The Death of Simone Weil

Darrell Katz, text by Paula Tatarunis


I Gone Now                   7:50

II Renault                        12:42   

III November 1938            12:12

IV Saint Julien                   13:58 

V X-Ray Dreams               10:34

VI Almost Paradise           7:46


Like A Wind                    6:51

Darrell Katz; text by Sherwood Anderson (from the novel, Winesburg, Ohio)    


All compositions Jazz Composers Alliance Music, BMI




1 Mike Peipman                    

2 Matt  Steckler/Phil Scarff (duo) Jeremy Udden      

3 Taki Masuko, David Harris, Keiichi Hashimoto

4 Art Bailey, Hiro Honshuke, Phil Scarff, Warren Senders 

5 Keiichi Hashimoto, Art Bailey, Norm Zocher  

6 Bob Pilkington, Hiro Honshuke, Norm Zocher

7 Norm Zocher   




The Death Of Simone Weil

Darrell Katz;

Text by Paula Tatarunis




I Gone Now


Mike Peipman


II Renault      


Matt  Steckler/Phil Scarff (duo) Jeremy Udden


III November 193


Taki Masuko, David Harris, Keiichi Hashimoto


IV Saint Julien


Art Bailey, Hiro Honshuke, Phil Scarff, Warren Senders


V X-Ray Dreams



Keiichi Hashimoto, Art Bailey, Norm Zocher


VI  Almost Paradise


Bob Pilkington, Hiro Honshuke, Norm Zocher

Like A Wind                    

Darrell Katz;

Text by Sherwood Anderson


Norm Zocher







Composed, arranged, and conducted by Darrell Katz


Produced by Darrell Katz

Tracks 1-6 recorded at Berklee Performance Center by Berklee Recording Studios, October 6, 2001. Recorded using Studio D.

Recording Engineer:  Hun Min Park

Assistant Engineer: Greg Galindo

Front of House Engineer: Brad Berger

Track 7 recorded at Thin Ice productions by Bob Patton June 8, 2002.

Mixing and editing by Bob Patton of Thin Ice Productions.


Innova> Director and Design: Philip Blackburn; Artists and Product: Chris Strouth; Assistant: Chris Campbell.


Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


(tracks 1-6)

*The Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra

Voice: Rebecca Shrimpton 

Flute: Hiro Honshuke

Alto Sax: Matt Steckler, Jeremy Udden

Tenor Sax: Phil Scarff; Baritone Sax: Hans Indigo

Trumpets: Keiichi Hashimoto, Mike Peipman

French Horn: Dirk Hillyer

Trombones: David Harris, Bob Pilkington

Tuba: Jim Gray

Piano: Art Bailey

Vibraphone: Rich Greenblatt

Percussion: Taki Masuko

Bass: Rick McLaughlin

Drums: Harvey Wirth

Guitar: Norm Zocher

Guest vocalists:

Warren Senders on “Saint Julien” only

Al Tatarunis on “Renault” only.



(track 7 Abby and Norm Group w/Rebecca Shrimpton

Voice: Rebecca Shrimpton

Guitar: Norm Zocher

Quantum Guitarbass: Abby Aronson









This work was funded in part by the

Copying Assistance Program of the American Music Center.

* The Death of Simone Weil




This project was funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency, and by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council, a municipal agency supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.


Thanks to  Joe Smith, and Karen Zorn


Photograph of Rebecca Shrimpton and Darrell Katz by Jeffrey Shrimpton (only of course, if the photo is used).


Photographs of Dresden after fire bombing in World War II, courtesy of The Library of Congress:

Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division,

LC-USZ62-94453 and LC-USZ62-94459.


For further information or booking, or for scores and parts, contact The Jazz Composers Alliance, PO Box #491, Allston, MA, 02134, [email protected]





The Death Of Simone Weil


Setting poetry to music is a comparatively recent development in jazz, and it is still rarely done. Darrell Katz's improvisational cantata, a setting of Paula Tatarunis' The Death of Simone Weil stands out in this relatively small subgenre of the jazz song tradition, in terms of both scale and ambition. It is also among the most successful and moving large-scale works for voice and jazz orchestra.


Katz is no stranger to compositional ambition. He is a founder of Boston's Jazz Composers Alliance and Orchestra, which since1985, has not only presented more than 120 works by resident composers, but also featured works by guest artists such as Julius Hemphill, Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, Henry Threadgill, Maria Schneider, and many others. His work can be heard on previous JCA Orchestra releases-Flux, Dreamland, and In, Thru, and Out.


