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August 05, 2009


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Dear Haglund's Heel:
I was very affected by your piece about me and my ballet "Beauty and the Beast". What follows is in no way a correction -- just something for the record from one friend to another. More about the work's history may be found on my website www.paulgwinston.com. The "Classical" and "Essays" pages are especially pertinent. I will try to keep this post to facts not contained in those pages.

My first sketches for a ballet version of "Beauty and the Beast" were made under the circumstances described by you, but much earlier -- about 1976 or so. I was accompanying Zena Rommett's barre classes, studying John Mehegan's book on jazz improvisation and writing my first jazz tunes. "Beauty and the Beast", however, is in no way a jazz ballet. Jazz cognoscenti will find plenty of Bud Powell-styled accompaniments in it, and some George Shearing locked chords too, but in a deeper sense the postmodernism and jazz influences of "Beauty and the Beast" are like two strangers on a bus who are facing away from each other.

Interestingly enough, I heard somewhere that Leonard Bernstein said that "a true American classical compositional tradition would arise from jazz". That may be true, but it is not true for "Beauty and the Beast" and it may not be true for my next (and last) ballet "Staggerlee". which is possessed of some jazz sensibilities (as one would expect in a story of this nature).

As far as rendering "Beauty and the Beast" into smaller, more negotiable pieces, I wouldn't have let anyone do it anyway. Yes, there is a suite in there somewhere. Yes, some scenes could be excised and performed alone, with dancers or without, and Act Two, Scene One ("Beauty's Dream"), was intended as such an extreme dramatic contrast to everything that came before that its musical connections to the rest of the ballet are quite slender. But like you I would be tortured forever by the thought that I had let someone give the impression that "Party Preparations" was perfectly suited to be "Autobahn Saturday Night" instead. I think that copyright laws let people "cover" things once they are performed according to their creator's wishes, but somehow that possibility doesn't scare me as much.

Thank you again for your article. I hope you and your friends will join me and my friends at the Uptown Lounge at Minton's Playhouse on August 30th. Celeste Sapp, the owner of Minton's, makes a deliberate attempt to distinguish between what is music and what is not, and she deserves your support.
Paul Winston

Thank you very much for your comments and clarifications. We'll certainly make the effort to get to your early set on August 30th.

Is Stagger Lee in the process of being commposed? Has it been performed by a dance company yet?

Would appreciate meeting you on the 30th at Minton's but never fear. If you can't make it I'll be there on the last Sunday of every month as you well know. As a postscript I should add that for various reasons you and your readers will be sure to find listings for the club under "Uptown Lounge at Minton's Playhouse, The".

Yes, "Staggerlee" is in the preliminary stages of composition which means, for me, gathering those ideas which seem to pertain and excising those which don't. You recall that Tchaikovsky said: "the most difficult thing is to eliminate those ideas which were conceived of in love". This especially pertains to "Staggerlee" because it is one-third the length of "Beauty and the Beast" and its language is more limited as well; its source is my experience in the jazz world, whereas "Beauty"'s source is sixty years of exposure to all periods of European classical music. I hope to have a piano score of "Staggerlee" finished by the end of the year, then I'll orchestrate it.

The only dance performance of my work was some years ago in the Lyric Recovery Festival at Carnegie Hall. Ginger Thatcher choreographed a couple of numbers from "Beauty and the Beast" on dancers from Dances Patrelle. It went over well but there is no video record of it.

Your continued interest if very encouraging. I thank you for it.


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