In 1992, I wrote a ballet for the fantastic New York City Ballet. One movement had to be a train
I grew up with the Mississippi River on the southern end of my block and a train track on the northern end. I loved both. In 1992, I wrote a ballet for the fantastic New York City Ballet. One movement had to be a train. It is called Express Crossing and features all kinds of train onomatopoeia train and goes different tempos and moods.
I will never forget opening night in the pit of what was then called the New York State Theatre. Members of the ballet orchestra stayed in the pit after playing their pieces to hear us play. We had such a great band and were well rehearsed (at a premiere) for the first time in our lives. The orchestra members were very collegial and enthusiastic about our playing. We were honored that they stayed to check us out and were definitely trying to show off.
Under the baton of Bob Sadin, we spent a week in New Orleans rehearsing. Marcus Printup and me on trumpets, Ronald Westray and Wycliffe Gordon on trombones,
Todd Williams on tenor and soprano saxophones, Wessell Anderson on alto saxophone and Victor Goines on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet, Kent Jordan on piccolo and flute, Eric Reed on piano, Reginald Veal on bass, and Herlin Riley on drums. Great band with a ton of natural talent, work ethic and absolute soul. I loved playing with them.
This movement is really difficult to play with hocketed sections, 7/8 bars that skip the swing onto the off beat, shuffle patterns on the other side of the beat, fast obtuse lines for the woodwinds, short blasts and muted effects for the brass, a difficult contrapuntal call-and-response section for flute and muted trumpet with wide intervals, breaks with syncopated wa-wa brass fills, and a breakdown that requires trumpets to play with intermittent closed plunger muted beeps in imitation of a horn, while also leading saxes a la Mary Lou Williams’ classic Walkin’ and Swingin’. (I always gave Wycliffe the hard off beat parts because he was and is a wizard of rhythm). The trumpet solo employs the harmonic form of Tiger Rag, but the other sections have different progressions.
I made sure to write Kent Jordan an impossible to play part. He is a few years older than me, and, as an eight grader, I was inspired to become serious by observing his daily hours of practice and study. Knowing he could play anything, I wanted people to hear what he could do. He did not disappoint. This recording is not of optimal studio quality but is a live recording of us in the pit during that first run in January ’93. It has the energy and feeling of that time and place.
This is “Express Crossing” from: Jazz: Six Syncopated Movements.