In his writing, Katz synthesizes a wide range of influences including modern classical, folk traditions, and the entire jazz legacy into a mature and personal compositional style. His writing here is some of his strongest and most lyrical on record. The melodic invention that serves the poem is matched by a broad palette of orchestral colors and timbres, rich harmony, and a subtle underpinning of dance rhythms, all of which bring out nuances of meaning and feeling in the poem. Katz also judiciously deploys improvising soloists-including trombonist Bob Pilkington, guitarist Norm Zocher, and saxophonist Jeremy Udden-in a variety of ways. There are structured collective improvisations, spoken word with improvisation, as well as duets, and individual solos. These spontaneous passages always work within the mood and structure of the piece, adding the immediacy of improvisation to work that is already deeply emotional.


This is not Katz's first setting of the poetry of his wife Tatarunis, who, over the last ten years has published more than 150 poems in small presses such as Ploughshares and The Massachusetts Review. Several of their collaborations are found on I'm Me and You're Not (Brownstone, 1999) with the Jazz Composers Alliance Sax Quartet. In those compositions, the poetry is primarily spoken to musical accompaniment, and Katz originally thought that The Death of Simone Weil would follow a similar course. But as he started work on the piece, he found himself setting the words to melodies, and it took a different direction.


"I was really into the idea of getting the melodies, working with the text, and figuring out what to do with it," Katz says. "I think the best model for what I wanted to do is the Tin Pan Alley composers. I wanted the words to line up with the melodies so it sounded very conversational. I wanted the text to be really clear and easy to understand. As I wrote, I discovered that duration, rhythmic placement on and off the beat, long or short notes, intervals, all these things really affect the meaning of words."


The music's sensitivity to the sound and meaning of words manifests itself in ways both small and large. For instance, the light, bouncy sound of Viana do Castelo inspired the Latin rhythms in the opening moments of "Renault." The blues that concludes that section was suggested by the slavery imagery that links the Renault plant workers and the fishermen in the poem. Other choices are more subtle. The terrifying image of the insatiable German ovens, "round as bellies," gulping down their victims in "Almost Paradise" suggested a round, soft melody to Katz. In its muted resignation and sorrow, the passage is perhaps more powerful than if he had confronted us with stark dissonance.


"November 1938" provides a marvelous example of how the architecture of the composition shadows the structure and meaning of the poem. Tight harmonies, short phrases, and rapid changes in color echo the anguished tension and pain from which Weil longs for release. When the poet envisions surcease from her agony, as "the plain chants plucked me aloft from my suffering/ and I hovered like a feather on the breath of God," the music opens out into some of the most ravishing moments in the entire suite, with echoes of liturgical music reinforcing the spiritual longing of the words. Weil's desire for release remains unfulfilled, but the glimpse of transcendence that the music offers only heightens the poet's sense of tragic irony.


The unity of words and music in the suite and the subtle shadings of thought and feeling it contains are beautifully captured by singer Rebecca Shrimpton. She possesses both the musical skill and artistic sensibility to handle the heavy emotional and musical demands of this piece. Listen to how easy and natural she makes the extended harmonies and tricky metrical changes sound at the beginning of "November 1938" or near the end of "St. Julien" just prior to the dramatic throat singing of Warren Senders. Her singing is more than a matter of chops, however. There are countless examples of her interpretive skills, her unfailingly insightful use color, texture, and inflection to convey the meaning of the words. In "Like a Wind," the more intimate and loosely structured song based on a passage from Sherwood Anderson's Winesberg, Ohio, her articulation and sense of timing make the meaning of the words clear, in fluid, but purposeful and beautifully paced performance.

"The Death of Simone Weil took me close to 3 years to write," Katz says. "I'm the type of person who goes over every note again and again and wrestles with every last thing. A lot of people compare writing music to painting, but I think of it as carving something out of rock-the final composition is already there, I just remove the excess." This process of refinement has produced music whose depth and economy of expression are worthy of the poetry it serves.


Ed Hazel

Ed Hazell is a Boston-area jazz writer who contributes to the Boston

Phoenix, Jazziz, Coda, and other magazines.


Simone Weil


The 20th century French philosopher, Simone Weil, is an enigmatic and disturbing figure.  Raised in a non-observant Jewish intellectual household, she developed diverse interests -- classic Greek literature and philosophy, history, mathematics, Communism, pacifism, trade unionism. Despite a reclusive and often abrasive personality, she also had a shy sweetness, and felt a deep compassion for and identification with suffering and oppressed humanity. Her convictions informed her actions and led her to passionately sincere, but sometimes ill-fated engagements in factory work, labor strikes and the Spanish Civil War. 


