Friday, January 29, 2010

Composer Regina Baiocchi and the Late Hale Smith, Part 5

(Part 4 ended with a comment by Regina Harris Baiocchi that for her Music Thesis she had written a paper entitled "Black Curtains Up," for which she interviewed every living composer of an opera she could find.)
(Since the date of the interview, Raoul Abdul of The New York Amsterdam News has died, on Jan. 15, 2010. AfriClassical has published Regina Harris Baiocchi's tribute to him, "In Memoriam: Raoul Abdul (1929-2010)" The CUBE concert on WFMT, which is also discussed in the interview, has taken place on Jan. 18, 2010.)

T.J. Anderson said to me, "You know, if I had it to do over again, I would not write an atonal opera." "But," he said," you know you live and learn." T.J. is another person. He is such a giving man, and I'm sure you've seen the Tribute he wrote to Hale!"
I certainly did! I linked to it from my blog.

Oh yes, I did see that link! He's another one! He's the last of that era of composers. There's the younger group of the Dorothy Rudd Moores and the Alvin Singletons...

Probably 10 years his junior, and of course...
You know Alvin is in his 70s.
You are right. I think Kermit and Hale were the same age; Kermit Moore, Dorothy Rudd Moore's husband. I believe they have 10 or 15 years on Dorothy, so I think she is 70 as well.
I wonder if you would like to address the later stages of Hale's life and any contact you had during the later years?
Luckily for me, and I suspect these were mutual feelings, we spoke quite often. I would venture o say if not every day at least every other day.
Is that right?

Oh, yes.
You were soul mates!
Absolutely! I had an 800 number installed in my house, because we would get on the phone and talk for hours and our phone bills were absolutely outrageous!
I imagine so!

He said to me one day, "You know, I better hang up this phone...we've been talking for five hours!" And I had a niece who was away at school, and she wanted to call home a lot, and so I had two very good reasons, my niece and Hale, and I installed this 800 number so he could call me on the 800 number, for nothing really. And then of course I got the situation I have now, where I have unlimited national calling. It was not uncommon for him to call me - I remember a few times he called me - at one, two o'clock in the morning. The phone would ring, I'm a night owl, but there are times when I do need to sleep!
Right! He called and said "Are you awake?" I said "Hale, it's two o'clock, what do you think I'm doing?" And he said, "I was just reading something." He would just go into whatever it was that he was reading, he was so passionate about it. My husband is a very light sleeper, and he would say "What's going on? Is everything okay? Did somebody die?" I would say, "Oh no, Hale wants to talk to me about some music." He would say "At two o'clock in the morning!" He was very interested in the Hubble Telescope. He was very interested in current events. He was a very, very well-rounded, well-educated man!
Were you still able to keep up these frequent conversations even during the final months, when he was in the hospice care?

No, we weren't. As a matter of fact, the last six months or so, we didn't have any phone contact at all.
That must have been a loss?

It was a great loss! It happened, I would say, starting a couple years ago. His vocabulary kept decreasing.

I don't think he ever lost any cognition. I think he was totally aware of what was going on. But because he couldnot express himself verbally, it was hard! I remember when he had the first stroke, I got a letter from him with a tape in it, and I noticed that his handwriting was different.

He called me and he said, "Did you get my tape?" And I said "Yes, I did get it and it looks different." He said "I had a hard time dubbing that tape!" I said "Really?" and he said "Yes." Then out of the clear blue he said "You know, if I ever got sick, I would hope that I didn't just hang on. I would never want to b e in a vegetative state, I would rather die." I thought about it and I said "Yes, I agree with you." Within a week or so I got this call saying he had had a stroke, a heart attack, and it was right around the time that Juanita, his wife, was recovering from breast cancer. She had lost her Mom, who was well into her 90s. It seemed like there were a lot of things going on in their lives by that time. I distinctly remember the conversation we had and I'm sure he felt some physical breakdown then. It was just very sad!
It had to be!

Yes, and I really miss talking to him. Every now and again, I'll have a thought and say "Oh I'll run that by Hale," or "I'll see what Hale's doing with that." Juanita and I have become very close over the past several years, and I speak to her at least once or twice a week.
That's good!

It is good, and she gave me very high praise the other day, she said she considers me a member of their family. I certainly consider both of them as cultural parents.
There is certainly a lot of mutual recognition there!

Yes, I remember when Hale and Juanita met my parents, I had other siblings here because we went for dinner in Chicago, and they got the same feeling. They feel as though Hale and Juanita were at least godparents to them.

