1946 | 8 min
For solo piano
“Dedicated to my Parents”
I. Sun Up II. Breaking A Wild Horse
III. The Fairgrounds IV. Look at My Pony V. The Chickens And The Ducklings
VI. Dad Plays The Harmonica
Program Note by the Composer
My roots are in jazz, and I have worked in it professionally since the age of fourteen; but I grew up on a cattle ranch in Northern California and the jazz I played Saturday nights was in dance halls in rough and ready towns like Angels Camp, Murpheys, Sutter Creek, and Mokelumne Hill. My mother’s classical training had given me a Bach-like harmonic approach to popular and western tunes.
Reminiscences of the Cattle Country is a reminiscence of my early days on the rach, which my father managed and where I worked after school and summers as a cowhand. In the evenings, my father often played the harmonica (cowboy style) and my mother played the piano (classical style). These two diverse traditions produced in me a jazz style that was individual, and a compositional style that is an amalgam of a variety of early influences.
These compositions, written in 1946, were my first pieces for piano not in the jazz idiom of the blues or popular song form. I was then a student of Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland, California.
The act of writing music then was a tremendous struggle and the reading of what I had written next to impossible. Milhaud’s usual response, after hearing me play through a new piece was “Very good, ‘Boo-Boo,’ but not what you have written.” He had infinite patience with a poor jazz pianist who could scarcely read or write music, and encouraged me to become a composer. But he was insistent that I not give up jazz. “In jazz, you are free,” he would say.
Milhaud was not just referencing to the music, but to a lifestyle—to working in dance halls and bars, traveling the world, and being able to make a living wherever there was a piano. How long it has taken me to appreciate his great discernment!