A couple of years ago Guy Barker took dZf, his 75-minute jazz-noir-suite loosely based on The Magic Flute libretto, to Aldeburgh. It was performed at Snape Maltings, Benjamin Britten’s spiritual and musical home, with, as always, Michel Brandon narrating my script. It must have gone down well because the Aldeburgh Music people asked Guy to come back and do something similar for the centenary of Britten’s death. But what? Guy asked me to come up with some ideas for a narrative. After all, Britten used outside sources as inspiration – Herman Melville for Billy Budd, Henry James for Turn of the Screw, Thomas Mann, John Dowland, John Donne, Shakespeare, for other works. At first I thought about something to do with the piece BB wrote for POWs in Germany (see below), but neither Guy nor I could detect a jazz component in there. Guy and I have long been fascinated by Geraldo’s Navy, the jazzers who worked on the transatlantic ships in the ‘40s and ‘50s, who played strict dance tempo on board, but once in New York sought out Bird, Dizzy, Bud, Max and other beboppers. That combo of America, the sea (both an integral part of the BB story), British dance bands and the gradual absorption of the new music from across the Atlantic, gave us a starting point. It now forms the overture to a piece called That Obscure Hurt, based on a Henry James short story (Britten used two of his supernatural tales, we’re completing the trilogy) called the Jolly Corner – a misnomer if ever there was one – about the homecoming of a New York businessman after an absence of many years who finds his old house haunted by a monstrous presence. Having set dZf in New York, we decided that this piece should be centered on London. So the action has shifted to Soho, but the premise is the same as James’s original – a man who haunts himself. Now with added CCTV cameras. And, although initially I suggested there be no spoken word and no songs, it looks like we are having both. Yup, it’s in great danger of turning into a jazz-opera with ghosts. One thing we can promise: as with Mozart and dZf, no music by Benjamin Britten will be harmed in this project.
STOP PRESS: The BBC Concert Orchestra today announced the appointment of composer, arranger and jazz trumpeter Guy Barker as its new Associate Composer. The position, previously held by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood and the Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley, will be for an initial period of two years beginning in April 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/bbccoguybarker.html