Trying to play clean
by Nicolas Benavides
for string quartet and vocal quartet
Trying to play clean is a re-imagining of Charlie Parker’s end-of-life story. With music inspired by Charlie’s own, and words taken from quotes by him and about him, the piece explores what may have been going through Charlie’s mind as he lay dying at age 34.
Charlie had a big, gregarious personality, with a huge appetite for life, and in turn, he admired musicians and intellectuals from all circles. He dreamed of studying music with Nadia Boulanger and Igor Stravinsky, and of developing something newer than bebop, though he died before he could ever do so.
I originally came to Charlie’s work as a saxophonist and have spent countless hours learning his music and playing his transcribed solos. My approach to writing the words and music for this piece was to use pastiche, a technique Charlie himself frequently used. I read multiple biographies, collecting quotes by and about him that I then adjusted for clarity. I also brought out my old omnibook (a published collection of his transcribed solos), printed off scans of his solos, and used scissors and tape to frankenstein those solos into a framework I could use to write my piece.
Because Charlie’s harmony was so advanced, it sometimes took me hours to unravel a single measure to fully understand his technique. This piece is inspired by those techniques and my own interpretation of the bebop idiom. You’ll hear lines that start off innocently and then jump to new keys, or get pulled apart at the seams, or are squished and repeated.
I am deeply grateful to Friction Quartet and the vocalists for trusting me to write them something new. I am also grateful to Russ Irwin for his endless love of new music and for personally ensuring that this work would see its completion. Tonight you'll get to hear these phenomenal musicians navigate bebop lines with formidable athleticism, so I hope you enjoy it!
12/04/16 @ The Women's Building - premiere