I'm very happy that of all my charts, Transit [click to view/download score] was the one that earned me the BMI Charlie Parker Composition Prize, because the piece has a very direct emotional connection to the BMI Jazz Composers Workshop itself.
I joined the BMI workshop in the fall of 2002, while I was still living in Boston. Pretty much every Tuesday morning that year, I would wake up early (or, more often than not, head out early after an all-night writing session), take the T to Chinatown, and line up for one of the buses that run between the Boston and New York. These Chinatown-to-Chinatown bus lines are big business now, with web sites and actual ticket booths and advertising and berths in Boston's South Station and everything, but back when I started taking them, you didn't get much more fly-by-night than Fung Wah and Travel Pack (not to mention the various upstart bus operators that periodically tried to muscle in on their turf). You would buy the tickets in bakeries, or coffee shops, or from a tout on a street corner. The pickup and dropoff locations would vary from hour to hour. Often, they would have us line up at one corner, then make a mad dash to the actual pickup location at the last possible moment. However, there were two big benefits to taking the Chinatown bus. One, it was ridiculously cheap -- $10 each way. (You couldn't get a cab from NEC to Harvard Square for $10!) Two, they drove like maniacs. I think they made it a point of pride to make better time than the Acela, which they often did, even including the usual pit stop at a sketchy highwayside Roy Rogers.
So, once in New York, I would wander around the city, trying to get a feel for the place, maybe meet some Gothamite friends for coffee or lunch, then head up to the BMI building for our afternoon workshop, where I would have the chance to share with McNeely, Abene, and my BMI colleagues some of the music I'd been working on and check out what everyone else had brought. Afterwards, I'd cross the street to Kennedy's for the traditional post-workshop hang, then hustle back to Chinatown and try to find a bus going back to Boston.
Since I get motion sickness pretty easily, even when the driver isn't treating the I-90 like his own personal Daytona 500 -- in a tour bus -- reading was pretty much out of the question. So I spent a lot of time on those buses to and from New York listening to my iPod and thinking about the future. In a way, my participation in the BMI Workshop that first year was a dry run for life in NYC. Was my writing strong enough to attract the players I wanted? Could I realistically scrounge up enough music prep work to pay the rent every month? Was my plan to start a new big band merely foolhardy, or was it evidence of actual mental illness?
All of these conflicting emotions -- expectation, excitement, uncertainty, dread, and the like -- found their way into "Transit," along with my best sonic representation of the physical sensation of tearing down the highway in a bus with bad shocks. Plus little snippets of a couple of the songs I listened to obsessively on those trips -- the opening chorale hints at the beginning of Randy Newman's "Sail Away," and the grungy drop-D guitar riff at [K] is
borrowed shamelessly stolen from Radiohead's "I Might Be Wrong."
The long fluegel solo that stretches through a good 2/3 of the chart requires a player who knows how to handle the long burn, and Ingrid Jensen burns longer and harder than anyone else. Her solo in this live version is filled with absolutely killing moments, but for starters, check out the way she sets up to the yet-to-be-introduced solo backgrounds at around the 3:23 mark… a composer couldn't ask for a better compliment! My only regret is that my MiniDAT wasn't better positioned, because the brilliant climax of her solo is somewhat buried in this recording. I'll try to capture a better version at the next gig -- but of course, there's nothing like being there for the real thing.