composers—in an intimate, transparent setting. But this CD is clearly not your standard jazz fare. Firstly, the jazz piano duo, as a genus, is relatively uncommon. One can cite only a few noteworthy examples such as Tommy Flanagan/Hank Jones, Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn, Bob Brookmeyer/Bill Evans, John Lewis/Hank Jones, and Chick Corea/Herbie Hancock. Secondly, the fact that Bob and Mark are father and son respectively (and respectfully!) adds an unusual twist to the musical equation.
Bob and Mark’s alliance did not form until only a few years ago, long after they had become mature and independent musicians. "We were astonished that it was so easy to play with each other," recalls Mark. Their genetic connection is presumably another operative influence; the mutual sense of language, time, feel, and swing reflect a deep intersection. Mark adds, "Incidentally, we also share an irreverent, corny sense of humor." The taut communion that they display may stem from earlier years of incubation and nurture. Mark postulates that people in music with similar dialectic backgrounds share similar rhythmic contours and ideas about phrasing. Growing up in the family home, he inherited much of his Dad’s speech and mannerisms; Mark surmises it was a formative undercurrent which informs his playing to this day. He says, "Conversely, my Dad has, over the years, taken an active interest in my jazz playing and my composed music. This has tangibly complicated his own musical landscape; as such, I have been able to return the favor."
Plainly there is exciting chemistry and intuition that develops symbiotically within the duo. Together they improvise wonderful, dynamic textures of intricate rhythms, colorful harmonies, and intriguing melodies. Reflecting their mutual respect and admiration, they show an uncanny ability to listen and not step on each other’s toes. The primacy of telepathy and sympathy are mandatory in collective improvisation—even more critical in the piano duo where two players have equal access to the same functions without a designated division of labor. Two pianos have the potential of quickly becoming a tangle of competing bass lines, chords, and melodies, but this duo manages to weave a lyric tapestry.
Both Applebaums were not trained in jazz per se but in classical music; jazz, however, has become central to them both. Bob came to jazz in his youth from a perspective embodying the traditional roots of the idiom. "Mark didn’t discover jazz as an intriguing voice until he was in college. He came to playing it from a different perspective, as an ‘outside’ player—with modal kinds of things and free forms—and is much more inclined toward unconventional approaches than am I," explains Bob. "My playing is mainly ‘inside’. We stretched each other like a rubber band pulling toward the middle. Each time we get together I feel I learn more from him than he receives from me; I do hold him in modest awe. I can’t imagine getting a better gift than to be able to do this with your son. It’s phenomenal!"
I shared Bob’s comments with Mark. "No way! He said that? I’m the beneficiary here." Mark responded. "I learned how to play over changes from him. My whole harmonic conception has evolved because of my Dad’s playing. Every time we play together I rip off another idea about a moving inner line, or a melodic figure. He’s just an extraordinary musician!"
This writer was an ear/eye witness to an Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo concert at Stanford University on October 24, 2001. The performance was a triumph of synergy, the consummate fitting and blending of two stylists. As on this CD, their lines intertwined so closely it was hard to discern who played what. The pianos were not only logically compatible but empathic and downright riveting. Throughout their creative explorations, the pulse and energy seemed to rise from an unspoken merger of mind, heart, and soul. The twosome’s ambitious voyages seemed to be the product of intelligence, curiosity, wit, and optimism. The result was a deft, spirited, and playful excursion, ranging widely without ever getting lost artistically. When they play, their unity suggests direction, purpose, and motivation from which the listener is invited to share many of the little unknowns of the pieces of music and to mine veins of emotion.
It is natural to wonder what dynamic occurs in determining their interactions; i.e., what cues, if any, are exchanged in the duo process? Mark describes, "Except for a few arrangement decisions, just about everything we play is improvised. Neither of us really ‘leads’; most of the time we just listen very closely to each other, trying to respond as sensitively as possible." Bob explains, "We often have vague formal plans in terms of who is going to take the first chorus or stay in the background, and so forth. But some of the best things that happened were by leaving everything up for grabs in our musical conversations, for example on Titled. Whereas Footprints is kind of a hybrid because it is totally open-ended for much of the performance, but at a few points I watch for Mark to give me a nod and we launch into some structured, planned events. That is one instance when I definitely do take his cue. Some of our favorite playing is when we just weave in and out of each other with short comments. And occasionally we’ve played Stella by Starlight in concerts when there’s been completely empty spaces...and it’s so cool!"
