Stompin' Grounds

for clarinet and bass | 2013

My musical roots are deeply embedded in bluegrass. I am a musician today solely because of my infatuation with the banjo, which began when I was eleven years old after hearing a Nashville session player named Mark Barnett. My parents had tried to get me to take piano lessons prior to this, but I was a dropout. Not until I became aware of the banjo did I have the patience and drive to learn a musical instrument. Stompin’ Grounds is the first bluegrass-flavored piece I have written since I defected to the “dark side” of classical music when I was a teenager. My good friend, Sarunas Jankauskas, who is a brilliant clarinetist, asked me to write a piece for him to perform with his colleague, Mark Foley. Mark is a bass player who has a background not only in classical music, but also in bluegrass and jazz, and Sarunas wanted me to write a piece that took advantage of his ability to play in those styles. While bluegrass and jazz are obviously improvisation-oriented genres, my piece is completely notated. However, it takes a performer with fluidity in bluegrass and jazz to pull off the right “feel.” You have to be able to play “in the pocket” and create a sense of spontaneity. I named the piece Stompin’ Grounds because when I was writing it, I felt like I had returned to the old homestead. This was my territory. The end product is definitely not straightforward bluegrass or jazz, because it is informed by all of my musical interests from folk to classical. But those genres were certainly my initial points of reference, and the modality and phrase structures of the piece reflect that. So this is stylized classical music, I guess. Or maybe it’s not even classical.