What About The People?

A Saxophone Concerto for Joe Lovano and orchestra

by Douglas J. Cuomo

What About the People?​ ​will be a three movement concerto for the jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano. The title is a rallying cry in response to the rise of nationalistic movements in the early part of the 21st century and the seeming decline in the ideals of compassion and the recognition of a shared humanity among all people, from all countries and backgrounds. Reflecting this, the music will be by turns fervent, exhorting, ecstatic and eulogistic - modes of expression extremely well suited to wide dynamic, tonal and emotional range of the tenor saxophone in general and of Mr. Lovano’s virtuosic playing in particular. What About the People? will draw on the conventions of both the jazz and classical worlds. As in a traditional concerto a dialogue will be set up between soloist and orchestra, however in this case much of the soloist’s part will be improvised within the rhythmic, harmonic and formal guidelines set out in the composition. The musical language of the piece will reference the vocabularies of both contemporary classical music (Lutoslawski pitch organizational ideas, building a large scale three movement musical structure) and jazz (traditional ballad playing, modal improvisation, the blues). Its overtly political programmatic meaning is also reflected in both the traditions; classical (Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon, Britten’s War Requiem, Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated) and jazz (Sonny Rollins’ Freedom Suite, Charles Mingus’ Fables of Faubus, John Coltrane’s Alabama).

The mixing of jazz and classical techniques and use of improvisation within an otherwise fully notated contemporary music setting is of particular interest to me, and reflects my musical background. I began my professional life as a jazz guitarist before becoming a composer, and have a deep understanding and affinity for both musical languages. Many of my compositions have integrated improvisation within them including Savage Winter (with improvising electric guitar and trumpet), Arjuna’s Dilemma (improvising saxophone, tablas and Indian singer), Black Diamond Express Train to Hell (improvising cello) and much music for film and television, including even the theme for Sex & The City (improvising timbales).

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