Of particular interest are the inspirational figures that the duo acknowledge. They both cite Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Ahmad Jamal, Oscar Peterson, Chick Corea, McCoy Tyner, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and Denny Zeitlin. Mark’s wider arc extends to the more adventurous modernists such as Cecil Taylor, Andrew Hill, Thelonious Monk, Don Pullen, and Paul Bley among others, plus Miles Davis for his "total musical acumen" and John Cage (who represents the other side of Mark’s interdisciplinary work, the part he calls his "uncompromising and unmarketable music").
The Applebaums’ repertoire includes some of their favorite tunes, both originals and familiar standards. They often introduce tunes to one another, trying out different approaches and settling on those that are most captivating. "In particular, we wanted to do tunes for which one of us had ideas for an idiosyncratic arrangement—tunes we could enliven and cast in an unfamiliar light." says Mark. Through their unusual interpretations (i.e. Caravan) the duo has provided us the chance to consider well-known tunes anew through a different lens. Annotations on the twelve tunes will offer amplification:
The arrangement of the Wayne Shorter classic Footprints is Mark’s. In this rendition the duo takes open solos over a C dorian modal context in 4/4 meter which lead, on three occasions during the performance, to 3/4 statements of the original Shorter melody.
The Victor Young classic Beautiful Love is also arranged by Mark. According to him, "the introduction is a faux-Baroque melody that I wrote to Victor Young’s harmonies. I find it touching and campy. It aspires as a reference to some of the brilliant and effortless counterpoint that players like Billy Taylor, Denny Zeitlin, and Keith Jarrett improvise."
Mark composed the 12-bar blues Buffalo Wings in San Diego while pursuing a Ph.D. in music composition at the University of California. "Jimmy Cheatham, the director of the UCSD jazz ensemble, was an important if informal mentor for me. He always invited me to perform on his concerts, either as a soloist or with my trio. This was particularly noteworthy because jazz was definitely a marginal part of my musical interests at UCSD, having gone there to study non-vernacular contemporary music. Jimmy provided a very supportive and enthusiastic forum to try out new tunes and ideas in concert; this served the function of not only maintaining but expanding my exploration of the world through jazz. And I could always count on hearing the voice of Jeannie Cheatham, Jimmy’s wife—a virtuoso jazz and blues pianist—emphatically cajoling from the darkness of the audience ‘that’s right!’ or ‘take your time Mark, take your time!’.
"This piece is dedicated to Jimmy who once explained that decades ago he assisted in the culinary invention of the same name at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY."
"When I finished my doctorate in 1996 my parents were in town and Jimmy, who knew that my dad was a jazz pianist, invited us to perform a piano duo set on his concert. We rehearsed the duo for about ten minutes in a nearby practice room and then played a set of three tunes onstage, including a truly bizarre yet successful version of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman. That was the first time we ever performed together. I remember a feeling of tremendous surprise when we realized that the duo was quite good. It wasn’t until 2000 that we picked up the idea again seriously, but the beginning of our collaboration was that night, thanks to Jimmy."
Stella by Starlight
According to Bob, "At some point in the evolution of this arrangement I suggested that we each take a rubato chorus on the tune, first me, then Mark. That part has stuck. Otherwise, I don’t think we have ever been certain about what will happen after that: what the tempo will be, who gets the lead, when or if we will trade segments of the soloing, or who will be playing the melody at the end. Of course, with two players as aggressive as we are, there is never a concern that no one will be playing."
Mark has truly warped this classic tune by setting it to a dodecaphonic (12-tone) bass line. "I really have a preoccupation with making the familiar alien. The contour and harmonic ambiguity of the bass line casts the Tizol melody in a new and strange light. Furthermore, I decided to forego a middle section of solos in favor of the lengthy kaleidoscopic passage in which three of our four hands gradually move in and out of phase with one another. It is sort of Steve Reich meets Duke Ellington. It is very hypnotic to play this passage and we always feel in danger of getting lost or zoning out. The passage also happens to be just about the only thing on the CD that is not improvised."
