Keep the fire Burning Part 3: When pop met jazz at the proArts Society

When MUSICAlive! first gets Mark Limacher on the phone after listening to his most recent collection of piano improvisations, Things That Seemed Important At The Time, we were left wondering how this interesting assemblage of “quiet, slow, boring” works related to the boundary between pop and jazz music of the 1910’s that he would present online Wednesday.

That’s a long thought. Which is appropriate because his topics lend themselves to long answers . . .

“Everyday, on and off (from August to November, 2020), I tried to simply sit down and make something up (on the piano) on the spot. That was all I was doing. And then I’d sift through a lot of these: throw some away that were, in my opinion, less interesting. Nothing’s written; I didn’t know what I was going to do beforehand.”

looking over man’s shoulder as he plays piano at home
Oh yes, by the way, Mark Plays the piano as well! Photo by HeatherS aitz.

We ask Mark about how the work he will be presenting, on jazz and pop music from the 1910s, relates to what is a very new, “quiet slow boring” music, wherein the intention is the listener NOT get what they expect, but instead learn about the sounds as the musician creates them on their instrument. It’s called that because, as he describes online, “For some time there has existed a sub-genre in the new music world, one of hushed dynamics, an abundance of silence, held tones with long durations.” This describes the work he released on Bandcamp in December of 2020, which is quite at odds with what was happening in popular North American music a century ago. For example, MUSICAlive! asks, “Does this new music fall under Jazz or classical?”

“You’re brushing up against a topic I like discussing very much. I don’t want to run long here and use up all your time, but I can’t help myself in some circumstances! (we both laugh in mutual understanding)

Black and white man head on hand reading on piano
We can’t be sure if Mark Limacher is contemplating his last edit, or analyzing his next performance. Photo by Heather Saitz.

“I think in terms of how those (words) will be received: yes classical would be thrown around. The thing that would confound that , though, is the fact that they’re improvised . . . During most of the 20th century, classical music was NOT a location for improvisation. My personal compositional/performance interest (is) the “quiet boring” thing.

“The issue with playing music of the 1910s is because, as a pianist, I do work in jazz a great deal. Which is unusual because I don’t write jazz: I certainly don’t play jazz for myself in any traditional sense. But to me, it’s fun to do!”

Somewhere in the midst of these explorations Mark mentions that he minored in constitutional law at an American University, and has a family-centred interest in psychology. You know, a standard musical education!

“So there is also a very deep passion about history. and politics. so for me, I have always held a love for music at different periods of time that I think is perceived at odds with my personal aesthetic. (Though) popular music from the early 20th century IS something I am very passionate about, It doesn’t mean I write that way.

“It informs a lot of what I do: I like thinking about songs, so, in terms of what I might be improvising on that album, or what I might write . . . I AM thinking of them as songs even if they might be discordant and and not ‘pop’ in their idiom.”

MUSICAlive! tries to connect the dots to what is coming up in the next day’s performance of popular and jazz North American music mixing it up at the start of the last century.

“I grew up around Italian opera, with my paternal grandparents, and opera’s another popular music; not anymore but it was a century ago . . . Another kind of music that informs a passion and an interest of mine is I’ve always loved arrangers and orchestrators: so a great deal about the pop music of the ’50s, like Sinatra and Bacharach, and a great deal about the Broadway orchestrators, when that was still a thing that happened.

“For me these all feel interrelated somehow, something to do with the instrumental colour . . . When we’re talking about these orchestrators, they’re all about very odd structures; when we’re talking about popular song form of the early20th century.

“I say odd because they are really little microcosms of self-referential material. Obviously they’re written in a way that’s meant to be very accessible: I don’t deny that, but some of these songwriters do very strange things.

“Of course I don’t mean that a Verdi aficionado would think that I have anything in me at all that cares about Verdi (in those pieces I wrote). I tend to think of Italian opera in particular about long melodic lines . . . And that’s left a massive imprint on me, even when we’re talking about notes that don’t necessarily paint a clear relationship to traditional ideas of melody.If I’m playing one or two notes, and it starts to feel like the melody, like the long line, it just may not be a typical sense of that, but I still think it’s deeply embedded in there.”

Mr. Limacher mentions about Things That Seemed Important At The Time that “there is a subliminal reference across that disc to a Spanish composer called Federico Monpou. It’s all about what he’s learned as he was growing up musically, as a composer and performer. Mark also mentions a collection of Monpou’s most famous works is translated as Silent Music.

He reinforces the idea that, though he might appropriate the tones and sounds he likes in modern pop music arrangements, what Mark writes (as opposed to simply performs) is never going to be mistaken for any kind of modern popular music, jazz, pop or otherwise.

“It’s never going to come out that way, and unless you know me personally, you’re probably not likely to know that I have those interests.”

Unless, if you listen to his “When ‘Pop’ Met ‘Jazz’ performance, or the other half of the interview that’s posted above! sorry, Mark, secret’s out!

Posted by Allen Thai

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.