In 1938 Weil had a mystical experience while reading George Herbert’s poem “Love” during a terrible migraine. This, along with her fascination with the image of the crucified incarnation of the ever-absent, impossibly distant God, brought her to the threshold of the Catholic Church.  She ultimately refused baptism, offering as explanation the two words, anathema sit, that had been pronounced to signify heresy during the Inquisition.  Her last notebooks reveal her growing interest in the concept of emptiness as articulated in Eastern religions.


Other aspects of Weil’s life and thought, darkened by the shadow of her psychopathology, manifested more malign elements of refusal and renunciation.  During the Occupation, faced with limitations on her employment because of her Jewishness, she composed letters that savagely mocked the absurdly bureaucratic literalness of the racial statutes, but that also concluded that Jews were a minority whose interests would be best served by their being assimilated into Christian society.  Weil’s self-negation culminated in 1941, when, ill with tuberculosis in an English hospital, she refused to eat more than the meager war rations allotted to French citizens.  This refusal, the consummation of a lifelong asceticism and denial of the body, led to her death. 



Paula Tatarunis



Music: Darrell Katz

Lyrics: Paula Tatarunis




The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass. 

                                                              -- S. Weil



No, you never once came

walking across the carpet

toward me as I'd wished --


(as if by sheer longing

I could have willed you there

out of your gray space. )


But there's gone, now,

and the self that imagined you

itself defies imagining.


Oh, it would have been

a dream to waken from,

bloodying my nose against the mirror --


Yet, like most desire, it was

the sweetness of the self

melting through the fingers,


quicker than hunger. And so

when they make the movie of your life, Simone,

I'll be ready. For fifteen years I've waited patiently. 


The knock will come. They will beg me

to star.  And of course I will graciously accept,

having all these years been practicing


your shy, sweet, sidelong smile through my horn rims in the mirror.

For, after all, they’ll only want a reasonable

copy of you, Simone, as for a long time


that's all I wanted, too, reading in you only

my own versions of self-distaste,

like what the coroner wrote:


The deceased did kill and slay herself

by refusing to eat whilst the balance

of her mind was disturbed.


Yet, like most desire,  

it was the sweetness of the self melting through the fingers, 

quicker than hunger. 

And so, when they make the movie of your life, Simone, I'll be ready. 

 For fifteen years, I've wait-ed patiently.

 For fifteen years,       

 so patiently.


II.  RENAULT obviously inexorable and invincible oppression does not engender rebellion as an immediate reaction but rather submission.

                                                                            S. Weil



Winding down among the rocks

and the bitter grass

outside Viana do Castelo,

come the wives

of the fishermen.

It is evening.


The full moon

casts a net of light

over the cliffs and sea --

it snags and tears

on the masts of the boats

like a rent veil,


on the masts

of the fishing boats

the wives board,

one after the other,

singing very ancient hymns

of a heart rending sadness.


You have chanced upon

the festival

of the patron saint

of this wretched village, Simone.

These wives of fishermen

and their songs move you. 


These wives are slaves,

and the wives of slaves,

and you, among them, are a slave, too,

branded forever by your year

in the Renault plant

at Boulogne-Billancourt.


What I went through there

marked me so

that still today when any human being

speaks to me without brutality,

I cannot help but feel

there must be some mistake.


And in another tale

the fisherman kneels

beside the black sea raging

with waves as tall as the towers on the church.

Terror rages in him as he prays


Flounder, flounder in the sea,

Come, I pray thee, here to me...


for Ilsebil, his wife

who was King, Emperor, Pope

and howls to be GOD, now --

even though the mud

from their old pig-sty home

is still caked beneath her nails


Flounder, flounder in the sea,

Come, I pray thee, here to me...


enraciné as the seeds of malheur

that entered you, Simone,

ouvri`ere A96630

at Boulogne-Billancourt -- and would later flower:

extreme affliction, perfect absence and

the distress of the abandoned Christ.




He whose soul remains ever turned toward God though the nail pierces it finds himself nailed to the very center of the universe.

                                                                                -- S. Wei


Mal de tête, the ignominious

quotidian of my incarnation!

It drills my forehead like a nail --


like a lidless

third eye transfixed

by its desire.


If only I could flinch from it!

This pain impales me

like an unwilling bride


to my sickbed here

guiltie of dust and sin

and wretched unwillingness.


If only I could enter

the sanctuary of the poem,

naked as a spirit,


my miserable flesh

shed in a heap on the porch --

like at Easter in Solesmes,


when the plain song

plucked me aloft

from my suffering


and I hovered like a feather

on the breath of God,

or dust in his splendour,


far above the malheur, dégoût  et

paresse of my unworthy life:

Love bade me welcome, Love


bade me welcome, and the doctor

brought a horrid nux vomica,

for migraine:


like a curate of the flesh, 

in his macaronic latin,

he says Mass over me.


