New Century Saxophone Quartet

Main Street USA (1996)

Main Street USA CDMichael Stephenson, soprano saxophone
James Boatman, alto saxophone
Stephen Pollock, tenor saxophone
Brad Hubbard, baritone saxophone

Steve Kirkman, percussion
1. Pavane (1938)  (842KB MP3)  Morton Gould (1913-1996)
2. Main Street Waltz (1978)  
3. Main Street March (1978) (834KB MP3)  
Porgy and Bess Suite (1935)  George Gershwin (1898-1937)
4. Clara, Clara  
5. Oh, I Got Plenty O'Nuttin'  
6. Bess, You is My Woman Now  
7. Oh, I Can't Sit Down  
8. It Ain't Neccessarily So (875KB MP3)  
9. Summertime (878KB)  
10. There's A Boat dat's Leavin' For New York  
11. Oh Lawd, I'm On My Way  
12. Promenade (1936) George Gershwin (1898-1937)
13. Three-Quarter Blues (c. 1920)  
14. Merry Andrew (1928)    
Selections from West Side Story (1957) Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
15. I Feel Pretty (847KB MP3)  
16. Balcony Scene (Tonight)  
17. Cha-Cha/Meeting Scene/Jump  
18. One Hand, One Heart  
19. Gee, Officer Krupke (820KB MP3)  
20. Scherzo  
21. Somewhere (878KB MP3)  

Total time 55:32

Progam Notes

Since the saxophone quartet literature is somewhat limited and is not well known, the New Century Saxophone Quartet often turns to arrangements in order to round-out their repertoire. Usually this means works written before the saxophone’s invention in the 1840’s by the Belgian inventor Adolphe Sax. With the more frequent use of the saxophone in the 20th Century, especially in America, it was natural for me to turn to three of my most admired composers: Morton Gould, George Gershwin, and Leonard Bernstein. Another logical reason for choosing these three was that they all used saxophones in their compositions – including those on this disc. West Side Story is scored for the entire modern saxophone family: soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass! The music chosen also satisfies a request of NCSQ fans – that we perform some music that they know with tunes that continue to play in their heads long after the concert is over.

Most often one hears ‘Hollywood’ or ‘jazzed-up’ versions of the music on this disc. In contrast, I set out not to merely reduce these works for saxophone quartet, but also to preserve the original flavor and feel of the music. This turned out to be quite a challenge, not only for me as arranger, but for the performers as well. To retain an ‘orchestral’ quality and to cover all of the parts, the individual instruments are stretched well beyond their usual quartet roles. Additionally, each performer is required to play beyond what has been the standard range of their instruments both in pitch and sensitivity. An added but welcome intricacy was the use of percussion. The percussionist does not comp, but plays from a part which closely follows the style of the original music and is integral to the arrangements.

Written in 1938 for a radio series he was conducting, the Pavane is the middle movement from Morton Gould’s American Symphonette No. 2 and is probably his best-known work. Mr. Gould told me that, “At the time words like dinette and kitchenette were being used so I called my little symphony a symphonette.” This arrangement was one of the first that I did for this disc and has become a favorite of NCSQ audiences.

The Main Street Waltz and Main Street March were suggested to me by Mr. Gould to compliment his Pavane and are from the film ‘World War I.’ The Waltz depicts a prewar, peaceful America, with cars and a happy-go-lucky public filling the streets. The joining of the soprano saxophone with the glockenspiel results in a wonderfully light and cheerful feel. Complete with a street parade’s cymbals and drums, the rousing march portrays America preparing to enter the conflict: albeit with naiveté about the true horrors of the war. Fragments of “Over There” optimistically appear throughout the March. Although Mr. Gould heard New Century perform the Pavane, we did not have the opportunity to play the other two for him before his death on February 21, 1996. As his Pulitzer Prize and the music recorded here attest, he certainly achieved his goal that “a composer should have something to say to even a taxicab driver.” We title this CD Main Street USA in tribute to Morton’s dedication to American music.

Straight from Tin-Pan Alley, George Gershwin’s seldom heard Three-Quartet Blues and Merry Andrew were written in the 1920’s. In the Blues, also known as the Irish Waltz, the vibraphone can be heard which, with the saxophones, creates a beautiful shimmering effect. One can’t help bouncing along with Merry Andrew which was used as a dance number in the 1928 show Rosalie. Promenade was composed in 1936, just two years before Gould’s Pavane, and may be familiar to Astaire-Rogers fans as Walking the Dog from ‘Shall We Dance’- one of Gershwin’s last Hollywood films and the last he was to see before his early death.

Porgy and Bess is without a doubt Gershwin’s most monumental work and I, like many others, have long been attracted to the numerous wonderful songs to come from this opera. While performing some of the opera on Kiawah Island (Kittiwah in the opera) and in Charleston, South Carolina, the desire to play this music more often heightened; and so I began to set some of my favorite songs for the New Century Saxophone Quartet. As I began arranging I couldn’t help visualizing the scenes from the opera.

