Kendra Steiner Editions

January 17, 2010

Channeling Chet: a view from the workbench

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 10:10 am

Those who follow our activities here at KSE know that I’ve been working for the last month or two on a piece called LAMENT FOR THE LIVING: CHET BAKER’S FINAL SESSION, which is an imagined walk in a fictionalized Baker’s shoes a few months before his passing in May 1988. I’d been listening to a lot of late-period Chet Baker in the second half of 2009, and it seemed to me that he was on to something in the last decade of his life, that he had turned the corner onto a new and different street, that he had distilled his art into a minimalist form of great purity. With my longstanding interest in such work as John Cage’s “number pieces,” the music of Morton Feldman, the poetry of Frank Samperi, and the mid-late 60s work of Robert Creeley (in particular, the PIECES and WORDS period)—-and I truly feel a physical connection with those kind of works—-a fascination with late Chet Baker would seem inevitable.  Of course, Chet’s lifestyle and personality and health issues may have led him into that new territory, but isn’t that true for all of us? Someone once observed that Lou Reed created a style out of his technical shortcomings, and there is a lot of truth in that observation…and not just about Lou!

LAMENT is also a work that has taken on a life of its own and gone in directions I did not anticipate. Initially, it was going to be a collaboration with my friend A.J. Kaufmann, but A.J. was very busy getting ready for the March recording sessions for his upcoming album, and he had to bow out. The original idea of a number of floating, minimalist stanzas began to evolve, and I found a new form, using positive and negative critical assessments (that I created) of late-period Chet as alternating refrains (not unlike the alternating refrains I used in THE MOSQUITOES OF LA MARQUE), incorporating a first-person Chet presence in the text, and having my imagined version of Chet taking centerstage and opining on various topics. I’d heard Chet’s voice during interviews and in the film LET’S GET LOST, and perhaps influenced by my recent reading of the later plays of Tennessee Williams and the short plays and monologues of Neil LaBute, I began to hear Chet’s voice (which reminds me of Dennis Hopper’s voice, as I’ve been thinking a lot about Mr. Hopper recently), and felt it provided a nice counterpoint to Chet’s musical voice….after all, this is a man who both played and sang. So LAMENT FOR THE LIVING has removed itself from my hands to some extent and is defining itself; I’m basically guiding it along.

Right now, it’s about 95% written…although I’ll be re-working it and fine-tuning it over the next four to six weeks. It’s scheduled for release in March. Hope you’ll enjoy it.

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