It was a very interesting and very moving dynamic!
It sounds like it!

You know I love to cook, and I had made this lavish meal, and we have a dining room table that seats six, and then I had like a card-table setup that seats four. Our parents were there at the table and I said to Hale and Juanita and to my parents, "You know it's time for you to move so that the second shift can eat. Because I have seven siblings and my husband has seven siblings, a huge family!" I said to them, "You know it's time for the next group to eat." They said "Oh we're the elders; they can go over and eat at the card table." Anyway, they wouldn't move! So they sat there and Hale and my father both loved to talk, and they could talk, because they were both very informed, very learned, well-read men!
That was what Dominique said in his interview about his career, that if Hale happened to speak at length it was worth while.

Absolutely, because he made it his business to know what he was talking about! If he had a thought, he followed that thread until he had other opinions, other facts to either support his scholarship or inspire him to take that scholarship up in another direction. He was very passionate about his feelings, about his thoughts, about his work and all of his work as an artist was informed by that passion. If I do have one regret in life beside the fact he's not here anymore, it would be that I didn't meet him sooner in my life! I wish I had known him for longer.
That's understandable.

I really do! And I'm sorry that every musician did not get the chance to meet him, because I think the world really cheated itself by not really giving him the recognition and the exposure he deserved. That certainly speaks highly for your appreciation!
And you know I don't just mean because he was my teacher. Whenever people hear his music, they love it! I think if Hale had not been a Black composer, he probably would have been the leading composer in the world. I really do believe that!
I see!

You know also, I think everything happens in due time.

He certainly has paved the way for a composer in the 21st century to take his or her rightful place, and to be prepared to take that place. I think that would be very important to him...
To go into Third Stream, or Contemporary or Jazz Fusion or whatever that person was driven to do?
Yes, I think so, but I think he would want to make sure that they were ready, that they were prepared, and that they could take up the charge! Because I think a lot of people have certain opportunities, but there is a lot of junk out there too!
The fundamentals are not always heeded.

People are too quick to do things - I think I see what you mean.

Yes, and I was listening to some music today, and I heard so many filters, where the music had been filtered to take out imperfections. That was certainly something Hale did not care for at all! He felt that music should be successful or unsuccessful on its own feet. So he did not believe in all of the electronic props that people use.
So electronic editing would not have appealed to him?
Absolutely not! He spoke quite eloquently on the topic. There are so many ways around it. the first thing to do is to hire certain musicians. The music I heard today was a popular tune. An actress recorded the music with a singer. You know, those kinds of stunts!

I'm not against seeing actors do things. I heard Aretha Franklin once on a talk show. She had a recipe with the host. And she said "This food is really delicious! Have you ever thought about writing a cook book?" And she said, "Oh, I have written cook books. I have written recipes, I have developed recipes. Why should I have a cook book out there when there is some kid who has gone to chef school, this is his passion, his life. Imagine his book next to a book of mine, by Aretha Franklin. People are going to reach for my book because they know my name! That would be unfair, to me. I am making it as a singer, I am making it as a musician. I want to give this chef a chance to make it in the world! I don't need it...
That is fascinating!

Yes, it is! I got a chance to work with her when I was the Coordinator of Operation PUSH. She was the ultimate musician, extremely prepared, the rehearsals were like clockwork! She came in, she knew exactly what she wanted, how she wanted it done.
Was she with the Supremes?
No, Aretha Franklin was basically a solo artist on Arista. The Supremes were a trio on Motown.

But they are contemporary. Aretha also played piano and organ. Her father C.L. Franklin was a minister in Detroit, so they all came out of the same city. Interestingly enough, she was not a Motown product. She was on the Arista label and I believe Capitol label. I always remember her talking about not standing in the way of another young artist. I think Hale did that in a positive way. He always made sure that he cultivated whatever it was that an artist needed to be cultivated! In other words, it was important for me to be adaptable and to make sure that I knew the literature, that I knew the language to write it. To be able to go to one person and study Jazz, Blues, Gospel, Classical...
It's almost unheard of!

Oh yes! Poetry - the work that he did with Langston Hughes - Hale Smith was the only composer I knew who had carte blanche to any Langston Hughes poetry!
Is that right?

Absolutely! He gave him that right in writing! They met each other when Hale was a student at Cleveland, and Langston came through there to do a reading, and Hale actually got his autograph on manuscript paper! Years later, Hale was in the post office in New York and Langston recognized him. He said "Hey, weren't you from Cleveland?