Mark composed the tune Tornado Food in the early ’90s. "It is a tribute to Monk and consists of an inexorably expanding and syncopated melody which abides by its own internal and quirky logic. The bridge is contrasting in its straightforward sentimentality. The title was suggested by a structural engineer friend who used this term to refer to mobile homes."
8 Years is a tribute to Mark’s wife Joan, composed for her in 1991 on the occasion of their 8th anniversary. Now a regular part of the duo’s performance repertoire, they first played it on this recording.
The duo loves to play Bill Evans’ tune Funkallero. Their collective sense of humor is heard in abundance throughout the CD, but nowhere are they more silly (and slightly sarcastic) then in Funkallero. Bob’s solo evolves into Rachmaninoff’s most famous piano prelude and Mark counters with the third movement of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata, both of which seem to conveniently fit Bill Evans’ harmonies.
Titled is surely the most experimental and indeterminate work on the CD. It is essentially a collection of abstract, understated melodic fragments that, after being articulated in principal form, can be employed in any way as material for a dialogue. There are some qualities in the playing of Paul Bley and Andrew Hill here, but the main inspirations come from Webern, Morton Feldman, and John Cage’s Etudes Australes.
Softly as in a Morning Sunrise
This performance features Bob’s arrangement. He says, "We wanted to have something in the set that was played at a ‘traditional’ up-tempo. I hit on two contrasting approaches to the tune: the opening and closing parts of the head are reminiscent of a big-band chart, with thick chords built on parallel 4ths, emulating what sax and brass sections might be playing. The bridge is absurdly sparse: a single note, tongue-in-cheek melody played over a walking bass."
Over the first two choruses the duo trades fours; on the third chorus they trade twos; and on the fourth chorus they trade ones. After this mercurial exchange the head is restated, followed by a coda that Mark contributed in which figures are traded, thereby creating a hocket that is easily audible if you listen from the middle of the stereo field.
All Blues was also arranged by Bob. This serene and lyrical performance is reminiscent of Eric Satie’s delicate and curious piano music. Whereas the original has a propulsive 6/8 groove, this one is in a lullaby-like 3/4.
There Is No Greater Love
In concert the guys often like to play There Is No Greater Love as an encore. "We never have a plan for this one. It can go in any direction," Mark says. "The only tradition, purloined from how I used to do it with my trio, is to end the tune one 1/2 step up from its expected resolution. The ending is arresting, hair-raising—even when you know it’s coming."
This slate of tunes is a sampling of the twosome’s joyful devotion and side by side collaboration. Mark and Bob’s music covers expansive emotional terrain and conveys remarkable virtuosity. In the tradition of the finest jazz, this music is unpredictable and burns with strong, visceral heat. Legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans once noted that in order to compose things which sound improvised you had to be deeply immersed in jazz. Surely the stimulating compositions and improvisations here are firm evidence of this noble tradition.
Mark and Bob Applebaum have woven an alluring brocade of prismatic sounds and flavors — proof that they are indeed an apotheosis of the notion that "The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree".
I really dig this CD!
— Dr. Herb Wong
Past President, International Association for Jazz Education
Music has been an abiding love, but a professional sideline, for Bob Applebaum who taught chemistry and physics at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill. from 1965 until his retirement in June, 2000.
As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago he composed scores for student-written musicals. His show music was concurrently featured in professional productions such as Six Ages of Man and Hands Around in Love, revues that played nightly in Chicago for more than a year. During the ’70s and ’80s he continued to write songs and incidental music for theatrical productions at Loyola University, New Trier High School, and for the Piven Theatre Workshop, Evanston, Ill. His music for clarinet and two celli is heard on the recent CD, One Righteous Man: The Story of Raoul Wallenberg, by storyteller Syd Lieberman.
In 1980 Bob began to compose Jewish liturgical music for use in services. Among his output are three complete services: a Friday night service for cantor and choir, a Saturday morning service for cantor and children’s choir, and a Friday night service for choir and jazz trio that uses congregational melodies in a jazz idiom. In addition to these services he has composed nearly seventy different choral settings of prayers, psalms, and other Jewish texts, as well as numerous arrangements of non-liturgical Hebrew and Yiddish songs. E.C. Schirmer and Opus Music publish several of these pieces.
