In the Spotlight, Actueel

New Publication: JOHN CARISI Counterpoise #1, #1.5 & #2

John Carisi (1922-1992)
Three Counterpoises (for mixed Jazz Ensemble)

Johnny Carisi, jazz trumpeter, composer and arranger, played with such progressive band leaders as Claude Thornhill, Gil Evans, Miles Davis and in the Glenn Miller Army Band. He also composed and arranged for them.
In the late 1940s he came into contact with Stefan Wolpe (1902-1972), an eclectic German composer, who on the one hand used a very radical, avant-garde composing style, wrote struggle songs, for trade unions and communist theater groups, and on the other hand was a wild, adventurous, lazz-embracing Dadaist Berliner, who had fled to America in 1938 from the Nazis via Palestine.

Three generations of American composers were musically attracted to Wolpe's ideas, including composers Morton Feldman, Ralph Shapey and Charles Wuorinen, pianist David Tudor and jazz musicians such as Carisi, Eddie Sauter, Bill Finegan and George Russell; even Charlie Parker once expressed that desire.

What attracted them to Wolpe's ideas is not easy to explain. Wolpe's musical idiom, especially the one after WWII, was of a very radical, extremely atonal nature. Improvisation did not appear in it, swing at all. American musicians at that time were clearly out to break traditions and old musical conventions. Recall that Wolpe himself found himself in such an environment in the early 1950s when he was principal of Black Mountain College (North Carolina), a private liberal arts college, founded in 1933, where many of the nation's greatest thinkers and artists were in residence or paid visits to including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Langston Huges and Willem de Kooning. In the words of Claus Adam: "Stefan was never interested in the ordinary, the obvious, he was always interested in why did the composer turn to that or another idea, and what was the germ, and how did it develop in his mind." Wolpe's teaching transcended style and opened up those who studied with him to the possibilities inherent in whatever music they were working on.
The title Counterpoise came from the world of his brother, an aeronautical engineer, in which counterpoise was the term for balancing a small weight against a large weight by placing it at a strategic point. In music (freely) translated: giving each instrument a chance to express its own voice.

Counterpoise #1 was written in 1948, at the time of Carisi's studies with Stefan Wolpe. His teacher was so impressed with his pupil's work that he decided to write a piece for the same instrumentation, the Quartet (1950/54).
The subtitle of the Counterpoise reads: Sonata with the suffix 1st movement. So apparently he had more plans with this piece.

The other two Counterpoises were written later. About the one he originally titled #2, however, he was very dissatisfied (wrongly! WH). It is a feature for baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and was created at the time the latter was forming his legendary Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band (1960). Presumably he played the piece himself only once.

Then in 1990 followed another Counterpoise, an almost lyrical but complex duo for Trumpet and Electric Guitar, which he (again) called No. 2. Hence, since then, the Mulligan piece has been referred to as #1.5. This piece was performed and recorded by Carisi himself with guitarist/ composer James Chirillo, who only worked and studied with him over the last 5-7 years of his life. In the publication of these Counterpoises, he helped me greatly.

Werner Herbers