You know, he had made that impression on him! Hale said "Yes, I am! This is my first week in New York." And he told the story of how he had not moved his family there yet, he was in New York by himself, going there to pave the way for the family to come later. Langston said, "Listen, if you're not doing anything, I want you to join me for dinner." Langston invited him to his home, and that began a very long friendship! He began setting his music, and he became acquainted with Raoul Abdul - I don't know if you know him? Raoul Abdul writes for The Amsterdam News.
I've heard the name, but I've not really been in touch.
Raoul Abdul also wrote several books on Black artistry. He was Langston Hughes' personal assistant. I just spoke to Raoul a couple of days ago. We were talking about Hale and how much we miss him and he said, "You know, I think if we can do anything, in your case the best tribute you could give to Hale is to continue to write good music the way you know he would have wanted you to." That's certainly a charge that I will take up, and Raoul has done the same thing. He's the one primarily responsible for the New York Times obit that ran. He worked very closely with the editors to make sure that it was accurate and that it was timely. He has a column that he writes for The Amsterdam News. He's also a singer and he used to have these regular salons where he presents new singers in New York.


Yes, he's very active as a musician. Being Langston Hughes' personal assistant was - he's got a lot of stories!
He must have! Is there anything you want to say about the planned Memorial Concert?

The Memorial Concert I know is tentatively scheduled in May, 2010. It will definitely be in Manhattan. The last time I spoke to Juanita she had several venues she was looking at. To my knowledge nothing has been solidified yet but she is looking for something in May of 2010. As soon as she gets that date, I'll make sure that you get it. I will speak to her before the week is over.
I don't want to rush her, but when it's available I'd like to know.

Okay. The Memorial will be a tribute to Hale through his music so it's going to be a concert of all of his music.

I want to say something about the January 18th radio concert...
Oh yes!
On WFMT, that will be Monday, January 18, 2010, 8 PM Central Time, WFMT 98.7 FM in Chicago. And of course you can stream online. It's a show called "Live From Studio One." CUBE Ensemble is commissioning works by myself and Valerie Capers, the other living composer on the program. They will have music by Hale Smith and music by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson,who is also a Hale Smith contemporary.

I have two pieces that are on that program. One is called "Liszten" and it's a solo piano piece that was inspired by Franz Liszt and also a book that I read. I have a double major in Psychology and Music and so I'm very interested in things related to Psychology. There is a guy named Oliver Sacks who wrote a book called "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat."
Yes, I've read that and I also have his most recent book, "Musicophilia."
I was very taken by "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat," so I wrote the piece called "Liszten: My Husband Is Not A Hat!"
So that's inspired by that title?

Absolutely! It's inspired by that title and the readings. Franz Liszt is probably my favorite composer of the Romantic era.

Oh, absolutely! I love his music, I love teaching it, and if I could be a pianist I would love to be a Liszt aficionado and play his music.
Is that right?

Absolutely! The other piece CUBE commissioned, and it'll be a world premiere, is a piece called "Triptych." It's a piece that I dedicate to Hale and Juanita Smith. The first movement is called "Ancestral Passage," the center movement is called "Floating Feathers" and the last movement is called "Poco a Poco," which in Italian means "Little by Little." It's a three-movement piece for B-flat clarinet, percussion and cello. Hale Smith had a story he used to tell about how he had a beautiful white feather, because the teacher asked each one of the kids to bring a feather to school. They put all the feathers in a box and then they had some spelling bee or some assignment. The teacher let each student choose the feather that he or she wanted, in order of how they scored. So the person who got 100% took his beautiful white feather! His feather was like this beautiful, fancy thing you could see on the end of a quill.

He ended up with a small feather, maybe an inch in size.
What a comedown!

Oh yes, and for her not to tell them what she was going to do with the feather! So you'll see that feather theme in his music. He wrote a piece called "Feather for Jazz." After he told me the story, I went and found a beautiful feather and I put it in a wooden box similar to the one that he described to me, and mailed it to him.
Oh, wow!

Of course he was very moved by that! It's amazing how that story affected him for the rest of his life!
It obviously had power!

Very much so! Is there anything else you would like for me to address?
I don't think so, Regina. I think that we've done a good survey.

Well I really appreciate your interest in Hale Smith and interest in myself and my music.
Certainly! Dominique-René de Lerma is the one who gave me an appreciation of both of you!
Oh, Dominique! He's a very good man! (End of Interview)

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