WOVEN IN TIME from Navona Records weaves culture and ideas of the past with a modern approach to composition, revitalizing and repurposing the popular culture and literature of yesterday into contemporary music for our enjoyment today. In Jay Anthony Gach’s Gangsta’ Noir, the composer draws upon the characteristics and motifs of the film noir genre, replicating the gloomy grays and dark themes of the genre.
Today, Jay is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn how he formed a bond to the piano through the popular music of the 1960s, and the inspiration he garners from music on the silver screen…
Who was your first favorite artist growing up?
As I re-awakened musically through the 1960s, I listened with enjoyment and enthusiasm to the rock and roll music of the decade and also had an attraction to the music that accompanied TV shows. Along with doowop, R&B, the British Invasion, and the R & R cash box 40, I was fascinated by TV theme songs and the background music of feature films, westerns, family sitcoms, cartoons, detective serials, etc. From this musical genre, the music of Henry Mancini was foremost in stimulating my early musical ambitions.
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I started taking piano lessons when I was 4 years old. My father used to say, “I took to the piano like a fish takes to water.” Encouraged by my parents and teachers, I continued with lessons and played in concerts, school assemblies, master classes, etc.; but I must admit I didn’t enjoy it at all. I didn’t want to practice, I felt no kinship with the repertoire. In short, I had no emotional connection with the instrument and the piano literature. I hated minor tonalities (there’s a lot of minor when playing Bach)!
As a child I simply had the physical “talent” to move my fingers to the right notes at the right time and commit the activity to memory. Unsurprisingly, I quit by the time I was 10 years old. I like to joke saying my career as a pianist ended by the time I was 10 years old.
As I went through my teen years, I was musically awakened by the rock & roll and popular music of the 1960s. I listened to the NYC rock stations day and night, knew all the songs, and gradually developed an ability to reproduce those melodies and chords at the piano and entertain my friends. Realizing my limitations, I again started piano lessons but now with popular music, learning to play music that I thoroughly enjoyed and with which I wanted to build a fluency and a career path.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
Ha! I’m still waiting for a performance that doesn’t make me want to quit, but here’s one that stands out. It was 1980. I was attending a university music department concert that included a composition of mine that I had written a year earlier. Now, let’s recall. Concerts of contemporary music from this period featured compositions that — shall we say — were “in a difficult place” for average concert attendees.
My composition was performed, a 10+ minute piece for voice and instrumental ensemble. Its conclusion was met with the usual courteous applause. The performers acknowledged me and I stood up from my seat to take a bow and applaud the performers. Upon sitting down, I watched utterly bemused as a group of elderly women seated next to me immediately gathered their belongings, stood up, and quickly moved away from me and re-seated themselves some rows away! It was like after hearing my music the women must have thought I had some sort of mental affliction or contagion that they dreaded they might catch continuing to sit so near to me.
Well, as the years have passed I’ve withdrawn from my catalogue most of my music from that period! Lesson learned…
If you could make a living at any job in the world, what would that job be?
Duh, uh… composing concert music?! And there were a few years in which I succeeded at that!
Is there a specific feeling that you would like communicated to audiences in this work?
This recording presents the first six minutes of Gangsta’ Noir, whose entirety is about 12 minutes. It’s a one-off work, not at all representative of my personal aesthetic direction or compositional style. I enjoy film noir; I enjoy the music that is so integral to it; I admire the composers who scored these films with some of their most imaginative music. This music is in my ears. It stimulates me and inspires a personal approach to the style. It reaches a catharsis and I have to get it out. So, I compose.
In Gangsta’ Noir, I try to communicate to the listener musical imagery that suggests the film noir genre: the oppressive atmosphere of menace, pessimism, and anxiety, the dramatic inhumanity that was so stereotypical of the genre. But as a luxury not given to the actual composers who wrote the accompanying music for these films, I’m able to develop these kinds of musical ideas in an organic fashion by shaping them in a work of concert music. That is to say the “moving pictures” are not determining the direction of my music. As a piece of concert music, I have the luxury to allow my musical ideas to grow as the music seems to demand, not at all dependent on the stop-watch time constraints of the moving images on a silver screen.