Love bade me welcome, yes,

me, with my cyclops eye as raw

as the kiss God planted


on the brow of Cain. O quick-eyed Love,

sweet sorcerer, take my unwillingness

and refine it with your flame until


what remains is the quicksilver

of consent, and the gold of welcome, Love,

like the smile on a beloved face,


that whispers,

as if blessing nuptial vows.


When the plainchants

Plucked me aloft

from my suffering        


and I hovered like a feather

on the breath of God,               

or dust in his splendour,        


far above the malheur, dégoût  et

paresse           of my unworthy life:                                                  

Love bade me welcome,

Love bade me welcome,                                 

Love like a smile on a beloved face, 

That whispers,

who made the  eyes but I?


IV. Saint Julien


Le travail manuel. Le temps qui entre dans le corps. Par le travail l'homme se fait matiere comme le Christ par  l'eucharistie. Le travail est comme une mort...


(Manual labor. Time enters the body. Laboring, man turns himself into matter, as Christ does in the Eucharist. Labor is like a death)

S. Weil



Saint-Julien, September 1941.

Europe's at war.  But here,

all summer, under the yellow sun

the grapes have fattened. Their chill

spring green has reddened like cheeks

between the corkscrew tendrils --

 At their desks, the children work

their versions of the harvest:

yellow, purple, green, they press so hard

curlicues of wax lie strewn

like leaf fall all over

the drawing paper.


That which one feels

one must do,

a poem

or a harvest,

one must do,

and that's that...


One might choose an exceptional degree

of sacrifice or courage,

but not the cross.


That which one feels

one must do

That which one feels

one must do,

a poem

or a harvest,  

one must do,

and that's that              

and that's that.


In your vineyard, Simone,

time enters you, like sweetness flowing up

through the woody, wrist-thick vine-trunk;

You ripen. Your small hands crack like grape skins

as you pull bunch after bunch from the wizened vine,

lying on your back on the scorched September ground:

fatigue, hunger, thirst  -- these are the fruits

you would taste.


Round and round you're spinning beneath the sun its eye is

piercing but sure as clock-work         

hand over hand you pull the purple clusters   

hand over hand, as if you were a-ascending on a ladder,                   

propped a-against a cross placed there for you,                       

as if you were a vine, 

groping toward the bitter light                                                                                                                          

fatigue, hunger, and thirst

like the blood and water

of the holy fruit,

or the bitter wine

you barely let  

touch your parched lips.

Three days' rain.

You sit and write.  The vineyard

sags beneath a heavy, gray

sheet of water.  The

crayons have been put away.


The Fuhrer's tanks push eastward

toward Moscow --it is the rasputitza,

the season of mud, the prelude

to the grim, Russian winter.


I should not love my suffering

because it is useful.

I should love it

because it is.





V.  X-Ray Dreams



For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him.


Il n'y a dans le monde que nourriture et mangeur –

(There’s nothing  in the world but eater and eaten.)


                                                                          --S. Weil



On the x-rays TB starred her lungs

like millet strewn across a black tabletop.

Her eyes were embers in a white ash bed.

The doctors sighed. Fervor and consumption

devoured her, and she would not eat.


She dreamed of the girl

who watched her brother’s execution

and, returning home, devoured

a pot of strawberry jam

to tear herself from that death

For the rest of her life

she could not bear the thought or the taste

of strawberry jam


Her world had become that pot of jam 

Where death lies implicit  as seeds. 

walking deeper and deeper into the maze

with darkness her only guide. 

She could feel the breath

of the restless beast, the faceless shape at the center, 

waiting for her, patient and starved    

Waiting so patiently.





The gods love sacrifices

they swarm like flies

toward the sweet savor

The world is eater and eaten.


As she slept

U-boats famished in packs off the English coast.

Locust plagues of buzz bombs blackened skies.

German ovens, round as bellies,

gulped boxcars, link by link.

She heard fat sizzle, crisp skins split.

The beast's mouth watered.


He was never full.

He had room for more. He'd wash her down

with Dresden, Pearl Harbor,

Hiroshima, and hunger still.

He was never full.


Dying, she would not eat.


It seemed so little to set against

the beast's Goliath belly.

Quiet as a pearl, she disappeared.

She passed untainted through the body of the world,

onto the charnal floor to lie

with the bones of the afflicted,

almost the paradise she craved.


 ©Paula Tatarunis

 4.13.90 Easter Eve


Acknowledgements: Gravity and Grace, Waiting for God and Notebooks (S. Weil)

                                Simone Weil, A Life (Simone Pétrement, Pantheon, 1976)