His secular and non-secular choral music has received frequent performance in both concert and worship settings throughout the country. His music has been featured in Washington, D.C. in a holiday concert at The White House by The Chicago Children’s Choir, in performances by Kol Zimrah at the North American Jewish Choral Festival in New York, and in concerts of Chicago a cappella and the New York city-based women’s ensemble SHE.
Bob has been playing piano professionally since 1957. For several years he played in the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band and is heard on their recordings (1992, 1996). He also performs his own modern jazz arrangements of Jewish songs in his group, the Modern Klezmer Quartet, whose CD Hora and Blue was released in 1993. Bob and his son, Mark, have performed in the Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo since 2000.
Mark Applebaum received his Ph.D. in music composition from the University of California at San Diego where he studied with Brian Ferneyhough, Joji Yuasa, Rand Steiger, and Roger Reynolds. His solo, chamber, choral, orchestral, electro-acoustic, and electronic work has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia with notable performances at the Darmstadt summer sessions, ICMC in Beijing, Italy’s Festival Spaziomusica, the Young Nordic Music Festival in Sweden, Sonic Circuits in Hong Kong, Amsterdam’s Great Virtuoso Slugfest, the Essl Museum in Vienna, strictly Ballroom series at Stanford University’s CCRMA, the College Music Society, SEAMUS, the Southeastern Composers League, NWEAMO, the Florida Electro-Acoustic Music Festival, the Kansas City Electronic Music Festival, Piano Spheres, SIGGRAPH, the American Composers Orchestra’s OrchestraTech, at UC Berkeley’s CNMAT, and as visiting artist at the 2002 Electronic Music Midwest.
He has received commissions from Betty Freeman, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Zeitgeist, MANUFACTURE (Tokyo), the Jerome Foundation, and the American Composers Forum, among others. His music has been performed by the Arditti String Quartet, Speculum Musicae, Musica Nova, Zeitgeist, newEar, red fish blue fish percussion ensemble, the Northwestern University Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, the Illinois State University Contemporary Players, the Stanford Symphony Orchestra, Skin & Bones, MANUFACTURE, players under the direction of Harvey Sollberger, and some of the finest solo artists of our time, including Steven Schick, Irvine Arditti, Gloria Cheng, Craig Hultgren, Helen Bledsoe, and Bert Turetzky.
In 1997 Mark received the American Music Center’s Stephen Albert Award and an artist residency fellowship at the Villa Montalvo artist colony in Northern California. He has engaged in numerous intermedia collaborations, including That Brainwave Chick (with neural artist Paras Kaul), Archittetura Redux (with film-maker Iara Lee, Caipirinha Productions), Concerto #1 For Florist and Percussion (with florist James DelPrince), Aphoristic Fragment (with animator Anna Chupa), Interactive Sound Pavilion (with architect David Perkes), and projects with the laptop DJ ensembles Digital Cutup Lounge (Hong Kong) and Tog (Japan).
Since 1990 Mark has built electro-acoustic instruments out of junk, hardware, and found objects for use as both compositional and improvisational tools. Mousetrap Music, a CD of sound-sculpture improvisations can also be heard on the innova label. Innova also released The Janus ReMixes: Exercises in Auto-Plundering, a CD of eleven electronic works whose source material corresponds exclusively to recordings of the eleven acoustic compositions that constitute his Janus Cycle (1992-1996).
As a jazz pianist Mark has concertized from Sumatra to the Czech Republic. In 1994 he received the jazz prize of the Southern California Jazz Society and in 1999 the Mark Applebaum Trio performed in the first Mississippi arts event broadcast live over the World Wide Web. At present he performs with his father, Bob Applebaum of Chicago, in the Applebaum Jazz Piano Duo.
Mark is assistant professor of composition and theory at Stanford University. Prior to his current appointment, he taught at UCSD, Mississippi State University, and Carleton College where he served as Dayton-Hudson Visiting Artist. Additional information is available at www.markapplebaum.com.
Digital recording made at Stanford University, Dinkelspiel Hall, June 26-28, 2001
Executive Producer, layout and design: Philip Blackburn
Remastering: Jay Kadis
innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation and by the National Endowment for the Arts