One can sense the calm following the storm in Clara, Clara. Rarely heard outside the opera it is a song of mourning for Clara who is feared lost in a hurricane. Porgy’s nonchalant song Oh, I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ gleefully concludes with, “Got my gal, got my Lawd, got my song!” One of the most tender love duets written, Bess, You is My Woman Now is full of heartfelt romance; here ‘sung’ by the tenor and soprano saxophones.

Although my stay near Catfish Row came 50 years after Gershwin’s, I can nevertheless picture the residents gaily singing, Oh, I Can’t Sit Down, on their way to picnic on Kittiwah Island. The merry-making is interrupted by Sporting Life, a dope dealer, who taunts with It Ain’t Necessarily So (“De t’ings dat you’ li’ble to read in de Bible”), which is sort of a repeat-after-me type of sermon. One would be remiss for omitting Summertime from a collection of Porgy and Bess songs. It was difficult for me to give up the idea of playing the nostalgic lullaby myself, but the obvious choice was the soprano; the voice which Gershwin had intended it for. It still amazes me that he could put so much of the Charleston atmosphere in such a short song; which by the way has no bridge or ‘B’ section. One can almost feel the sticky, tropical heat of a lazy summer evening on the South Carolina waterfront.

With the help of a little ‘happy dust’, the dope dealer has convinced Bess to go away with him and happily sings There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ For New York. When Porgy discovers that Bess has gone to New York he asks, “Where dat?”. “It’s way up North pas’ de custom house.” Porgy orders his goat cart and drives off singing Oh Lawd, I’m On My Way which concludes with music from “Bess, You is My Woman Now”.

As with the other music on this CD, West Side Story is also a signature piece and is Leonard Bernstein’s most famous work. When I heard Bernstein’s 1985 recording I felt that I had finally heard this music as he had written it. And why not, with the maestro himself conducting! And so with the recording and the newly released score firmly in hand, I began on what became my most demanding task. Using the Symphonic Dances from West Side Story for
orchestra as a guide, I set out to create a complete chamber music version for saxophones and percussion without those cumbersome transitions so often found in medleys.

Beginning with I Feel Pretty, which opens Act II, the use of many of the auxiliary percussion instruments can be heard. Included are tambourine, castanets, triangle and glockenspiel. While they are used sparingly, they really add a light and ‘pretty’ touch. After a short introduction, the Balcony Scene begins with Maria which is shared by all of the saxophones and then goes on to Tonight. A slower, more tender version of Tonight follows with the melody played in turn by tenor, soprano, and alto while the vibraphone plays underneath resembling the strings in an orchestra. A dance version of Maria is next in Cha-Cha which segues into the Meeting Scene: a slower version of the same tune. The tenor saxophone ominously takes over and transitions to a Paso Doble which is interrupted (watch out for the police whistle!) by Jump, the jazziest of the dance numbers with it’s out of sync bass line. The beautiful love duet One Hand, One Heart is scored, like the original, for tenor and soprano. The homogeneous sound of the saxophone quartet is enhanced here by the addition of the vibraphone which blends very nicely; almost like another saxophone! To bring some lighthearted fun to this collection I couldn’t do without Gee, Officer Krupke. WARNING – listener beware of Krupke’s police whistle! Although the NCSQ often uses Krupke as an encore in concert, we felt it belonged in it’s rightful place for this recording. The Scherzo is from the dream scene in the Ballet Sequence where there is a lack of gangs and hostility. The light use of the saxophones and the glockenspiel provide the dreamy landscape which is eventually shattered by the triangle, which like an alarm clock, brings us rudely back to reality. Like Summertime earlier, I could not leave out Somewhere which segues from the Scherzo. Unlike the Gershwin song, I did keep most of somewhere for myself – after all, Bernstein scored it for mezzo! The vibraphone is used to play the obligato piano part from the original to great effect. An interesting saxophonistic note I’d like to mention concerns the final bars. While the upper voices play a high ‘flute-like’ role, the baritone alternates between a pitch that is above the keyed range of the instrument and one that is nearly at the bottom of it’s range. This is a bit unusual and very demanding. These last three measure are among the most difficult which I inflicted upon the ensemble. While the timpani intones a death knell, the upper voices remind us that there’s still “…a place for us. Somehow, Someday, Somewhere!”

-James Boatman

Percussionist Steve Kirkman joins the New Century Saxophone Quartet for the first time on this recording. Kirkman, as well as the members of New Century, attended the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, N.C. where he received both his Bachelor and Master of Music Degrees. Steve’s wide range of performing experiences and his many diverse musical strengths fit nicely with New Century’s philosophy of versatility. Equally at home performing with symphony orchestra, jazz quartet or Broadway pit orchestra, he has seen the world through concert tours of West Side Story, appearances with Dallas Brass, show drumming for Princess Cruises and backing artists such as Joe Williams, Perry Como and Shirley Caeser. When not touring, he teaches at Limestone College and Winston-Salem State University.

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