Clarice Assad


(2007) When Art Showed Up

Commissioned by Anne-Marie McDermott | c. 10 mins.
Written Oct. 2007 at the MacDowell Colony

Program Notes

When I was commissioned to write this work for Anne-Marie McDermott, I felt honored and delighted, as I have always admired her playing and her artistic choices. Before I began working on the piece, I asked Annie if she had any particular ideas in mind and she immediately said “I have always wanted to play jazz.” When I asked who her favorite jazz pianist was, she said without hesitation: “Art Tatum,” Having been a long fan of Mr. Tatum myself, I became immediately intrigued by this idea.

This piece follows a story line. It is the story of a pianist who is reading a new piece for the first time and is suddenly visited by the presence of Art Tatum. As if “possessed” by the presence, this pianist goes through several mental and physical stages attempting to break free of this presence. But Tatum keeps returning, each time more intensely and aggressively until the pianist, now frustrated and scared, forcefully chases the presence away. Upon realizing she is now completely alone again, she goes back to the reading of this new piece… only to discover she actually misses the presence greatly, eventually evoking him back. Upon his return, the two are finally “one” and continue on to share a final and exciting duet.

To create a clear distinction between the jazz and the classical portion of this piece, the work is filled with humorous cliches of classical music and jazz alike. The work has a solid theme and variation form, all based on the initial theme heard, up until the coda when the duet occurs. The pianist is always trying to bring in a classical feel as if trying to assert its own identity, and consequently avoid being “possessed” again. Most of Tatums’ playing comes from original transcriptions of his recordings. Although slightly modified to suit the melodic and harmonic progressions of my piece, his sound and essence remain authentic.

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“In contrast was the New York premiere of “When Art Showed Up” by Ms. Assad, a young Brazilian composer. Before beginning the piece she learned that Ms. McDermott, a fan of Art Tatum, had always wanted to play jazz. According to Ms. Assad, her programmatic work evokes a pianist learning a new classical piece while possessed by the spirit of Tatum. The lively work, in theme and variations form, alternated between Baroque and Classical allusions and jazzy interludes of increasing energy played with panache by Ms. McDermott.”


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